Super Seniors

Published on 30 August 2016

The Silver Arts Festival returns to show that age is no barrier to art.


Some say old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but in the case of the Silver Arts Festival 2016, they don’t necessarily have to. Sometimes, it’s more about deciding to express what was there all along — including human affection.


This fifth edition of the annual Silver Arts Festival, organised by the National Arts Council (NAC), will once again present a range of programmes not just for, but often also by, our Singapore seniors, including specially commissioned short films such as the love story Spring Again, directed by award-winning film-maker Ray Pang, and starring out-and-about senior thespians Thomas Lim and Tina Wah as the romancing elders.

SILVER SCREEN Seniors steal the spotlight in two original short films, The Drum (above) and Spring Again (below), about rediscovering one’s passion. PHOTO Catharsis Film

“Sometimes there is a stigma against elders showing affection in public. Even elders themselves might say, ‘So old already, shouldn’t hold hands or hug each other,’ ” says Pang.  “But I think it’s only healthy to love and express love, regardless of age. Singapore is an ageing population, and we better get more open-minded about this idea.”


Says Wah, “I certainly didn’t feel awkward filming Spring Again. I still walk hand-in-hand with my husband, and since we now have grandchildren, we’re constantly reminiscing about our romance as young parents.”


To which Pang adds, “Sometimes you see elder folk reminiscing alone. But what Spring Again discusses is, why not go beyond that and actively recreate, and relive, the good moments?”


This philosophy extends to pursuing interests that were previously shelved due to the daily grind. Wang Yu Qing is a pioneering TV actor and the current host of Channel 8 programme Silver Carnival — a variety show tailored for the silver-haired segment — who stars in another Silver Arts short film, The Drum. For this project, he had to learn how to play the tabla, a type of Indian drum, at the fine old age of 55.

PHOTO Ler Jiyuan

Says Wang, “I think youth is about survival, but retirement should really be about living; doing what has always interested you. As the host of Silver Carnival, I’ve interacted with many retirees, some who are already in their 80s, who do things like running marathons. A large number of these retirees are so healthy and I do think that comes from their activeness and attitude to life. For me, I’m still working, but being able to learn a new art form was one reason why I jumped at the opportunity to do The Drum.”


Catherine Sng, veteran actress, founder and principal trainer of Glowers Drama Group for seniors, explains, “There’s always a lot to learn if you are just starting out in something, but I see the Glowers really enjoying learning new things and then wanting to do more and more. I had one member who initially said she only wanted to help backstage. For the next play, she asked if she could be onstage, but not have any lines, so we gave her the part of this quiet special needs character and she was very good. Now she loves saying lines and you’ll see her doing a great job in Kampong Chempedak, which will be staged at this year’s Silver Arts Festival. You know, many of the Glowers are getting professional jobs, sometimes more than me!”


Ariffin Abdullah, the founder and artistic director of Malay traditional music group Sri Mahligai, agrees. “We will be performing Evergreens From the South at the festival, and while we weren’t able to get seniors to perform with us this time, we’ve had senior guests ask to sing a song with us when we perform at events — some are really, really good. They love to sing but sometimes they don’t think about performing, and we would love to work with these hidden treasures. Many elders have so much experience we can learn from.”


Cross-generation interaction is definitely one of the aims of the festival, not just because the elderly have much to teach the young, but also vice versa. Says Wang, “Now the directors and co-actors I work with are mostly younger than me. One thing I am forced to learn from them is how to use technology! The communication now is all done digitally. You have to adapt, and who better to learn from?”


And other than learning, there are also the simple benefits of enjoying each other’s company. Says Sng, “In Kampong Chempedak, the characters revisit their kampong days and discuss life in HDB flats. They gossip about seeing nudity through HDB windows, or hearing sexual sounds through ceilings… because what’s wrong with old people talking about sex? Where do you think young people come from?


“Now, not all elders might be as thick-skinned, but I believe most watching this will laugh at the jokes — elders have been through it all. And if their younger relatives watch together with them, they can all laugh together at how elders can be so frank. That gives more perspectives into their past and topics for conversation other than just, ‘Have you eaten?’ ”

ROAD WELL TRAVELLED Seniors share no-holds-barred gossip about kampong life versus HDB living in the original play, Kampong Chempedak. PHOTO Catherine Sng


Accordingly, the Silver Arts Festival programmes are tailored for multi-generational appeal, from films that range from entertaining shorts to the premiere of Silver Features (a collection of full-length movies featuring fascinating older characters, such as the Golden Horse Award-winning A Simple Life, starring Andy Lau), to craft marathons, concerts, exhibitions, music and performance workshops, and various art workshops for creating slices of Instagrammable nostalgia.


Look out for events taking place all around the island, with pop-up performances at various venues including a koptiam. There’ll even be art in hospitals and care centres for the less mobile elderly, thanks to the festival’s Eldercare Seminar.


Says Chua Sock Hwang, NAC’s deputy director of arts & communities, “The seminar comprises two components: one to help both artists and the management of the various elder-linked organisations understand how art can be meaningful for seniors, and another comprising workshops to show what arts programmes — like drum circles, movement programmes or visual arts sessions — can be brought to care centres and incorporated in the elders’ daily activities. These can be led by particular artists, or even largely facilitated by the caregivers themselves using toolkits.


“It’s now the third year of the seminar and the take-up rate has been increasingly encouraging, with lovely stories from caregivers who’ve brought arts programmes to their centres. One mentioned that during an art activity, a senior revealed he’d been in the arts scene in the past, which no one knew about. They started to have more connection and conversations after that.”


Says Wang, “This festival can really reinforce the idea that you might be old, but your attitude doesn’t have to be. Why can’t I do what the younger people do, even though I’m a little more crumply?”


The Silver Arts Festival is on till 25 September. See for details.

THE FULL PICTURE Other than short films, enjoy full-length local and regional movies celebrating the older generation, such as A Simple Life (Hong Kong), which won the 2011 Golden Horse Best Director’s Award. PHOTO Scorpio East

PICTURE THIS Get a glimpse into the lives of senior art-makers through exhibitions such as Home (top), where members of Thye Hua Kwan Seniors Activity Centre @ MacPherson express life stories through art, and Remember Me Through My Art, showcasing fading memories of dementia patients’ past as expressed through artwork. PHOTO Alzheimer’s Disease Association

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