Arts Down Under 2020


An Interview with Jeffrey Tan, on Arts For Good-funded work SAME-SAME.

Thank you for this write up!

Think Singapore is too small? Then perhaps it’s time to think about the great wide world beyond our island’s shores, something non-profit organisation the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) has been promoting since it was founded in 1991.

But what makes the SIF stand out from other organisations aiming to build stronger bridges between Singapore and other countries is in their methods. Rather than seeing it as a strictly political issue, for example, diplomat to diplomat, their initiatives and programmes are primarily targeted at a more down-to-earth level, focusing on the human element, and connecting people to people instead. Their idea of internationalisation is centred around capacity building, with broad ideas of what it means to go international, and give Singaporeans the opportunity to network and formmeaningful relationships, learning from others and vice versa, forming a strong international, inter-country community, be it in the field of arts, business, education or healthcare.

For a foundation that’s all about bringing Singaporeans global though, the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) usual plans had to be changed in a year where commercial flights had all but stopped, and the world seemed to be becoming increasingly insular and bubbled thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of crisis comes creativity, and the NGO pivoted their goals accordingly. This year, instead of focusing on physically bringing Singaporeans to other countries, the focus was instead primarily on creating new opportunities for collaboration, one of which resulted in the inaugural open call for the Arts For Good projects to support arts-based initiatives. Receiving almost 140 applications from 25 countries, five projects were ultimately selected and awarded up to S$20,000 in funding each to fulfil their projects, with the aim of positively impacting over 37,000 people globally.

Ms Jean Tan, Executive Director of the SIF, said: “In 2016, SIF launched Arts for Good to grow a community of practice that harnesses the transformative power of arts and culture to create positive social change. COVID-19 may have disrupted our progress and adversely impacted the arts and culture scene here and abroad, but SIF stands in solidarity with our community. We are ramping up our Arts for Good Projects to help support our arts practitioners and their arts-based collaborations that build a better world.”

The second edition of the Arts for Good Fellowship

Arts For Good’s exchange programme in Chennai, India

Of the five projects, one that stands out is by local independent theatremaker Jeffrey Tan, with his collaborative dance-theatre production SAME-SAME. Created in collaboration with No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability (AUS) and Maya Dance Theatre’s Diverse Abilities Dance Collective DADC (SG), the project is also produced in collaboration with Subastian Tan (Maya Dance Theatre), Emma Beech and Michaela Cantwell (both from No Strings Attached), and features the similarities between differently-abled performers in Singapore and Australia during COVID-19, and will be performed across both Adelaide and Singapore and available to view on Zoom. Says producer and co-director Jeffrey Tan: “COVID-19 has been unprecedented in how it has affected lives, including the arts and culture scene globally. The Arts for Good Projects and the SIF’s Arts for Good ecosystem provides an important source of support in this challenging period, enabling artists to continue pursuing creative collaborations while contributing to uplifting world communities.”

Jeffrey himself is an alumni of SIF’s Arts For Good fellowship, a programme started in 2017 that aims to harness the power of arts and culture to effect positive social change. The fellowship in particular seeks to build a vibrant community of practice from diverse sectors of the arts to create positive social effect, and to date, has seen over 450 artists and 170 Fellows from more than 60 countries working together to build upon the SIF’s Arts for Good network, where art practitioners and different sectors of society can collaborate, ignite change and advocate socially-engaged creative practices collectively.

SAME-SAME performer Wanyi

On the genesis behind the project, Jeffrey explains how the relationship between Singapore and Australia had already been established during his stint as a fellow at SIF’s Chennai Exchange Programme. “During the fellowship, I met Kari Seeley from No Strings Attached, and we got along really well,” says Jeffrey. “When I was in Brisbane in 2019 for Open Homes, she even came down for a weekend from Adelaide to catch five performances, and I was amazed because not many would be willing to do that. But we just weren’t sure when or how we would end up collaborating, as much as we wanted to.”

“Fast forward to 2020, and COVID-19 was upon us. Following several rejections of applications and grants, Arts For Good announced their open call, and because of the international collaborative nature of the funding, I thought maybe it was a sign to do something together. Even after getting approval, we were wondering how we would do an international collaboration when we couldn’t travel.”

