Music

Esplanade's new Annex Studio is a musical arena

Chok Kerong’s Organ Trio launched Esplanade's new Annexe Studio on Sept 1 with a rousing performance. Photo: Hoong Wei Long, Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
The Esplanade's new Annexe Studio is an informal and flexible two-storey venue meant for hosting residencies, rehearsals, performances and more. Photo: Hoong Wei Long, Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
The new Annex Studio at Esplanade is a casual, bare-bones venue for a myriad of experiences
Published: 4:00 AM, September 6, 2016
Updated: 7:22 PM, September 6, 2016

SINGAPORE — Remember the space at Esplanade that used to house nightclubs such as the old Embassy with its transparent floors on the second level, followed by DXO in 2008 with its soft and cushy chairs?

Now, it has been transformed into an informal and flexible two-storey venue called the Esplanade Annexe Studio meant for hosting residencies, rehearsals, performances and the like.

Yvonne Tham, assistant chief executive officer from The Esplanade Company explained how this idea came about. “When the lease came up around October 2015, we considered if we should just do something different. In the last two years we have been commissioning a lot more work and we were running out of rehearsal spaces, so the thinking was why not convert this into a space for rehearsals and residencies to deepen the work we are doing with artists?”

The Annexe Studio marks the completion of a space renewal exercise that Esplanade embarked on in July 2014 and was officially launched last Thursday.

Here are some reasons why we are excited about it.

Music gigs to look forward to

Rehearsals and residencies are just the tip of the iceberg. The Esplanade team realised the space was also suitable for music gigs. The Annexe Studio opened last Thursday and Friday with performances by Singapore jazz musician Chok Kerong with his band Organ Trio and Singapore post-rock behemoth In Each Hand A Cutlass.

They are part of Esplanade’s new Mosaic Associate Artist programme, which was launched in the spirit of artist development embodied by the new Annexe Studio. Esplanade says it recognises there is scope to offer artists here more dedicated support. The programme will help target their artists’ needs and aspirations as well as hand them performance and residency opportunities, production support, and links to its international networks. In fact, the opening performances at the new space were meant to be a send-off party for the musicians, with Chok Kerong’s Organ Trio going off for their Tokyo Jazz Festival debut last Sunday in Japan and In Each Hand A Cutlass kick-starting their international tour that sees them heading to Bigsound in Brisbane and Concrete & Grass Festival in Shanghai.

Intimate and casual performance space

After two days of rehearsals at the space, Chok loved the new Annexe Studio because it is just the right size. Having performed at the Victoria Concert Hall, Chok, 33, liked that this space “is more informal and that it is something in between a club, bar and a concert”. He added: “I like playing in spaces like this because it is not so stiff and it would not be out of place for people to have quiet conversations while still have the music going on. If they choose to listen they can and they can do so with a drink in their hands.” Esplanade, too, received feedback from their audiences during previous music gigs that they would like to stand, and even though the concert hall is acoustically beautiful, they wanted a more casual and relaxed space which the new Annexe Studio now provides.

Merging the old and the new

Though it appears a tad bare and gritty, there were some renovations done to the studio as the space had not been refurbished for some time. The canopy outside the entrance of the Annexe is new, and in order to provide better access to the toilets, there is a corridor built through the neighbouring building. Esplanade also decided that everything in the Annexe Studio would come from something recycled, so all the equipment has been taken from their main building or are things they no longer use because of upgrading over the years. The team had cleaned it all up and put it back to use for the new space.

Ever-changing

Many of the festivals at the Esplanade are planned a year or two in advance, but with this space, Esplanade intends to do things differently to reflect the energy of the arts scene. The space itself is referred to as “plug and play” by the tech staff. In a more formal venue, there would typically be a lot of backstage rooms where all the controls are, but at the new Annexe Studio, everything is left exposed. The stage is also removable and after the performances last week, the Annexe Studio will go into rehearsal mode, filled with dance mats laid out on the floor for the da:ns festival and the space will feel entirely different again.

Interactive and open

Audiences can be a part of the creative process during open rehearsals and jam sessions, or learn something new at workshops and masterclasses. Following the Annexe Sessions on Thursday and Friday, the Annexe Studio will be open for parent-child workshops as part of the Octoburst! – A Children’s Festival from Oct 7 to 9 and an interactive dance work Halfbreadtechnique on Oct 14 and 15 as part of the da:ns festival. There will be youth-oriented bootcamps as SixTeen Dance Challenge and Voices Show Choir Intensive will hold their rehearsals there. Beyond these, there will be album launches and an open mic session in November, as well as family-centric activities in December this year.