Singapore’s Drama Box is known for creating works that inspire dialogue and change. Koh Hui Ling, the associate artistic director, explains how they make this happen.
Koh Hui Ling doesn’t believe in creating art in a vacuum. “Theatre can bring about change and have a positive impact on the world,” she says. Drama Box has carved a unique niche for itself, creating site-specific works that often involve local communities. This has manifested in productions like Chinatown Crossings (2017-2019, pictured above) – particularly significant to Drama Box as that is where its headquarters is located.
Though the play is fictional – about an Indian man, Kunalan, his friendship with his landlady’s daughter and his relationship with her Cantonese caregiver – the performance took the audience members through the streets and alleys of Chinatown, where they experienced its sights, sounds, tastes and smells as they were introduced to the different characters.
On how Singapore has helped shaped her practice, Koh says: “I work a lot in public spaces and find the process interesting in a place like Singapore where land is scarce and the landscape changes rapidly. It makes me think about my relationship with the country I live in and helps me push the boundaries of making art in public spaces.”
Playwright Haresh Sharma notes that,“Drama Box’s brand of multicultural and multilingual plays, together with its immersive community theatre projects, have given it strong following, and much respect from fellow artists. They are a drama company with a big heart.” They are also set up in a great part of town. Here are three historic buildings in Chinatown located close to Drama Box headquarters.
Thian Hock Keng
Built in 1840 in the southern Fujian architectural style, Thian Hock Keng is the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore. It was commonly visited by Chinese immigrants to give thanks to Mazu (Goddess of the Seas) for a safe voyage.
Keong Saik Road
Trendy bars and restaurants have taken up residence in the beautifully preserved shophouses that line this street. Of particular note is the building now occupied by Potato Head Folk. Its rounded façade is emblematic of the Art Deco style.
Built during 1980s to resettle hawkers plying their trades on the streets, the complex is a testament to forward-thinking urban planning. Its design blends in with the overall Chinatown aesthetic, while wide thoroughfares reduce overcrowding.