SAME-SAME performer Jack

The answer to that was simple enough – going digital. But that still didn’t resolve the issue of what exactly Jeffrey and No Strings Attached would end up doing. “For some reason, over the last few years, I’ve been working mostly with people in the margins, like visually impaired teenagers as tour guides,” says Jeffrey. “And I kept wondering: what else could we do in Singapore? There’s been this explosion of inclusivity and access in recent years, and a sudden interest in those with disabilities wanting to perform. At some point, I met Kavitha, artistic director of Maya Dance Company, and found out about how they started Diverse Abilities. I’d never worked with Maya Dance before, so it was a good chance to get to know them and collaborate with some one who believed in giving access and opportunities locally. So we introduced No Strings Attached to them, and decided that the three of us would do something together for Arts For Good.”

SAME-SAME performer Junlin

Jeffrey then hit upon the idea of working with those in the disabled community, and how many of them, even before COVID-19 struck, had spent most of their time at home, and how the circuit breaker measures ended up not impacting their daily lives as much as some other people. “So we got excited, and decided that we would start with the premise of finding the connectivity and sameness across countries,” Jeffrey says. “We found a few performers across both countries, both actors and dancers, and got ready to begin the rehearsal process. The project, at the end of the day, is really trying to show how we’re all human, and to be able to reach out and connect to one another to make sense of where we are. Our endgame wasn’t to create a show with the performers doing a script, and it was a creative risk to just say ok, let’s play and find what are our points of connection.”

SAME-SAME performer Kobi

While Jeffrey has been working in theatre for a long time now, he still feels he had plenty to learn from the experience. “I was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t officially trained at facilitating disabled people and arts, but I did an intense 4-day online course and learnt how to work with children and audiences with disabilities across the whole spectrum,” says Jeffrey. “I guess I also ended up learning a lot about patience, and the importance of deep listening and being sensitive to the partners we worked with. It was nice how they were all connecting, and while some started off being shy onscreen or frustrated with not understanding, it was very rewarding to watch them grow together.”

SAME-SAME performer Zoe

Over the course of three months, the seven performers from both countries ended up getting to know each other and explored the idea of SAME-SAME online. Their roles evolved from performers to reveal the sameness of what it means to be human, and how even beyond COVID-19, we can continue to celebrate our bonds and how we can overcome differences to connect. “Overall, it was a very open process, with a lot of give and take on either end, and we were continuously devising as we rehearsed for the show,” says Jeffrey. “At this stage, we’re doing a long-list of the exercises they enjoyed, what they think they’d enjoy online, and for many of them, they’d never had the opportunity to have so much say before, since dancers just follow choreography and actors follow a script so much of the time. In a way it’s quite a complex project. It may look simple on the outside, but the more you allow yourself to engage with your performers and the process, and how both us and them are always negotiating and processing.”

Jeffrey Tan in rehearsals

At the end of the day, while limited in some ways by COVID-19, SAME-SAME still manages to find new ways of connecting across countries and borders, building up these relations between performers and collaborators in Australia and Singapore, and in a way, establishing a foundation on which the relationship can only continue to grow and impact even more people in future. “SAME-SAME is ultimately something you’re not just watching, but experiencing as you see these seven performers trying to connect online, to feel and understand the idea of friendship. It’s definitely a big challenge to have chosen to do this live on Zoom, and have this element of interactivity and participation for audiences. So much of it is about the here and now, something that I think is lacking when it’s pre-recorded,” says Jeffrey. 

“We need to learn not to be afraid of silences on Zoom, and perhaps, not to be afraid of giving people time, because of their very different abilities, and to have patience if we just try to hear what they’re trying to say. For folks to come watch same same live in person in Adelaide or online via Zoom, it’s a really unique encounter, and I think there’s something in there that will move you in one way or another.”

SAME-SAME plays from 13th to 14th November 2020 at the Quartet Bar, Adelaide Festival Centre. Tickets available here. It will also be streamed online, with tickets available on Peatix

For more information on the other projects funded by the Singapore International Foundation, visit their website here


SAME-SAME, an online, inclusive collaboration between Australia and Singapore


Fri 13 Nov, 9.30 am (Singapore) + Post show chat & 4 pm (Singapore)

Sat 14 Nov, 11.30 am (Singapore) + Post show chat & 4 pm (Singapore)

Show duration, 40 minutes

Post show chat is another additional 20 minutes

Concurrent shows

Pre-registration via Zoom in Singapore

Via physical tickets at the Adelaide Festival Centre


SAME-SAME is an online, inclusive collaboration between No Strings Attached  Theatre of Disability (Adelaide, Australia) and Diverse Abilities Dance Collective, DADC (Singapore). A Singapore International Foundation Arts for Good project, this cross-border dance and theatre production will focus on friendship – highlighting the experiences of differently abled performers in Singapore and Australia during COVID-19. How can we connect online? How are we the same? How are we different? How can the arts bring us together?

