Review: A Silent Hour – Buskers of Singapore by Toy Factory
Bridging the distance between audiences and buskers.
Toy Factory is breaking new ground this year with their outreach programme for inclusive theatre sharing, presenting brand new ways and forms of experiencing the arts, not only through new technologies or ways of staging, but even the form itself. With A Silent Hour: Buskers of Singapore, creator Stanley Seah puts the spotlight on musician Yee Kien, one of Singapore’s youngest street musicians, in an intimate session at Toy Factory’s NOWplaying@17 space.
In speaking to Stanley a little before the performance, Stanley explained how he had always been fascinated with buskers, and wanted to tell the stories of everyday people. Buskers, most of which are seen along the Orchard Road shopping belt, somehow manage to light up the street in a completely different, emotional way, and there’s something gallant about how they do it not for fame, glory or money even, but sheer passion alone in enjoying their craft, perhaps, even the bravest of artists. Stanley mentions the misconception and stigma many buskers are saddled with, that they are often perceived as glorified beggars only looking for money, but the truth is, it really is just a hobby for them, one that they decide to pursue with gusto and see what comes of it when they share it with the world.
With A Silent Hour then, Stanley hoped to push forward the true message and intent behind what buskers in Singapore do. For Yee Kien, playing in the quaint space on level 3 of NOWplaying@17, the environment is certainly a little different from the bustling streets of Orchard or the rushing crowds at train stations, giving the audience a chance to really take time out to listen to him and hear him out, bereft of fancy staging and sticking to what a typical setup for busking would have had. 22-year old Yee Kien juggles his time between being a Mathematic & Economics undergraduate and a talented young artist, sporting Korean boyband looks and hairstyle and armed with a whole range of musical skills, from rapping to beatboxing, singing songs in both English and Mandarin. A busker for about a year, his performance features a combination of songs and stories about his experiences. For Yee Kien, performing in a private venue for a dedicated audience is a completely new experience for him, half nervous, half excited about being given this rare opportunity to try something different.
So much of Yee Kien’s performance is reliant on his voice, certainly his greatest asset. Throughout the seamless performance, he guides us through his music making process, showing off a looper he uses and exactly how he manipulates it in all its intricacies. Yee Kien displays a stunning awareness of the best entry and exit points in a song where he can afford to differentiate the variations, obviously in full understanding of the different beats and an encyclopaedic knowledge of an entire library of songs. He plays to his strengths – a mashup of Ed Sheeran’s Perfect and Ben E. King’s Stand by Me puts an immediate smile on our faces, and with his walkthrough of his process, we feel like we understand and appreciate his performance that much more.
There is a natural charisma to Yee Kien that endears us to him when he shares stories about himself, recalling how singer JC’s 說散就散 was an important song for him, the very first one he chose to play as a busker (before playing it, of course), telling us about how he taught himself beatboxing, sparking off the realisation that all this could be more than just a hobby, and all it took was to step out of his comfort zone to achieve it, showing off his vulnerability, a sincerity to his tale when he recalls the exact amount it cost him to buy all his instruments and tech ($1,877), and if anything, is an inspiration. It takes a lot of courage to share all this in such close proximity to the audience, closing the distance between audience and performer, and we appreciated his bravery.
What Yee Kien leaves us with is the realisation that perhaps, while many of us may not pursue busking as a hobby, plenty of us have a hidden creative edge or artistic talent, with many ‘closet artists’ living in society. There is meaning in Yee Kien’s performance that makes us understand busking is not simply about audiences watching and appreciating a performance, but a two way street, where we can and should reciprocate the next time we see and enjoy a busker’s performance, to just say hi or applaud, to give them that extra push to go on. There is so much to be gleaned from the brief, very real space of busking, and for A Silent Hour, in connecting with the good music, the beauty of the theatrical setting, and feeling the passion emanating from Yee Kien in the room, there is a solidarity and silent bond that links everyone together – that then, is the power of the arts in uniting strangers, and elevating something seemingly ordinary, into an extraordinary experience.
Performance attended 4/4/19 (Preview)
A Silent Hour: Buskers of Singapore plays from 5th to 13th April 2019 at NOWplaying@17. Tickets available from Eventbrite If tickets are sold out, you can contact Daini at firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.