Spell#7



Spell#7 is a local English performance company founded in 1997 by husband-and-wife team, Briton Paul Rae and Singaporean Kaylene Tan, who met as drama students at Bristol University in the United Kingdom.1 Rae and Tan have developed a unique and creative theatrical style for their works that weave history, culture and politics into everyday life. The company is known for producing avant-garde and site-specific works, including intimate theatre performances and environmental audio works.2

Personalities
Paul Rae

Paul Rae is co-founder and co-artistic director of Spell#7. He is also an assistant professor of theatre studies at the National University of Singapore’s Department of English Language & Literature. His research interests include: performance aesthetics, performance theory, and contemporary Southeast Asian theatre and performance.3

Kaylene Tan

Kaylene Tan is co-founder and co-artistic director of Spell#7. An actor, designer and writer, Tan was awarded the S$60,000 National University of Singapore-Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (NUS-FASS) and The Arts House Writing Fellowship in 2007. She was also responsible for penning the script and producing the audio for the National Museum of Singapore’s History Gallery.4

Ben Slater
Ben Slater is associate director of Spell#7. Previously a film programmer with Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema in England, Slater moved to Singapore in 1998. He has collaborated with Spell#7 on various projects, including Desire Paths and Ghostwalking. Slater is also a screenwriter, script editor and film critic who regularly contributes to film publications. He is the author of Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore (2006).5

Funding and support

When Spell#7 was first set up, Rae and Tan had to rehearse and operate out of their living room. They also lacked resources and had to deal with all aspects of their performances, including administration, design and ticketing, on their own.6

In 1999, Spell#7 became the first theatre company to be adopted by TheatreWorks under its resident-artist scheme, which provided funding and administrative support, including an office space and the use of the Black Box Theatre at Fort Canning Centre.7

Spell#7 was a winner of the inaugural Singapore Internationale Award in 2000 that was given out by the Singapore International Foundation in recognition of its efforts to promote Singapore to the world.8 The company continued its international outreach efforts through overseas performances such as National Language Class, which was presented at the Bangkok Fringe Festival (2005) and Indonesian Dance Festival (2006), and Tree Duet, which was staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2009).9 Written and directed by Paul Rae, Tree Duet featured Kaylene Tan and pianist Shane Thio. It was commended by The Scotsman, a daily newspaper published in Edinburgh, for having a “dreamy, meditative quality” to it.10

In 2002, Spell#7 moved to a shophouse on Kerbau Road in Little India’s arts district as part of a project under the National Arts Council’s (NAC) Arts Housing Scheme. Under the scheme, the company pays 10 percent of the monthly rent with NAC subsidising the remaining amount.11


In 2003, the company organised the month-long digital festival The Year of Living Digitally using funding provide by the NAC’s New Media Arts Fund and the Asia-Europe Foundation. Private companies such as Canon sponsored equipment and software for the festival.12

Performance style and space
Spell#7 has always been adventurous in its use of different spaces to create site-specific works. Casting the concept of traditional theatrical venues aside, the company has staged plays in diverse settings such as CHIJMES (Walk With Me and Be Perfect, 1998), an office venue in Shaw Tower (Spring Awakening, 1999) and Zouk disco (Bud, 1999). Bud was commissioned for the Singapore Arts Festival Late Night Series. It was performed in the popular local nightclub Zouk, which was remapped into different rooms that represented various parts of Singapore.13

The company has successfully juxtaposed the inventive use of space with promenade theatre. This is an interactive performance art form in which audience members generally stand or move about in the performance space instead of remaining seated so as to become fully immersed in the action happening around them. One such example is Beautiful Losers (2003), which was staged at the company’s premises at Kerbau Road. At the end of the performance, the audience took home a CD-ROM containing additional and related information on the play.14

Through the creative use of space, the company hopes to dispel any preconceived notions of how audiences perceive a space. The idea is for the audience to reinterpret a space and see it in a whole new light, thereby enhancing their viewing experience.15

Gearing towards new media

In 2002, Ben Slater joined Spell#7 as associate director, bringing with him a wealth of experience in film and new media to help further emphasise the company’s new media slant.16

A year later, Spell#7 curated and produced The Year of Living Digitally, an inaugural month-long affair touted as “Singapore’s first ever new media and digital arts festival”. Held at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, The Substation and Zouk, it featured 18 international and 10 local artists who showcased works incorporating web, film, animation, electronic music, installation and performance.17

Audio works

In 2004, the company worked with musician Evan Tan to produce Desire Paths, an audio tour of Little India. Incorporating narration, sound effects and music, the 45-minute tour involved a fictional plot interspersed with descriptions of landmarks and streets in Little India. Participants were provided with a portable compact disc player, a map and a list of activities. Besides English, the tour was also made available in Mandarin and Japanese.18