Over the course of three months, seven performers (actors and dancers) from both countries, got to know each other and explored the idea of SAME-SAME online. Their roles evolved from performers to reveal the sameness of what it means to be human. And beyond COVID-19, what remains similar? What is different? How can we overcome differences to connect?

Directed by Jeffrey Tan with Emma Beech, in collaboration with Subastian Tan (Maya Dance Theatre) and Michaela Cantwell (No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability) and performers from both countries. Come and join us in experiencing their stories of life, love and dreams today! 

Concurrent performances will be held in person in Adelaide, Australia and online in Singapore. Book early to avoid disappointment. 


Past Projects

Into The Blue Forest title  slide.jpgIMG20170917112353

Into the Blue Forest

A new production by Jeffrey Tan

Commissioned by the Artground

Premiered on 25, 26 and 27 May 2018


Imagine, a green tree trying to stand out in a busy green forest.

Who will the tree meet?  Will the animals help?

Will the green tree ever achieve the dream of becoming a blue tree?



A new interactive, multilingual, intergenerational performance for children.  Best for 4 to 7 years old.  Inspired by the drawings by Dario Moretti and original story by Jeffrey Tan, this moving performance is limited to 60 children each performance.

This production is created with inspirations from the findings from Sept 2017 till May 2018 Residency at the Artground.  Translations workshops in Sept 2017 and a contemporary dance performance by Little Raw in Nov 2017.

Audience Survey in Jan 2018,  Design Audience Survey in Feb 2018,  and Audience Trials in Mar, Apr and May 2018 before a six-shows run in May 2018.

100 and 100 More Festival: An Interview with Jeffrey Tan (Into The Blue Forest)

Express Yourself Theatre Workshop (Batch 2) at

And so after seven sessions, the 12 ladies presented their creation to a full house friends and family!

I am so inspired by their courage, talent, wit and passion!

The next batch of workshop starts in March 2019!

Thank you






Presented by La Boite and Backbone Theatre, Brisbane Australia


Pop the kettle on and get to know your neighbours when La Boite rolls out the welcome mat for Open Homes, an intimate theatre project starring ordinary people telling personal stories in their own homes from 25 October – 10 November 2019.

The ground-breaking work from Singaporean artist Jeffrey Tan invites audiences into Brisbane homes to hear residents tell meaningful, essential and inspiring stories of their lived experiences.

These 15 everyday storytellers cross not only suburban boundaries but span an array of ages, living arrangements and cultural backgrounds.

The joint production between La Boite and Backbone paired each storyteller participant with a theatre professional to craft an intimate storytelling experience that they will perform four times across the Open Homes season – inside their own homes.

“Open Homes invites both residents and audiences to connect face-to-face for an hour, getting to know the other in the comfort of a home and hopefully, leaving with a new perspective or an invitation to reflect on one’s own life,” Mr Tan, a QUT outstanding Alumnus, said.

“I first created this work in Singapore in 2015 to discover how people connect with each other given the ever-changing demographics of population and evolving culture of urban cities.”

The development process for Open Homes took twelve months with residents and theatre facilitators exploring and identifying what they would share then shaping how to present it across their four allocated performances.

La Boite CEO and Artistic Director Todd MacDonald described Open Homes as a big, beautiful and generous invitation to meet the neighbours.

“In a society where we often don’t know our neighbours, Open Homes is a chance to meet and connect with the people who make up our community,” Mr MacDonald said.

“Brisbane is a brilliantly diverse city and its population is growing and evolving all the time. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience that diversity in all its beauty.”

Storytellers include Indian-born Valerie Ferdinands who honours her family’s heritage through food and an unparalleled passion for cooking in LIFE RECIPES; young couple Anshula and Michael Jones who chronicle the trials and triumphs of combining their two worlds in one home in IN PURSUIT OF LOVE; and Léonie Flood who unpacks the memories of past adventures and life well-lived in KEEPSAKES, BOXES AND TREASURES.

