1996 – 1998
1999 – 2003
2004 – 2018
2018 – Present
The Finger Players first started out as a children division specialising in traditional Chinese hand puppetry under The Theatre Practice. The late drama doyen, Kuo Pao Kun, enrolled the key original members comprising of Tan Beng Tian and Ong Kian Sin to spearhead and promote the art of puppetry amongst the young. The division actively performed in schools and community tours.
Production highlights during this burgeoning period include Battle of Redhill (a collaboration with The Theatre Practice under the direction of well-known Taiwanese director Calvin Teng), which was performed at the Festival of Asian Performing Arts 1997 and Treasures from the Dragon Palace, which was performed at the Thian Hock Keng temple under the direction of China’s renowned Puppet Master, Li Bo Fen. Although the repertoire during that time consisted mainly of traditional hand puppetry, the members began to experiment with other puppetry forms to expand their theatrical language and vocabulary.
A STEADY PACE
In 1999, The Finger Players left The Theatre Practice to establish itself as a separate entity. The company’s mission then was to create a puppet theatre that promoted the legends and myths from the Asia Pacific. By then, the company’s style had evolved and included many other puppets styles from both the east and west. The company grew from strength to strength and won numerous invitations from overseas puppetry festivals during this period. These festivals in turn gave the company’s full time artists many opportunities to exchange and share their craft and expertise with many international artists and puppet masters from all around the world.
The years of experimentation with different puppet styles and international exposure culminated in The Finger Players’ first full-length production (Nezha) in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Not only was the seminal production hailed as “stunning” and “nothing less than spectacular” by the press, it bore many aesthetics that is now trademarks of The Finger Players: dazzling array of different puppet styles; “exposed” puppeteers who double up as actors; interaction between actors and puppets. The production established many puppet-making techniques that are still being used today.
At the same time, the artists continued to evolve and develop their craft through more international invites and workshops. By the tail end of this period, the company had carved a niche in the international puppetry circuit, having toured to over 10 European and Asian cities around the world, making it one of Singapore’s most international prolific touring companies.
At the same time, the company moved to its present Cairnhill premises under the National Arts Council’s Arts Housing scheme. With additional support from NAC’s SEED grant, the company became fully operational with administration and production support.
By the end of 2003, The Finger Players became Singapore’s first professional puppet theatre company actively touring its productions to local schools and community theatre/shopping malls over and above its international showings.
With the belief that puppetry is an universal art form that all ages could and should appreciate, in 2004, the company underwent an artistic overhaul; over and above children productions that it produces annually, the company expanded its repertoire by staging productions that cater to adults specifically. The first of this effort was Furthest North, Deepest South, which was staged (in collaboration with Mime Unlimited) at the end of 2004. The 12 member ensemble acted, mimed and manipulated puppets in what was considered by many a ground breaking performance that left audiences awed and floored by its originality and theatricality. Hitherto the audiences had never seen such seamless fusion of disciplines – theatre, puppetry and mime – in one production.
In 2005, Furthest North, Deepest South entered the 5th Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards ceremony as an underdog and emerged with the biggest prizes of the night – Best Production of the Year and Best Ensemble. The night of honours was followed swiftly by the successes of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Twisted staged in the same year. With these two productions, the company swept most of the coveted awards at the following year’s Life! Theatre Awards. The appeal these productions has had went beyond our shores with Furthest North, Deepest South being invited to perform in Europe’s biggest performing arts festival (Sziget) in Budapest, Hungary after it had enjoyed a successful second staging at the Esplanade in 2006; Twisted was invited to perform in Barcelona, Spain in 2007. The company continued its winning streak in the Life! Theatre Awards with I’m just a Piano Teacher: this dark and brooding tale of a born loser which ended the company’s season 2006 was nominated for Best Production of the Year, as well as Best Director to name a few. Together with another of its production – First Family, the company scored a total of 7 nominations at the 2007 awards.
To streamline operations, the company expanded to three branches (Reach Out!; Main Season and International) to better execute the various goals and objectives:
The Reach Out! branch focuses on cultivating new audiences and arts appreciation via its arts education programme such as workshops, consultancy services and school/community tours.
The Main Season branch stages productions that cater to adult audiences. It is committed to an artistic vision that is multidisciplinary, one that fuses theatre, human actors and puppetry. Its mission is to create a theatre of imagination.
The International Season branch promotes and stages Main Season productions in the international theatre scene. The company wins invitations from at least 1 international festival per year.
Touted as the “hottest local theatre group” and “the company to watch” by the press and media, The Finger Players is one of Singapore’s leading theatre companies today.
Ten years after the company’s shift in artistic direction and mission in 2007, The Finger Players embarked on its next strategic review exercise, this time facilitated by an arts management consultant. This three-month long exercise led the company into exploring the operation of The Finger Players as an arts collective, with the intention that the company continues to cultivate and grow arts practitioners who share the same belief in puppetry in theatre-making. The mission statement for the company was updated as follows:
“The Finger Players is a group of artists and managers who have a vested interest in extending the philosophy of puppetry in theatre-making, by adopting an interdisciplinary approach for the creation of reflective, original and innovative artistic expression/forms.”
The present team decided to relinquish their present roles to form a collective of independent/freelance artists and managers, henceforth referred to as the Core Team of The Finger Players.
The core team extended an invitation to associates whom they have a close working relationship with, to explore the possibility of the company moving forward in a collective model – where core members make decisions democratically for the company.
Daniel Sim, Ellison Tan and Myra Loke came onboard as members of The Finger Players Core Team.
After much discussion, the core team decided to embark on a rotating artistic directorship for the company, where an appointed Artistic Director(s) would lead the company for a term of three years, along with the National Arts Council’s major grant term. The appointed AD(s) will bring forth his/her creative vision during the term, while protecting The Finger Player’s mission and vision. The core team still remains, as a consultative and communicative panel.
Oliver Chong was appointed Artistic Director of The Finger Players. Chong has been Resident Director at the company since joining in 2004. His term will be from April 2023 to March 2026.