Esplanade’s Head of Operational Support Services Ravi Sivalingam has been with the Esplanade for a long time. And when we say long, we mean even before the Esplanade officially opened its doors in 2002, as part of the planning committee when it was still a construction site.On a day to day basis, Ravi is in charge of ensuring that everything runs smoothly, whether it’s the danger of a fire or an evening dress stuck in the escalator. As such, Ravi really is one of those people who knows the building inside out and entire history, familiar with every nook, cranny and corner, and made for a perfect tour guide to really get to know the Esplanade intimately on his Backstage Pass tour.
As with the other Esplanade Backstage Pass tours, we got up bright and early last Saturday to attend Ravi’s tour, this time supported not only by Esplanade staff member Fareesha, but also Esplanade’s Head of Production Manager Isis Koh and Esplanade Communications Specialist Gina Koh. As opposed to one of the tours conducted by a performer, Ravi’s tour was much more focused on depth rather than breadth, taking us to just two venues – the Esplanade Theatre and Esplanade Concert Hall. But out of all the tours, Ravi’s was probably the most detailed one of all, and even allowed us to reach some places members of the public would normally never be allowed to visit.
Ravi is a bastion of trivia and information having something interesting to say about each and every venue we stopped at. Starting off the tour on a high note, we were allowed to walk onto the Esplanade Theatre stage, literally a few hours before the final performance of NINAGAWA Macbeth was due to begin, and we had a glimpse of the touring production’s incredible set, props and costumes. Besides the technical components of the theatre (such as how the space is actually big enough to hold a Boeing 737), Ravi also shared some interesting personal stories, such as how during one Huayi Festival opening performance, a lighting board failure sent the Esplanade into a panic and they offered free flow of drinks from the bar, severely underestimating Singaporeans’ capacity to imbibe in free drinks. ‘Never again,’ he says, still visibly shaken from the trauma.
Later on, we even got to see the Concert Hall’s magnificent pipe organ containing 4740 pipes, having sat at the Concert Hall since the Esplanade’s inception, as well as the followspot room, having a close up look at these incredible tools used to light up the stage (we were very careful; each spotlight costs the equivalent of a car).
While walking from venue to venue, Ravi also shared some seriously interesting facts about the Esplanade’s structure itself. Did you know that there is an acoustic gap that runs around the theatre and concert hall, thereby providing theatre and concertgoers protection against loud external noises such as the annual F1 Night Race? Or that the Esplanade actually has very efficient use of rainwater, collecting it each time and using it to water the plants that surround it? At just about every stop, there was always fascinating new trivia for us to learn about the twin durians, and Ravi was always keen to share them with us, his eyes lighting up with excitement each time.
When we said this would be an in-depth tour, we were being quite literal, and even got to see what lay beneath the Esplanade Theatre stage – a network of huge towering structures to support everything that lay above it, something the layperson would never expect to be hidden underneath the stage. Not to mention, plenty of hidden passages that are way more complex than what one sees on the surface.
But the highlight of the tour had to be the chance to climb to the very top of the Esplanade, getting a real bird’s eye view from the Esplanade’s roof – and even getting to touch the iconic spikes! Here, we even saw the pegs that linked the rubber linings holding the Esplanade’s panels together, and learnt about how the Esplanade is washed by hand twice a year, as cleaners abseil down the sides to clean for 2 months at a time. It’s a place even most staff don’t come up to, since they rarely have reason, and it felt strangely alluring in its distance from the ground, a view that really hammered home the majesty of the building and the ‘durian’ dome.
The tour rounded off at the Esplanade Green Room, but with a special surprise – we got to see some of the original proposed ideas for the Esplanade’s design, as well as the winning one, way back from the 90s. A perfect way to end off the tour with where it all started, Esplanade’s Backstage Pass tour has wowed us yet again with its fine curation and inimitable guide, and we can say with certainty that this is a fine way to spend a Saturday morning, getting intimate with Singapore’s premier arts venue, learning new facts, and taking in new views we’ve never had before.
The Esplanade’s Backstage Pass with…tours will take place every Saturday until 16th December, 10am – 12 noon. All proceeds go to fundraising for Esplanade’s waterfront theatre, and tickets are available from SISTIC
The Esplanade also does regular tours each week with members of Esplanade staff to guide you through. Tickets and schedule available from their website