SEEDLINGS is a programme that seeks to bring together a group of enthusiastic and arts-loving young people aged 7-12 years with diverse experiences and abilities. Participants attend a series of arts-based workshops, dialogues and performances as part of the March On festival programming. In this article, co-lead facilitators Chong Gua Khee and Faye Lim with Esplanade Programmer Edlyn Ng shared their reflections on SEEDLINGS, now in its second year, and talked about the key values that guided the programme design, working with guest artists and children on the programme, and what they hope to see in future editions of the SEEDLINGS programme.
This article is an edited transcript, accompanied by video blogs created by the SEEDLINGS participants over the course of the 2022 edition. SEEDLINGS 2022 was part of March On 2022 and ran between January to March 2022.
Created by: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay with Chong Gua Khee and Faye Lim
Supported by: Janson Lim, Ong Li Han, Renee Soh, Nicole Tandjung and artists of March On 2022
Video blogs conceptualised and edited by: Third Street Studio
Participants: Ellie, Gleb, Joey, Jolin, Kaylee, Rachel, Riya, Manish, Nadia
Edlyn: Let’s start with describing your role in SEEDLINGS.
Gua Khee: As the designers and facilitators of this programme, we discussed with the Esplanade team to get a sense of the concept that we’d like to go in with. The decision was to follow a similar format as per last year which is to centre around a few key productions and then to have engagements with the artists around it as the kind of scaffolding around it so that we’re also thinking about the relationship aspect among the SEEDLINGS’ children.
We also thought about the experience of the children - how do we shape the programme to be something that is both in line with their interests as well as in a sense, achieve the objectives that were set out at the beginning of the programme? We also looked at strengthening the relationship between Esplanade and the children and the kind of very deep engagement with the programmes at March On.
Faye: I felt like we were camp directors as well. The SEEDLINGS programme was happening alongside the children having their regular lives like schools. Hence, it was always very pleasurable to be able to spend that time with the children on the Saturdays or whenever we met, knowing that we were requesting for them to leave the regularity and routine of their established lives and then creating that space for them to have an experience together. We hoped to create a space of wonder, of friendship, also have opportunities for them to think critically about things that they might not see in other aspects of their day-to-day lives.
Edlyn: Are there key values or questions or ways of thinking that are particularly important to you respectively in your practice and how do they align with how you approach SEEDLINGS as a programme?
Faye: Working with researcher-writer Jill Tan in my personal capacity over the past few years, I came to kind of derive three elements that are important to me in my work with children. One of which is looking at care, another looking at agency and the third one, release.
Within SEEDLINGS, it’s not necessarily like everything is in harmony; that there’s a lot of work there. I think for me it was the release of our power as facilitators, designers, adults and of certain expectations. It helps us to be able to be more responsive to whatever situations or the actual people in front of us.
Gua Khee: I think Faye and I work well together because we believe very strongly in the importance of care, and care as being that quality of being alive to each other to listen, to not necessarily jumping into immediate judgment or trying to like fix things, solve problems but really just being like, ‘okay what do you need right now?’ and if you are not at the space, or if you’re not at a point where you’re able to articulate what you need, that’s okay as well . We are happy to just sit with you. I think that was really the approach that we were taking with the various SEEDLINGS children.
I feel that care is not just all about being soft and giving, but also about orientating ourselves such that we find pleasure in other people’s well-being.
When the children are not having a good day or if they are just struggling with the activities for whatever reason, we try to invite them back into the big group. If they did not feel up to it. we also tried finding other ways for them to engage that was equally generative, pleasurable and nourishing.
Gua Khee: The other part about working with the artists that I wanted to highlight was that we did frame the invitation to them as, ‘what would also be helpful for you?’ and to keep going back to that. I think there is something that we can think about moving forward.
Faye: I wanted to mention one other new thing that was nice for me. With the public sharing, we were always trying to balance this need to share about SEEDLINGS meaningfully and that it is a process that the children at SEEDLINGS feel comfortable with and feel empowered to speak their minds about how it’s being done.
So I think last year, we had a pretty solid format, even amidst all the restrictions at that time and all the limitations because of the pandemic, but what we learnt last year was also that the children might have desires to share more about themselves, as people, as creative people, as artists. So this year, we made a deliberate space for the children to do that, for them to share like a song, a piece of music or something that they felt enthusiastic about sharing.
For example, Ellie was playing a piece of music on the piano and Kaylee sang a song. I think my favourite part was the surprise. Nadia was inspired on the spot to share something, and I think Gua Khee was helping her with that. The idea was that she was going to live draw and we just played some music, people just waited for her to finish drawing an eye and she showed us what the eye looked like even though we had no way of projecting the eye.
Edlyn: Was there something that stayed with you from the various exchanges from the programme? We did talk about the social and relational aspect being quite important to the programme in 2021.
Gua Khee: I think it was something in relation to the youth leaders’ observation of the children’s experiences, that there are some children who seemed a bit disengaged at different parts of the various sessions. I think that felt important to address because it reflects a larger focus in society right now that we always need to be like fully enjoying every single moment that we need to be deeply engaged in whatever we are participating in, and I don’t think that’s true right?
Faye: Yeah, and the diversity of how we pay attention, like we might be paying attention while doodling or we might be paying more attention because we’re laying down instead of sitting up at times. This year is the first time we had the honour and pleasure of working with the youth leaders and the conversations with them extended past the sessions. We left voice messages for them because they would give us lots to think about and then we would go away, discuss and then send our responses back to them this way.
Hence, it felt like we had an ongoing conversation. They were looking to us for support and guidance as well and I think for me that was the unexpected additional kind of guidance for the youth leaders. I also think because of how much the youth leaders were giving us in terms of observations, attention, commitment, it felt like wow this is such a wonderful opportunity to be able to share with them and to hear from them also. So yeah, that was new for us.
Edlyn: Do you have any hopes for the next edition of the SEEDLINGS programme?
Faye: I think this is a difficult task but we hope that the children from past years can continue to engage and have important roles in SEEDLINGS while there’s opportunity for new children to join and grow.
Gua Khee: There is something special that happens in SEEDLINGS and we trust that there will be ripple effects regardless of whether they continue to engage with SEEDLINGS moving forward or not. At the same time, we are building a community of children and families engaging with Esplanade on a deeper basis. I think how we scaffold their engagement from SEEDLINGS into other engagement initiatives is something that we need to spend more thought on.
Gua Khee: I do think that SEEDLINGS should be a space where children who are already interested in the arts get to further develop that relationship. At the same time, I also find it deeply precious that in both the first year and in this second year, there were children who were like ‘oh this is our first time to Esplanade actually’, especially for the parents. Because we had also wanted to include more family and parent-guardian kind of engagement in this year’s SEEDLINGS. I thought it was so lovely that parents who also had never been to Esplanade before had this opportunity to watch shows or to engage with Esplanade.
I think that also goes back to that question of the arts audience in Singapore. How do we nurture the relationship that people have with Esplanade and with the arts on a broader level, and how do we find little pockets of opportunities for these relationships to continue?
Edlyn: Thank you both of you for your energy and your generosity in building this every year with us and hopefully this can inspire more to do similar things!
Find out more from the children who participated in the SEEDLINGS programme and their exploration of the arts through the lens of the March On festival!
There are nine video diaries in all, each captured at the end of every session featuring participants who share their thoughts on what they enjoyed and felt challenged by with their journey of discovery.