A Word From Our Sponsors: Q&A with Tim Peach

Behind every great production by W!LD RICE, there stands a Man.

We mean, of course, Man Investments, the industry-leading alternative investment provider that has helped make W!LD RICE shows happen for the last two years. Without Man’s support, we could not have put up shows like the Man Singapore Theatre Festival, AladdinRomeo & JulietCooling Off DayLa Cage Aux Folles, and Hansel and Gretel. For the last time, Man will be our chief sponsor for the upcoming production of The Importance Of Being Earnest.

It’s been an incredible ride, and we’re very grateful to Man for helping us bring our shows and our message to Singapore audiences over the past two years. We took the opportunity to speak to Man Asia’s managing director Tim Peach about his favourite memories of working with W!LD RICE.

How did you first come on board with W!LD RICE?

We started our collaboration with Ivan, Tony and W!LD RICE about two years ago. Man has always been a big supporter of the arts – we’re the Man behind the Man Booker Prize, which is one of the most famous, high-profile literary prizes in the English language. When I set up our business in Singapore, I wanted to get involved in getting our name out there a bit more, to make our brand better known, and our focus was somewhere in the arts. The challenge in Singapore is that so much of the arts has historically been government-controlled. But, since I met Ivan, I realised WILD RICE was a different organisation.

What aspect of W!LD RICE’s shows and ethos appeal to you?

We’re an alternative investment organisation; we employ people who think a little bit differently, who are passionate about what they do – there are a lot of analogies there with W!LD RICE: fighting against the tide, being passionate about what they do, innovative… and when I met Ivan and Tony, I knew that was the kind of organisation I wanted to be associated with.

At the end of the day, I personally – and [Man] as a firm – like doing business with people who are passionate about what they do and don’t just go through the motions. Having met lots of people who are associated with the arts in Singapore, I was struggling to come across that sort of passion… whereas that’s not the case with W!LD RICE. Having seen all of their productions over the last two years, you realise this is an organisation that isn’t sticking to the accepted way of doing things and is always pushing the boundaries.

Your support has helped us put some really incredible shows. Do you personally have a sentimental favourite?

There are two favourites that stick out very, very clearly. One is Cooling Off Day. I learnt so much about Singapore and Singapore politics. That was a fantastically innovative show, and it’s great to see [a show for which] everything, from start to finish, was done by people associated with W!LD RICE. I saw that twice, and I think it’s fantastic. My biggest frustration with it is that not enough people in Singapore have seen it.

The other personal favourite was La Cage Aux Folles. Partly because it’s a well-known show that was put on as a big high-profile production – it was the first time I’d seen W!LD RICE at the Esplanade. [But I also] know the story behind it. I know it was almost an analogy for Ivan, it was a very personal thing to put on. Just before the interval – when you see Ivan strutting on stage singing I Am What I Am, especially when you know Ivan and the battles he’s fought in his life – it’s tough not to feel the emotions come flying through. That was my highlight: that moment of seeing him sing that song. It was awesome.

What are some of your favourite memories about working with W!LD RICE?

Obviously I’m an ‘ang mor’ expat in Singapore and I’ve lived in a number of different countries – I like to try to feel, as best I can, as part of the furniture. I feel so much more a part of Singapore, and my family has too, due to our association with W!LD RICE. I’ve seen Singapore from a completely different side of things.

I have personally become attached to the people I’ve worked with in W!LD RICE. It’s difficult not to become emotionally attached to someone like Ivan, once you deal with him, because he’s such a passionate person… Tony does a fantastic job, and is a very good counter-balance to Ivan in terms of keeping everything running, keeping a cool head.

I found it extremely upsetting telling Ivan and Tony that we had to cease our association with them for very, very strong financial reasons. My company made it very public that we’re trying to find a hundred million dollars’ worth of cost savings. I know how much our sponsorship means for W!LD RICE; it was tough to do that.

Man’s official association with W!LD RICE ends at the end of this April. My wife and I are now Angels and we’ll continue to support W!LD RICE, albeit in a significantly smaller manner than in the past.

Did you ever have any concerns about providing funding for W!LD RICE?

I think we started our sponsorship of W!LD RICE just as the National Arts Council had cut its funding. That’s something I’m proud of: we’re the first multi-national company – a non-Singaporean organisation – that has sponsored a non-government-sanctioned arts organisation in Singapore in any meaningful size. I think many MNCs are very nervous about doing that, knowing the risks of potentially upsetting the government in Singapore. But I think it was very much worthwhile doing.

[Everyone I’ve worked with in W!LD RICE] is very passionate about what they do, very professional, often having to work in very difficult circumstances with quite a tight budget. If you compare the budgets W!LD RICE has to work with with all the productions MBS puts on, it’s chalk and cheese. But what is really more important to Singapore as a nation? It’s massively important and it’s a shame that W!LD RICE has to work with comparatively more financial constraints.

How important are the arts to you personally?

I think many people misunderstand what the arts are supposed to be all about. The arts are not purely entertainment – the idea is that they’re supposed to be thought-provoking, they’re supposed to be emotional things, they’re supposed to shock us in any way, shape or form, make us think about the way we go about our lives. And that’s one thing I know W!LD RICE is always trying to do. The real art is getting the two together: when you exit, you feel entertained, but you also feel emotionally involved with what’s going on, and it made you think as well.

My one criticism of Singapore is that, particularly for the youth, there’s far too much focus on pure academia and not on the broader education of life – like sports and art… If you look at all the wealthy Singaporeans now, they send their kids abroad, because they realise the pressure that’s placed on children is unsustainable. You don’t get a broad education in life. We’re not all born as great academics; I was never a great academic. But fortunately I was born and brought up in a system where you don’t judge people purely on their grades, but on sport, and other things they’ve done.

Anyone can just study and do as they’re told, but when you go into a theatre company, you’ve got to motivate yourself to do it. No one’s pushing you to do it. Society’s all about having a different cross-section of people, strong at different types of things. In my view, Singapore would be stronger if it can encourage things other than academia.

I wouldn’t want to be seen as criticising what happened in the past – it’s very easy to look back now and say ‘What we were doing is wrong’. Singapore has been based, in my view, on this very huge focus on academia to get everyone up to the standard that’s way up and above all the neighbouring countries. But you’re only as good as your last deal – you have to evolve, you have to keep on moving. And if you realise the education system needs to move on a further step, then it needs to evolve.

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