National Museum of Singapore’s new commission with Sensorium Theatre

Sensorium Theatre have just returned from a two-week residency at The Artground in Singapore where they worked with local immersive theatremakers on a newly-commissioned work by the National Museum of Singapore responding to their collection of historic botanical drawings.

This project is part of Performing Lines WA’s three-year strategy to engage more deeply with South Asia through residencies, exchanges and collaborations that provide opportunities for Western Australian artists.

The company is currently securing more funding to go back in February for another development, ahead of the premiere season at the National Museum in June 2020.

We caught up with Co-Artistic Director, Francis Italiano, to chat about this first creative development, and to find out more about this exciting new partnership.

 

Can you briefly tell us about this new project in Singapore and what you achieved in that first phase?

The Artground provides all sorts of arts experiences for young people under 12 and calls itself “a curious place to be” – which is really fitting for the project we’ve been working on with them! We were invited to help Singaporean artists and institutions explore their curiosity around ways to create inclusive arts experiences for young audiences.

Co-Artistic Director Michelle Hovane, Sensorium’s Musical Director Jamie David and I began with two days sharing our inclusive performance methodology with 20 local creatives across different disciplines, focussing on multisensory approaches to interactive experiences.

After that, the group took up the National Museum of Singapore’s invitation to begin collaborating on an interpretive performance for young audiences additional access needs, inspired by their William Farquhar natural history collection of botanical drawings from the 1800’s. This unleashed a sensory cornucopia of local native birds, monkeys, fruits and forest ideas that the group created in less than a week (!) while we exchanged our respective experiences of working with both neurotypical and neurodiverse audiences.

Loaded up with newly co-created songs, some puppet prototypes and a travelling sensory Singaporean forest set, the group trialled the basis of what will eventually become a larger work – at a school for children on the autism spectrum and another for children with high support needs.

How did you approach the creative process for this sort of intercultural collaboration?

It’s a bit of a cliche to say it, but Singapore really is a buzzy place – people there seem used to a constant flow of input and influences, and they come across as naturally dynamic in their responses. Given that, there was already a really strong skillset in the group and it felt like the absorption of concepts was super-fast and everyone was keen to get on and try out ideas. We definitely upped our pace to keep up – but we also invited them to slow down a little!

Another cultural difference is that artists working on projects often work in the evenings so that they can maintain other commitments – work, family care, that sort of thing – so once we understood this we changed our development schedule around to suit.

I think it’s always interesting to remember that just because you share a language, it doesn’t mean that you’re all understanding things in the same way.

– Frankie Italiano

What did you learn during this first development?

I think we learnt to listen to more than just language – some of the artists who were more reserved initially really surprised us with what they brought to the table as we progressed. Despite any differences in our respective cultures, as co-citizens of the 21st Century, we all share a yearning to counteract the digital distraction that so often bombards us in order to “connect” at a heart level with our young audiences.

It was special watching the artists involved get “bitten” by the love-bug of intimate performance interaction.

This whole first phase of the project was a whirlwind of cultural exchange – both groups encountered new ways of thinking about making theatre for these kids and shared the joy of seeing them respond positively to what we’d co-created.

– Frankie Italiano

Do you have any tips for Australian artists visiting Singapore?

So much yummy food to enjoy! And Singaporeans love hosting and getting you to try things – so go for it! If you need a dose of unfettered nature, take a trip to luscious Macritchie reservoir, half an hour from the city centre, for glorious forest hiking trails …and monkeys!

In everything we do, we acknowledge that we live on Aboriginal land and constantly learn from the wisdom of our First Peoples.

Where we are and the history that precedes us informs how we work and how we move forward.