Taking it to the Bank

Chung Yee with Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Communication and Youth

It’s not easy to make top-quality theatre without breaking the bank. Fortunately for W!LD RICE, we’ve enjoyed the kind support of OCBC Bank for more than a decade. Apart from serving as the title sponsor of our Singapore Theatre Festival in 2008, OCBC sponsored W!LD RICE’s 10th Anniversary Season in 2010, as well as other notable productions like Jack & The Bean-Sprout! and In The Spotlight: Alfian Sa’at.

We spoke with Ms. Wong Chung Yee, OCBC’s Head of Core Cards and Commercial Cards, about OCBC’s support for the arts in general, and W!LD RICE in particular.

How did W!LD RICE come onto OCBC’s radar?

In a way, OCBC’s cooperation with W!LD RICE mirrors the journey taken by Singapore’s arts scene as it has matured over the years. OCBC has actually been a patron of the arts since 1990 which, I think, demonstrates our commitment to supporting and developing the local arts scene. We’re very passionate about bringing arts to the people.

If you want to support the arts, you want to work with people who are driving the industry. When W!LD RICE came into the picture in 2000, it quickly became one of the key movers and shakers in the industry, and started to set the tone and standard for the way things are done here. If you want to make art, if you want to help grow the space available for art, then you have to support people who have it in their bloodstream. That’s why we first struck up a conversation with W!LD RICE, one that is still ongoing. We’ve been very lucky to be part of what W!LD RICE is doing.

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

The first thing I think of is quality. Those of us in the business world with P&L (Profit & Loss) responsibilities would know the pressures and temptations to explore options that are operationally easier and financially more viable. The fact that W!LD RICE doesn’t do that is indicative of Ivan Heng’s commitment to quality. Ivan is so passionate and courageous in the choices he makes. He’s a visionary – he wants to make art for Singaporeans, but he also wants it to have international appeal. I think that’s why W!LD RICE’s productions are always so current and relevant.

But what really impresses me is Ivan’s desire to give the arts more longevity. Every time we meet him, we find ourselves thinking, ‘How can we do more for the arts?’. Because Ivan doesn’t come to us saying, ‘Do this for me’; rather, he says, ‘Let’s do this because we have a dream of how the arts industry in Singapore can be’. To that end, he’s talked to us about W!LD RICE’s training programmes for children and young adults. Every year, he puts up pantomimes that reach out to families and young children. With every W!LD RICE show, he educates audiences and challenges the industry to have higher standards in the realm of the performing arts.

Chung Yee with Ivan and Tony Trickett, W!LD RICE Executive Director

What are some of the things OCBC is doing to develop the arts scene here?

Our goal is to help the arts reach out to more people. It doesn’t help local artists if they’re performing but no one is watching! So we try to connect the arts companies to our customers. We launched our Arts Card in 1995 – since then, we’ve built it up into its own franchise. The Arts Card has given us a customer base that is very passionate about and active in the arts. For the arts companies, especially the smaller ones without much money for advertising, we get the word out for them through e-mail blasts and other forms of communication. As for our customers, we come up with promotions that make the arts more accessible to them. In this vein, we offer discounts and Spend & Redeem opportunities.

OCBC’s support has helped us stage some really incredible shows. Do you have a sentimental favourite amongst them?

My all-time favourite is La Cage Aux Folles. The show was very heartwrenching for me as a woman, since it was all about questioning societal expectations where love, family and motherhood are concerned. It was so good, and very real. When I was watching it, I didn’t feel like I was watching a play. I was really pulled into the show, and was so moved by it. When I came out of the theatre, I felt like I had been on a journey somewhere else.

As a supporter of the arts yourself, how do you think the local arts scene has evolved in the past couple of decades?

Singapore has become a cultural centre. When I was younger, all I had were concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) – there was a nascent performing arts scene, but that’s about it. In the past, we had to go to New York or London to watch things like Cats. Now, I can proudly tell visitors to come and see our local productions. And, these days, our productions are every bit as good as the foreign shows that come here on tour!

You can see it from the variety of venues and shows in Singapore. The quality of our local writing, too, is on par with anything you get overseas. We’re not just doing plays that other people have done for years. We are writing our own plays – like Monkey Goes West, which is so Singaporean. To me, that’s a sign that our arts scene has really arrived.

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