Backbone CEO and Artistic Director Katherine Quigley, who along with Mr MacDonald is one of the project’s eight theatre facilitators, welcomed the chance to collaborate with La Boite to bring an experience of this scale and size to life.

“Open Homes provides an excuse for us to visit someone else’s house and be transformed by the journey of a stranger,” Ms Quigley said.

“These exceptional storytellers can stand proud in a moment, find the beauty and humour that runs through their lives and share it with pride in their own home.”

Each of the 15 participants will share their stories across four evening or afternoon performances, staged on various dates throughout Open Homes’ 9-day season.

A very limited number of tickets are available to each performance with audience numbers dictated by the size of the house or apartment.

The 15 performances are categorised as “Brisbane North” or “Brisbane South” and ticketholders are asked to assemble at a designated meeting spot nearby where they will be guided to their chosen performance’s venue.

Open Homes is presented by La Boite and Backbone with performances taking place at private residences from 25 October – 10 November 2019.



Simon Tate, 27 October 2019

Thank you Simon for sharing your experience of Open Homes!

Ever had a random stranger tell you their life story that had you re-evaluate the way you look at every person you encounter ? Ever just listen to someone’s story and realise that stories are what connects us as human beings regardless of age, culture, gender, sexuality, politics or philosophy ? 

Tonight I was invited into two people’s homes as part of LaBoite and Backbone’s Open House and was returned to the roots of what I love about performance, in this case that there was none (not counting the amazing Aunty Beryl, but more of that later). Two people that I could have possibly played 4 degrees of Brisbane separation to get to (in hindsight), but would have otherwise walked past in the street told me their life stories and shared their homes, loves, lessons and memories and it was beautiful. It had something that I’ve been missing in productions of late; honesty and simplicity. I can see why Stephen Quinn raved about these shows. They are addictive, personal, profound, and perfectly colloquial. 

Singapore’s Jeffrey Tan has brought to Brisbane this concept after huge success with 47 (!!!!what the what ???) stories in his own country and I have no doubt it will be as huge a hit in Brisburg as well. QACI does something like this with our Living Libraries – a verbatim, one person show – and the result is an intimate performance that draws a small audience into the life of another person. Open Homes does it better though, because there is no artifice, no affectation of theatrical device, no tricks. These are the people and their stories rather than theatricalised, once removed tales, in these people’s homes. 

Colin Young’s ‘Essential Guide to Becoming Fab’ stripped back one of Brisbane’s best known drag queens (Aunty Beryl) to his childhood before piece by piece redressing into a performing goddess, not in a club, but in his lounge-room surrounded by the memorabilia of decades (and a grumpy cat). I was also enveloped in the familial love of Valerie Ferdinands’ ‘Life Recipes’, the story of her immigrant family and the comforting motif of music and food – which she then fed to those lucky enough to be invited into her beautiful home. 

These stories don’t ‘bring to life’; they are life. As Colin said “Everyone deserves love.” and every one of these stories are a way of sharing it.

There are more Open Homes this weekend and for the next 2 weekends and as they are limited to an intimate audience they are starting to book out. The link is below, but take note that bookings close at 10am on the day of the show.

I thoroughly recommend you check them out, not just if you are a jaded theatre shit like myself, but for anyone who wants to step out from behind their devices and find a connection to the real people out there.


OPEN HOMES 2015 and 2017
A commission by the Singapore International Festival of Arts



Review by The Guardian

Would you invite 30 strangers into your bedroom? Singapore’s Open Homes project

Arts festival events let you rifle through the drawers of strangers – all in the aim of promoting transparency in the famously restrictive society

‘With these kinds of projects, people start communicating,’ says Open Homes program director Jeffrey Tan. Photograph: Alamy


Steph Harmon


Friday 25 August 2017 02.01 BST

Last modified on Monday 28 August 2017 04.03 BST

On my third morning in Singapore, I find myself on the 20th floor of a public housing flat in Clementi, sitting next to a cat who is baring her teeth, hissing.

“You have to pet her rougher than that,” my host tells me, smiling. “Otherwise she gets ticklish.”  I go harder but I’m not a cat person, and her teeth grow bigger and seem to get sharper as the strangers around me laugh. There are lots of strangers around me.

