On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Keep the passion burning

Singapore continues to stage top musicals and concerts in a move to promote itself as a city with top class entertainment. The island republic is doing this so cleverly and has even positioned booths selling tickets in busy Orchard Road, just like in London’s Leicester Square.

Sistic, the leading ticketing agent for Singapore’s arts, entertainment and sporting events, has also appointed local representatives in cities across the region, including Kuala Lumpur.

In short, cities like Seoul and Singapore see the value in having clean evening entertainment for locals and tourists. In Malaysia, however, it’s a struggle for those who are trying to do the same thing.

Faced with anything from bureaucratic red tape and political-religious pressure to a non-supportive government and private sector, concert promoters must sometimes wonder why they are in the business at all.

Every promoter, whether for a local or foreign act, seems to have a story to tell, usually a negative one. They have to go through so many layers of bureaucracy and Little Napoleons who just do not understand that their action, or lack of it, is frustrating the work of promoters.

From the compulsory requirement to submit scripts to complying with Finance Ministry regulations, it is a near nightmare.

In South Korea, the tie-up between K-pop and corporations like LG, Samsung, and Hyundai has helped to market their products globally and the government to reap benefits from tourism.

Two musicals – Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina’s The Secret Life of Nora and The Star’s In Perfect Harmony – have dominated Kuala Lumpur’s theatre scene for the past two weeks.

In both cases, they were made for love of the local theatre, and in The Star’s case to also commemorate the newspaper’s 40th anniversary. Certainly, making money was not the aim.

A show like Nora would need to run for months in order to break even. Unfortunately, too, there is only one venue that can house a production of this scale, and because the policy is to share the pie among as many people as possible, the organisers always get a limited run. So it’s impossible to recover costs from just one season.

What many don’t realise is that staging a production for a second season involves just as much cost as the first time round. While cost for elements like costumes and sets are fortunately lower, there are still the monthly rental for storage, wear and tear, and repair costs to consider every time the set is taken apart and put together again.

Other cost factors like sound and lights also place a huge burden on production companies as these features do not come with the venue. For Nora, the total expenditure for the sound department alone was more than RM700,000, says Tiara.

Needless to say, ticket sales for most local shows can’t even cover this cost.

For both musicals, there were corporate sponsors but each time organisers want to stage a show, it will be a never-ending round of sales pitches, promotions and promises just to seek sponsorship.

If there is a foreign talent coming in at the same time, like the David Foster and Friends Live in Malaysia Concert 2011, the sponsors could choose to put their budget behind that act. It is never easy to convince corporate Malaysia that investing in a home-grown product has its benefits.

Anyone who has managed to watch Nora and In Perfect Harmony would be convinced that they were class acts and that had a bigger budget been available, they could have easily matched West End/Broadway standards.

But Malaysia can do it if the Government, all the way from the top, makes the arts part of its creative and innovation programme in its national agenda. The policy needs to be clear and have to be discussed with people in the industry to make it workable. Corporations need to know what’s in it for them if they support arts-related products as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. There are tax relief schemes available now but such information has not been widely circulated.

Companies like SP Setia, Maxis, Berjaya, UOB, Celcom and Naza Motor, to name a few, have always given their support for local musicals.

In the words of Tiara, who has produced musicals like Puteri Gunung Ledang and P. Ramlee – the Musical, all of which set new benchmarks, they need our help to keep the passion burning.

So let’s support the likes of Tiara, Dama Orchestra and talents like Douglas Lim and Harith Iskandar.

Support must come not just from the Govern­ment and big companies but also from ordinary Malaysians, especially the well-heeled. Buy tickets for yourself and friends. Don’t ask for free tickets from the organisers and promoters!