This year’s Singapore Arts Festival may be themed ‘Our Lost Poems’, and revolve around finding things which are lost to us, and rediscovering the overlooked and mundane, but there are a bunch of programmes that I think would be great for Occasional Travellers out there to attend! Whether you’re a local or a tourist visiting Singapore, these programmes revolve around the idea of exploring and discovering – stuff which any decent traveller gets up to on a trip, so it seemed right to tell you more about it, even if it’s a slight departure from my usual travel journals and inspirations.
Disclaimer: I am involved with the Singapore Arts Festival this year as a part of my day job, and I’m sharing these programmes partly because I feel that these perceived ‘artsy fartsy’ type of programmes are actually quite intriguing and accessible once someone has taken the time to explain the interesting bits to you. Once you get past the fancy synopses, they’re actually quite appealing to the common non-connoisseur of art, someone like me!
One of the things I participated in on the opening day of the Singapore Arts Festival was to walk the Umbrella for 2 tour at the Singapore Arts Festival. Touting itself as an immersive audio experience that would transform everyday ordinary places into something a little different, I was very curious to see where it would take me and what I would experience on the walk.
Here’s a little review of my experience, I’ll try not to give away too much spoilers so you can enjoy it for yourself!
You start off from the Umbrella for 2 booth at the Festival Village @ Esplanade Park. Look out for this container behind the info/ticketing container! Book ahead beforehand to guarantee a space, or just sign up on the spot and cross your fingers it’s not too crowded! Head over to the registration area under the trees and exchange your ID and you’re ready to start your experience!
4 very comfortable looking deck chairs are situated in front of the booth – a pair of big headphones are placed over your head for awhile which is supposed to help you “relax your ears” before the audio experience begins, but I was there at about 6pm and activities were going on full blast at the main stage area, so while the noise was dampened, it definitely wasn’t cancelled out. You’re advised to keep your mobile phones so you won’t be distracted too, but it’s harder than you think to just sit in a chair without doing anything!
The explanation process for the walk is quite lengthy, and you need awhile to get used to how the instructions work, so do reach a little early if you can help it! You are then hooked up to an Mp3 player with 2 headphones, which is then attached to a large, open black umbrella that you need to heft around with you throughout this walk. (It is a little heavy to hold for an hour! Take turns, switch hands, or bring a stoic and chivalrous dude with you to carry it =P)
You’re mostly left to your own devices – you look out for a series of umbrella signs to lead the way and follow any audio cues given through the headset. I won’t say exactly where you’ll go, but you do walk a fair bit of the area near the Esplanade Park, and it’s a nice walk for tourists and locals alike as you do see familiar bits of Singapore – *Slight SPOILER alert* you’ll be walking both indoors and outdoors, and you’re supposed to have the umbrella open at all times. It does make one a bit of a spectacle, especially during rush hours in a crowded busy place! (You’re instructed to close the umbrella at one point because its just too crowded, and I did see a pair of guys stroll around with their umbrella closed… but it kinda defeats the whole purpose of it without the umbrella no?) *end SPOILER*
But the tour isn’t just about finding your way around Singapore – it combines ambient noise and conversations and some story telling as well, so with your headphones on, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s an actual sound on the street and what you’re listening to on the headset! Some of the sounds enhance what you see around you; others augment the reality of what you’re looking at; others are just incongruant with the surroundings and toy with your senses…
My only gripe about the walk is that it’s not always the easiest to navigate. Me and my partner got pretty lost at 2 points where we looked high and low for the umbrella signs but failed to find any (The people in charge did mention that they were having problems with the various building owners constantly removing their signages even though they had permission! Other spots didn’t have any signage and you had to navigate with a map, while one or two spots had physical volunteers there to direct and assist).
They did provide an emergency map in case you got too lost, but that map can be quite hard to read – and that’s coming from me who knows the area fairly well, so I think tourists might find it hard to navigate if they get lost. The walk is supposed to be an hour long, but I ended up back only after about 75 mins because of the wrong detours we made!
Also, bring a fan (I have a lovely Arts Fest one that I’ve been carrying around with me everywhere!) and wear light clothing and comfortable shoes because it can get hot and you don’t want to mar your experience with blisters!
But most importantly, go out there and have fun! If you’re a tourist visiting Singapore like my partner was, it’s a great way to explore one of Singapore’s more popular areas. For locals, you’ll realize that you’ve never actually taken notice of some of these surrounding structures until now!
Check out Umbrella for 2 on the Singapore Arts Festival website, where you’ll find more info about the show and registering for it, or just pop down to the Esplanade Park (along connaught drive next to the Padang) and pop by the Umbrella for 2 booth. Or check out the Umbrella for 2 Facebook page for some cool behind-the-scenes look at the creation of this show!
Pix in this post (except for thumbnail) are from Arts Fest website or Umbrella for 2 Facebook page. Not many pix are my own because I didn’t want to distract myself with my phone during the walk!