The owner of this cat is Mohamad Musta’in Bin Abdul Shukor, and he’s one of the 80% of Singaporeans who lives in subsidised flats built by the government’s housing and development board. HDB has been a part of Singaporean life since before the city-state became independent 52 years ago, under the same government that holds power today.

Shakur is shy but warm and his flat, while small, is bright and packed with stuff. There are curtains, couch covers and tablecloths of a shiny blue material, emblazoned with a galaxy of stars (“I made these myself,” he tells us proudly, more than once). There are two plastic dinosaurs perched on his TV screen (“I don’t know what else to do with them!”), and a cabinet by the wall packed with keychains, miniature animals and sparkling jewellery that he uses to make traditional Malay clothes for his family and friends.

Mohamad Musta’in Bin Abdul Shukor, showing 20 strangers his bedroom wardrobe as part of Open Homes. Photograph: Sifa 2017

I know what’s in his cabinet, because he let me rifle through it. A factory worker by day and tailor-in-learning by night, Shukor has invited 20 strangers into his house as part of Open Homes: a program which ran for three consecutive weekends as part of this year’s Singapore international festival of the arts.

Under the direction of Sifa’s outgoing festival director, Ong Keng Sen, the 2017 event is officially themed as “enchantment” but in practice it’s more about transparency and a look at behind-the-scenes – a response in many ways to Singapore’s infamously restrictive government, which Ong (although officially employed by that government) has spoken out about at length.

Open Homes ties in perfectly with that idea of transparency: far-flung Singaporeans of all ages, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds worked with local theatre-makers or “facilitators” to fine-tune a half-hour walk-through of their homes and their lives, and present it to the public in three or four performances.

It’s a brave thing to let 20 strangers into your house; braver still to let them go through your photo albums, take pictures of your fridge magnets, and challenge your ticklish cats. But it’s also a chance to get a rare glimpse into the lives of people you might pass on the street and never meet – and who doesn’t want permission to open someone else’s drawers?

The program’s artistic director and producer, Jeffrey Tan, puts it succinctly: “It’s moments like these where you feel you’re alive; you feel you’re connected.”

Jeffrey Tan, the director of Open Homes. Photograph: Sifa 2017

Tan presented his inaugural iteration of Open Homes at 2015’s Sifa. It returned after a break with a new focus on diversity: this year 20 of the 30 participants live in public housing, and many of the facilitators and participants come from different backgrounds to Singapore’s Chinese majority.

Shukor, for instance, is Malay, Muslim and a bachelor embarrassed by the size of his queen bed. (“It was a gift.”) He shows us photos of his family, and his beloved recipe book – dictated by his late mother, and transcribed by him. He introduces us to his lemongrass and pandan plants on the balcony before handing us tea he made from them; he also serves us glutinous rice balls with sugar syrup and sends us home with salted eggs that took him three weeks to make.

Tan found the Open Homes participants through a Facebook call and word of mouth – recommendations from friends, from 2015 participants, and from the facilitators themselves.

“In Singapore, in public housing, you look out beyond this door and all the other doors are closed,” he says. “People don’t talk – I think that’s true. And with these kinds of projects, people start communicating. I think the most moving experiences are when neighbours come, and realise, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know. I didn’t know what you were going through.’”

In another Open Homes piece called Bao Bao – a Chinese term for both “baby” and “treasure” – Joan Lee and John Sng told the story of losing their firstborn. “The birth was also the death of their first child. When I first heard that, I was a mess,” Tan says. “These are the kinds of stories we just rarely hear.”

Danny Raven Tan with his mother. Photograph: Sifa 2017

Another piece was hosted by a young painter, Danny Raven Tan, who lives with and cares for his mother, who has dementia. His mother was present for some of the performances, lending a heartbreaking air to the piece’s title: Mummy Not at Home.

Singapore has a rapidly ageing population, with Singaporeans aged over 65 set to double by 2030 and rates of dementia on the rise; as the government grapples with strategies to deal with that, society is already feeling the effects.

For many in the audience at Mummy Not at Home, Jeffrey Tan tells me, Danny’s story rung true. “At the end of the performance quite a few audience members very quietly snuck up to him to give him a hug and said, ‘Thank you – this, I’m going through this too. This means a lot.’”.

Singapore international festival of the arts runs until 9 September. Guardian Australia was a guest of Arts House Limited