[Feature Image: Khant at the launch of SMU Arts Fest 2023]
By Khant Min Naing, Undergraduate, SMU School of Computing and Information Systems
The SMU Arts Fest has been a consistent and integral part of my SMU journey. I started out as a student artist, participating in visual art exhibitions in 2021 and 2022. This year, my involvement took a whole new direction when I decided to participate in the Arts Fest again but as a part of the student organising committee – specifically, in the show programming team. It was a wild ride from start to finish, but the ultimate reward came when I witnessed people enjoying the festival after months of tireless dedication and hard work.
This year’s edition of the SMU Arts Festival was conceptualised on the theme of ‘POST’, offering six thought-provoking productions. Within this theme, student artists delved into the complexities of post-modernity, post-truth, post-human and various other post-concepts. These performances explored meaningful conversations about our past, present and future. The show I was in charge of, which also served as the festival’s opening act, was titled “The Social Post”. It drew inspiration from Singapore’s growth as a thriving digital hub, where the vibrant energies of diverse cultures and talents intersect, both in the physical and online realms.
Planning this year’s festival was particularly challenging, as it was SMU Arts Fest’s first large-scale on-campus production since the pandemic. Additionally, we collaborated with various external stakeholders, such as the Singapore Night Festival (SNF) and art schools in the Bras Basah.Bugis precinct. As the production team grew, we needed to engage in extensive discussions to gather different perspectives from collaborators and fine-tune each performance segment to ensure the festival theme was effectively conveyed.
SMU Funk Movement during a performance vetting session
One of our significant challenges was coordinating the efforts of everyone on the organising committee. We had just two months for planning and preparation, and the team consisted of various sub groups responsible for operations, logistics, show programming, production, administration, and more. Additionally, we worked closely with the creative director and managers from the SMU Office of Student Life who supervised our work. I vividly recall our first meeting, where everyone were strangers and the atmosphere was awkward. However, it is amazing how, within a few weeks, we started getting to know each other better. The entire production would not have been possible without the strong bond and teamwork that had developed among us.
SMU Samba Masala rehearsing under the watching eyes of their director Bryan Lee (foreground)
After the team was formed, a whirlwind of activities followed, including brainstorming, meticulous planning, vendor contracting, technical checks and numerous other responsibilities. Every day was a flurry of activities – checking, double-checking, and making sure everything ran smoothly and seamlessly. We conducted multiple rounds of vetting sessions and rehearsals, engaging in extensive discussions with staff managers and student clubs right up to the final moments before the actual show.
The grand debut
After months of meticulous preparation, anticipation and hard work, the first day of the SMU Arts Fest finally arrived. The event launch was nerve-wrecking because it marked the first unveiling of our production to VIP guests, including SMU senior management, partners and the public at large. My role involved escorting the VIPs to the festival grounds, and despite my initial worries, it was heartwarming to hear their compliments and appreciation for the team’s hard work.
The SMU Arts Festival event launch was graced by (L-R) SOTA Principal Mrs Mary Seah, LASALLE President Prof Steve Dixon, National Heritage Board CEO Ms Chang Hwee Nee, SMU President Prof Lily Kong, UAS Vice-Chancellor Prof Kwok Kian Woon and NAFA President Mrs Tan-Soh Wai Lan
Through the four nights of live production, the festival ground came alive with music, performances and cheers. The excitement and energy radiating from the festival grounds were overwhelming. I’ll forever cherish the memory of standing backstage, listening to the thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd. It was an adrenaline rush like no other. Running back and forth between the production command centre and backstage, none of us felt fatigue; instead, we were fuelled by excitement.
As the production was live, we had to be prepared for unexpected changes at any moment. Technical errors, such as equipment failure or visual and audio problems, could disrupt the entire show. To ensure everything ran smoothly, the organising committee multitasked as backstage stage managers, regularly checking and fixing problems during intermissions. This year, with performances limited to just 15 minutes each, precise timing was essential. Effective communication between the show caller, technical crew, emcees, backstage stage managers, and artist liaison officers was crucial. On some nights, the number of festival goers exceeded our expectations, and the organising committee had to carry out crowd control together with security personnel, especially during off-stage performances.
The enthusiastic audience at the SMU Arts Fest opener, The Social Post
Despite these challenges, my teammates demonstrated incredible flexibility and adaptability, going above and beyond to make sure everything went smoothly. I recall how, after the first weekend’s production, our team stayed back well past midnight to reflect and debrief on issues and areas of improvement in preparation for the second performance weekend. Even though we had been working tirelessly from morning to midnight, I was immensely grateful for the dedication of every team member. Thanks to our hard work and coordination, we successfully avoided any undesirable delays and finished every performance on time.
In essence, organising the SMU Arts Fest was akin to assembling a complex puzzle, with each member of the organising committee representing a crucial piece. When assembled, they formed a complete and harmonious puzzle. I am profoundly grateful to have been one of these vital pieces and to have played my role in making this event a success.