In 2008, Spell#7 created Sky Duet with Evan Tan for the Singapore Biennale. The 30-minute audio tour about an older man’s struggle with ageing and mortality took place over the duration of a ride on the Singapore Flyer.19

In 2010, Spell#7 collaborated with Ben Slater (text), Evan Tan (sound) and Sherman Ong (video) on Ghostwalking, a set of audio walks and video tours held at selected stops of the North-East MRT train line. In this four-hour tour, participants stopped at the Dhoby Ghaut, Outram Park, Little India and Punggol MRT stations, and listened to stories while exploring locations such as the former National Library at Stamford Road, Tekka (Little India), Pearl’s Hill and Punggol.20 The NAC’s Arts Creation Fund provided S$48,000 for this production.21

Another recent audio work was And Then There Was One, which was staged at the NUS Baba House in March 2013 as part of the NUS Arts Festival. The play, which was inspired by an actual murder that took place on Neil Road in 1926, made the audience explore the Baba House and its surroundings to solve a murder mystery armed with just a booklet containing important information on the play and an MP3 audio player. An interesting feature of the play was that there were no live performers and the audience merely listened to a recorded narration using the MP3 player.22

Inspiration from paintings

The company staged National Language Class in 2006, which was presented as part of the Singapore Theatre Festival. Written by Rae and the play’s actors, Noor Effendy Ibrahim and Yeo Yann Yann, the interactive performance was inspired by Chua Mia Tee’s 1959 iconic painting of the same name. The painting shows a Malay cikgu (which means “teacher” in Malay) teaching Malay to nine Chinese pupils in a classroom. In the performance, Yeo played a student who spoke only in Mandarin learning Malay from a teacher, played by Noor Effendy, who spoke only in Malay. The audience made up the rest of the students.23 The play was restaged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio in 2008.24

Another of Chua’s painting, Epic Poem of Malaya (completed in 1955), was the inspiration for a work of the same name by the company in 2010. Rae and Tan worked with visual artist Zai Kuning to create a theatrical interpretation of the painting. The painting shows 14 people, comprising students and workers, listening to a young man reciting a poem on the history of Malaya. Combining traditional storytelling with modern theatrical techniques, the production painted a picture of the history of Singapore as seen from the perspective of the Orang Laut (which means “sea people” in Malay) in the Riau Archipelago.25

Collaborations

Spell#7 views collaboration as a vital part of the creative process and has worked with different designers, performers, actors, musicians and writers in Singapore and abroad.

The company has also teamed up with other theatre companies, most notably British theatrical company Bodies in Flight, with which it co-produced Double Happiness (2000) and Dream-Work/Dream-Home (2009), and Singapore’s very own TheatreWorks for Meena and Me (1999).26

Double Happiness
, which fused text, contemporary theatre and information technology, was also performed at various art festivals in Manchester, Nottingham and Bristol in the United Kingdom.27

Selected performances and achievements
1997: Apocalypso!, maiden production.28

1998: Walk With Me and Be Perfect, staged at Caldwell House, CHIJMES.29
1999: Meena and Me, a co-production with TheatreWorks under a resident-artist scheme.30
2000: Double Happiness, performed at various arts festivals in the United Kingdom.31
2001: My Last Night in Sin, premiered at the Singapore Arts Festival.32
2002: Various Gangsters, a satire on the “Remaking Singapore” initiative, nominated for Best Ensemble Acting at the 3rd Life! Theatre Awards.33
2003: Beautiful Losers, an intimate promenade performance for 25 audience members at any one time.34
2004: Desire Paths, an audio tour of Little India.35
2005: Duets, showcased at the Esplanade’s first Theatre Studio Season, nominated for Best Sound (Zai Kuning) at the 6th Life! Theatre Awards.36
2006: Duets 2, inspired by an American children’s video series.37
2006: National Language Class, presented as part of the Singapore Theatre Festival.38
2008: Sky Duet, staged as part of the Singapore Biennale.39
2009: Tree Duet, nominated for Best Original Script at the 8th Life! Theatre Awards.40
2009: Dream-Work/Dream-Home, collaboration with British theatre company Bodies in Flight, premiered at the Singapore Arts Festival.41
2010: Epic Poem of Malaya, collaboration with visual artist Zai Kuning, staged as part of the Esplanade’s Theatre Studio season.42
2010: Ghostwalking, a series of audio walks and video tours along the North-East MRT line.43
2013: Family Duet, staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.44



