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Singapore Repertory Theatre’s rebrand sparks controversy in theatre community

Singapore’s theater community expresses discontent over the rebranding of Singapore Repertory Theatre to Singapore Theatre Company, asserting the name’s responsibility in representing the nation. National Arts Council confirms backing for STC’s name change.

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Source: Singapore Theatre Company

SINGAPORE: The decision to undergo a rebrand, transforming from the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) to the Singapore Theatre Company (STC), has ignited controversy within the local theatre community.

Many members have openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the change, labelling it as “disrespectful” and arguing that the name bears a substantial responsibility in representing Singapore, urging the company to reconsider its decision.

Previously recognized for its notable productions of Shakespeare in the Park at Fort Canning Green, the former SRT justified the rebranding by emphasizing that the new name, STC, would better represent Singapore on the international stage.

Despite the heightened anticipation surrounding STC’s gradual revelation of the name change, both artistic director Gaurav Kripalani and managing director Charlotte Nors were caught off guard when members of the theatre community publicly expressed their displeasure, accused STC of appropriating the label of “Singapore Theatre.”

Last week, STC officially announced its name change to “Singapore Theatre Company” following the celebration of its 30th anniversary in 2023.

Mr Kripalani explained that the decision to drop “repertory” from the name had been under consideration for a year.

“No one knows what it means. We’ve never been a repertory company,” he said.

Kripalani highlighted the company’s international ambitions, stating that adopting the name STC would enhance their representation on the global stage.

Rama Chandran deems name change ‘disrespectful’ to Singapore theatre community

Rama Chandran, founder and director of children’s theatre company Act 3 Theatrics, on 31 January took to Facebook and criticised that SRT are “disrespectful” to all the rest of us working in ‘Singapore theatre’ by modifying its name to “Singapore Theatre Company.”

His criticisms revolved around the perceived lack of acknowledgement and incorporation of the efforts made by many in the theatre industry since the early days of Singapore’s independence.

“To wear the name of ‘Singapore’, one has to incorporate the diverse elements of this beautiful nation. ”

“One must be soaking with blood, sweat and tears of her citizens. I must want to stand up and sing ‘Majulah Singapura’ when I am applauding your effort.

He called on SRT, now STC, to reconsider the name change out of respect for fellow practitioners and urged them to rethink the move, even if the authority overseeing the use of the nation’s name remained silent on the matter.

In another post, Mr Chandran further argued that if STC doesn’t accurately describe the organization, then “STC” is even less fitting.

He challenged that STC’s representation of the Singapore element is minuscule in comparison to almost every other Singapore theatre company working in the different language streams and genres and having some form of link with the National Arts Council.

“Now is a good moment to leave Singapore theatre as a common noun encompassing ALL of us and chanelling efforts to conjure up a creative name that will fit properly.”

“Name bears the responsibility of Singapore’s image”

Multilingual theatre company The Theatre Practice’s artistic director Kuo Jian Hong, in a Facebook post, pointed out the historical context in which Singapore Performing Arts School was founded in July 1965. Still, after Singapore became a nation, the use of the word “Singapore” as a prefix for any non-governmental organization was no longer accepted.

Kuo Jian Hong explained that during this time, the organization did not attempt to revert to its original name, emphasizing that the name is not just a label but carries a significant responsibility to represent Singapore.

“It is a responsibility we are unable to shoulder because Singapore theatre is too DIVERSE. Language, culture, heritage, art forms, aesthetics, purposes, perspectives… it is as “rojak” as it gets, and that is what’s most unique about us. That is what we celebrate.”

Ms Kuo questioned whether any single company can fully represent the entirety of Singapore Theatre due to its rich and diverse nature.

“That may not have been the intention, but objectively it is tough not to read it this way. So how do we celebrate our rojak diversities, while making laser-sharp branding, but always keeping space for as much imagination of our identity as possible?”

“I am a Singapore theatre practitioner. But if someone decides for me that “Singapore Theatre” does not belong to all of us, then what am I?”

The rich tapestry of Singapore theatre

Veteran arts manager Juliana Lim expressed discomfort with the change and highlighted the existence of many authentic “Singapore theatre companies” founded by Singaporeans with extensive track records in nurturing and staging original Singapore works.

She pointed out her unease with the use of “Singapore theatre company” as a proper noun, and argued that while it may seem innocuous, this choice has the unintended effect of negating the identity of other Singapore theatre companies and their sustained efforts in building a Singaporean repertory.

Juliana Lim called on the SRT Board, its branding consultant, and related agencies, including ACRA and NAC, to review their decision.

“I really don’t think that’s the effect you intended.”

Impact on the theatre community legacy

Jean Ng (黃丽心) a prominent director, actor, and drama educator also urged STC to reconsider its latest name change.

Ng shared her personal experience from the start of her theatre career in the 1980s when she joined Youth Theatre Singapore (YTS) by STARS, which STARS later became Singapore Repertory Theatre.

Reflecting on the shared history, Ng emphasized the presence of STARS at Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC) alongside other influential theatre entities such as The Necessary Stage and Action Theatre.

She described the interactions and connections among these groups, highlighting the shared journey within the local theatre community.

She raised questions about the meaning of being “a part of” and interconnected with the community, urging a thoughtful consideration of the legacy and impact on the entire theatre community.

Questions on the use of ‘Singapore’ in charity names

Ms Lin Shiyun, founder of the arts non-profit company 3Pumpkins, emphasized in a Facebook post that there is a general rule for charities regarding the use of the word “Singapore” in their names.

The word “Singapore” or its abbreviation can only be placed within brackets at the end of the charity’s name, as in “ABC Charity (Singapore),” to indicate the place of registration.

Lin Shiyun raised a pertinent question about whether this rule is a blanket one and suggested directing inquiries to the commissioner of charities for clarification.

She pointed out the existence of entities like the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the more recent STC that have “Singapore” at the front of their names.

Ms Lin questioned how these organizations are expected to be regarded differently and emphasized the social responsibilities they hold.

National Arts Council backs STC’s name change application

Besides STC and Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, and Singapore Ballet, prominently feature the city-state’s name and are perceived as national flagship companies by the general public.

Approval from the authorities is required for any arts company using the term ‘Singapore’ in its name.

According to a report by The Straits Times (ST), the National Arts Council confirmed on 1 February that it endorsed STC’s application with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA).

Acknowledging the diverse opinions on the name change, the council highlighted that Singapore’s vibrant arts landscape results from the collective contributions of numerous companies and individuals.

Regarding STC’s future role, the council stated, “We recognise their intent to refresh and reposition itself for the longer term, and the vision and direction remain at the discretion of the company’s board and management.”

STC stands firm on new name despite unintended impression

On 1 Feb, Mr Kripalani reiterated the company’s commitment to its new name. He clarified that it was never the intention to position STC as the catch-all Singaporean theatre company.

He explained that the rebranding decision aimed to eliminate the association with “repertory theatre,” which refers to a company with full-time actors performing from a repertoire, from SRT’s name.

He clarified that the objective was to retain ‘Singapore’ in the name to reflect the company’s roots. STC was chosen after consulting with peers in the industry.

Expressing regret for any discontent caused, Mr Kripalani assured that STC would be mindful moving forward.

He added: “We recognise that we are part of a wonderfully broad and diverse ecosystem, and do not claim to be the representative theatre company of Singapore. ”

“All of us have a role to play in the Singapore theatre community. We have tremendous respect for our peers (and) value the perspectives shared from the wider community.”

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