Those of you who attended the opening night of Square Moon on Friday, 20 Dec 2013 at 8 pm at the University Cultural Centre Theatre may have noticed that there were rows and rows of good stall seats that were left unoccupied before the intermission. You may wonder why the organiser had been so irresponsible as to advise as early as November, that stall seats for the opening night were “sold out”. Indeed a friend who had to sit in the upper circle because she could not purchase a stall seat was so unhappy that she came to see me at intermission to complain.
Let me, as the person in charge of ticketing explain.
On the opening night, there was a musical show at the adjoining Concert Hall which shared the same lobby as the theatre where Square Moon was staged. There was a bit of confusion at both entrances. Many who were attending the musical made enquiries at our front desk. A check near opening time revealed many empty seats in the Theatre. Some of us thought that our patrons were late because of the rain and traffic jam at the Pan Island Expressway. We also thought that they got lost in the campus as there were construction works around the Theatre. We were anxious but did not suspect anything amiss.
The play began a little late because the hall was not filled.
Sometime during the show, I spoke to two staff members of our ticketing agent. They were waiting for two patrons to exchange tickets even before the show began. Apparently, there was a computer glitch and two tickets were wrongly issued and had to be exchanged. Poor girls, they waited without dinner. Well into the play, I asked them if if I could assist in any way. They showed me a list of 20 tickets purchased by a person called “Chen Xiao Chun”. He or she had paid $1000 cash for the tickets at Orchard Ticket Q. They had to collect and exchange one ticket with Chen or X as I shall refer to him or her.
I immediately realise that the tickets were booked in a block. I borrowed the list and started to copy down the seat numbers when my young friend who was in charge of ticket collection exclaimed that “Chen Xiao Chun” had not collected an envelope of tickets. We opened the envelope and lo and behold, there were 20 tickets! I immediately realise that someone had played a dirty trick on us.
To confirm the foul play, I had another list of 14 tickets purchased at student concession rate by one “Mervyn”. One ticket was to be exchanged with this purchaser but no one turned up. “Mervyn” had paid $599.20 in cash at the Ang Mo Kio ticket outlet.
Nothing could have been more upsetting for me that evening than the realisation that something had truly gone wrong. Our worst fear that there could be last minute sabotage of the show became a reality.
At interval time, Peter Sau, the director asked me why the theatre was not full when I had repeatedly assured him and the cast that we had a full house for the opening night! Even before the curtain opened, Function 8 members and I had gone backstage to assure the actors that the house was full. I responded that the tickets had been purchased by “X” and he did not show up. Peter was quick to suggest, “get the circle seats down”. We did immediately. Two members, Tee Seng and Yit Leng with natural activist disposition, ran up the stairs to the tell the guests to move to the stall seats. Very soon, the patrons from the upper circle seats happily moved down to the stall seats and the stalls were almost filled after intermission. Our swift reaction in ushering and ensuring this was quite commendable!
Thirty-four seats costing $1,599.20 were not all that “X” spent. Subsequent investigations revealed that at least a total of 95 stall tickets costing more than $4,600 were bought in cash at outlets, only to be left unoccupied on the opening night. Fortunately, except for six tickets which were suspect, this trick did not happen in the matinee and final show the following day.
Investigations also revealed that the telephone numbers of the twelve people who purchased the 95 tickets for 20 Dec and 1 person who bought for the evening show on 21 Dec were fictitious. In one case, I asked “Marvin” who picked up the phone, if he went to see Square Moon. He asked “Square Moo?” I repeated my question and he said: “No, I don’t know anything.” One man who answered “Michelle Siah’s” number was obviously not alone. There were background voices. To my question if there was a “Michelle Siah”, he said, “I don’t know.” He repeated “I don’t know” and put down the phone. Three people shared the same email account as Michelle Siah.
Ninety-five tickets were purchased over three days and well before our publicity blitz for Square Moon. The first purchase of 16 tickets were done four days after tickets for Square Moon were made available to the public on the ticketing agent’s blog. Another 45 were purchased the next day and 34 were bought three days after.
What was the intention of “X” and his or her colleagues in doing what they did? I can think of three reasons:
(a) To terrify and demoralise the director and actors who so bravely took on the play
for a token fee.
(b) To embarrass the playwright, Wong Souk Yee who is a member of Function 8.
(c) To embarrass and terrify Function 8 which was one of the sponsors and played a
key role in the production, our first and only foray into play production to date.
If the above are the reasons, “X” and his colleagues have failed miserably. The actors took the one-third empty hall in their stride and gave their best. They received loud and appreciative applause at the end of the show. The work of X and his colleagues can only damage their own reputation. Why did they waste thousands of dollars in this manner?
I hope the Singapore theatre scene is not what we at Function 8 have encountered. Giving free tickets to MDA does not rule out mischief by trouble makers.