Authors
Lee Xin Ying and Veronica Chee



References
1. Kaiden, E. A. (1997, December 18). Honey, our hotel room is bugged. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

2. Spell#7. (n.d.). Profile. Retrieved from Spell#7 website: http://www.spell7.net
3. National University of Singapore. (2013, January 10). Dr Paul Rae. Retrieved from the National University of Singapore website: http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/ellrpa
4. Yap, S. (2007, August 11). Writing fellowship for artist. The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Spell#7. (n.d.) Profile. Retrieved from Spell#7 website: http://www.spell7.net/; Nayar, P. (2006, May 12). Hollywood's secret date with Singapore. The Business Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Wong, M. (1999, March 1). Escape from living room. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Wong, M. (1999, March 1). Escape from living room. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Wong, M. E. (2000, December 22). 6 win awards for promoting Singapore. The Straits Times, p. H12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. National University of Singapore. (2013, January 10). Dr Paul Rae. Retrieved from the National University of Singapore website: http://profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/ellrpa
10. Shetty, D. (2009, August 25). Defending Diaspora. The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
11. Wong, T. (2002, May 1). KERBAU PACKS A KA-POW. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Oon, C. (2003, October 1). Wired feast of the senses. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Tan, K. L., Serene. (2004). Towards a global city: Emerging arts spaces in Singapore. Retrieved from National University of Singapore, University Scholars Programme http://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/bitstream/handle/10635/14531/Masters%20Thesis.pdf?sequence=1
14. Yong, S. C. (2003, January 8). When losing is ok. Today, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Tan, K. L., Serene. (2004). Towards a global city: Emerging arts spaces in Singapore. Retrieved from National University of Singapore, University Scholars Programme http://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/bitstream/handle/10635/14531/Masters%20Thesis.pdf?sequence=1
16. Spell#7. (n.d.) Profile. Retrieved from Spell#7 website: http://www.spell7.net/
17. Oon, C. (2003, October 1). Wired feast of the senses. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Ng, H. H. (2004, September 29). Sites and sounds of Little India. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Backstage pass. (2008, October 9). The Straits Times, p. 59. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Chia, A. (2010, October 7). Theatre on the go a slick project. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
21. Tan, C. (2011. January 13). Cash for creations. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
22. Jeremy. (2013, March 17). “And Then There Was One” by spell#7. Retrieved from Buttons in the Bread website: http://buttonsinthebread.com/2013/03/17/and-then-there-was-one-by-spell7
23. Ong, S. C. (2006, August 19). Who are you? Where do you live? The Straits Times, p. 10. Retreived from NewspaperSG.
24. Huang, L. (2013, April 9). Studios puts 10 years on stage. The Straits Times. Retreived from Factiva.
25. Martin, M. (2010, April 25). An epic gesture; spell #7 brings Chua Mia Tee’s seminal painting to life onstage. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
26. Spell#7. (n.d.) Profile. Retrieved from Spell#7 website: http://www.spell7.net/; Wong, M. (1999, March 1). Escape from living room. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Wong, M. E. (2000, December 22). 6 win awards for promoting Singapore. The Straits Times, p. H12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Kaiden, E. A. (1997, December 18). Honey, our hotel room is bugged. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Take No. 7 to Utopia. (1998, July 23). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Wong, M. (1999, March 1). Escape from living room. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Wong, M. E. (2000, December 22). 6 win awards for promoting Singapore. The Straits Times, p. H12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Spell#7. (n.d.) Profile. Retrieved from Spell#7 website: http://www.spell7.net/
33. Sulaiman, S. (2003, March 14). It's getting bigger. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Role call. (2003, March 31). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Yong, S. C. (2003, January 8). When losing is ok. Today, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Ng, H. H. (2004, September 29). Sites and sounds of Little India. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. And the nominees are... (2006, February 9). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Cheong, J. (2006, April 28). Spell #7's new work is child's play. The Straits Times, p.4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Ong, S. C. (2006, August 19). Who are you? Where do you live? The Straits Times, p. 10. Retreived from NewspaperSG.
39. Backstage pass. (2008, October 9). The Straits Times, p. 59. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Spell#7. (n.d.) News. Retrieved from Spell#7 website: http://www.spell7.net/index.html
41. Spell#7. (n.d.). Profile. Retrieved from Spell#7 website: http://www.spell7.net
42. Martin, M. (2010, April 25). An epic gesture; spell #7 brings Chua Mia Tee’s seminal painting to life onstage. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
43. Chia, A. (2010, October 7). Theatre on the go a slick project. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
44. Huang, L. (2013, April 9). Studios puts 10 years on stage. The Straits Times. Retreived from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 7 June 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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