Calling all Culture Vultures: #BuroSocial with YTL Hotels at the Singapore Repertory Theatre
The world's a stage
It was a kind of one-night-only show the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT), in all of its 25 years, had never staged prior. A majority of the cast were actually invited guests, alien to the spotlight. Fed with a three-course meal and plied with steady streams of alcohol, the performances, if you will, were boisterous and genuine, with many taking turns to lead the various scenes unfolding concurrently. Unscripted and lasting no less than five hours, the dialogue centred around the wonders of travel, the search for culture beyond our own, as well as the rewards the relationship between the two reap.
Last Wednesday evening, Buro 24/7 Singapore, in partnership with YTL Hotels and SRT, threw an intimate dinner with the help of four individuals. The unique location this edition — the SRT stage, transformed by Floral Magic, transfixed by its hosts: Alexander Yue, local actor and model; Claire Jedrek, lifestyle and motorsport emcee; Jaelle Ang, CEO and co-founder of co-working space, The Great Room; and Paul Semple, principal designer at Hassell, and 12 of their closest friends.
Cocktail hour got the ball rolling, but it was not until Artistic Director of SRT, Gaurav Kripalani, and Managing Director Charlotte Nors ushered the guests to the dinner venue via a restricted backstage access when phones were whipped out. Through the narrow corridors past the working dressing room (where Kripalani and Nors shared the triumphs and struggles of the theatre life), sat four rows of china along two tables dressed in fresh blooms from Floral Magic. The stage too, received a facelift from the landscape atelier. Our only audience, the rarely empty plush red chairs of the studio.
Delivering its promise, "We don't just build properties, we craft inspired experiences," YTL Hotels personalised every placecard with key experiences at its establishments, all of which are inspired by local heritage and culture. An example: the Gaya Island Resort, set on an island within the protected Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, known for its conservation of mangroves and coral reefs as it is for turtle sighting and rescue. Although Gaya Island Resort isn't a new addition on the map, Monkey Island Estate and The Academy Hotel are. The former is a newly renovated private island in the middle of the Thames, said to have welcomed royalty and famous artists and writers in its heyday, while the latter is located at London's West End, proudly calling historic 240 year-old Georgian townhouses neighbours.
Home to 29 properties globally with six more in the line-up, YTL Hotels brought its culinary secret weapon, Chef Dan Moon from The Gainsborough Bath Spa to the fore. The chef, a recipient of three AA Rosettes, whipped up three dishes: the starter of smoked salmon ballotine was accompanied by yuzu caviar horseradish mousseline; main course was a roast breast of duck, topped with confit leg spring roll, plum sauce and sesame seeds; dessert came by way of a dark chocolate ganache, with peanut butter mousse, banana ice-cream and salted caramel popcorn to finish.
YTL Hotels wasn't the only ones with a treat in hand. SRT showcased — for the first time to a public audience — a scene from its upcoming production of Julius Caesar, in which the titular character is played by a female. Actor Jo Kukathas, alongside her peers Ghafir Akbar, Daniel Jenkins, Thomas Pang and Julie Wee will aid the theatre in marking the return of previously-on-hiatus Shakespeare in the Park. Catch Julius Caesar from 2 to 27 May; tickets available here.
Not forgetting the theme of the night, Calling all Culture Vultures, the hosts for the evening share some travel wisdom with us.
CLAIRE JEDREK | LIFESTYLE AND MOTORSPORT EMCEE
What do you seek when you travel?
I seek adventure and experience. I think that's the biggest thing — experience. Experience of the city, a little bit of the culture, of the people.
What has been your favourite travel destination so far, and why?
Mongolia. It was absolutely stunning. It was a seven to eight day trip out there, I felt like I was in that cartoon, 'The Land Before Time'. I could almost imagine dinosaurs roaming around. We had a history teacher bring us around and we camped at different sites every night, and I really was able to unpair myself from the world that I live in right now, the little bubble in Singapore. We had no technology, we lived in the local housing over there, built tents; we just had each other's company which was really nice. We just brought it back to basics, playing cards and drinking. We had an amazing time.
How important is culture to you when you travel?
The reason why some of us travel, at least for me is, I want to experience something other than my own culture. To go out there and explore a little off the beaten tracks, and see other peoples' thinking, their philosophies, what they believe in. You always want to be able to experience the true culture and not just the tourist items.
The titular character in 'Julius Caesar', the play adapted by Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) which we were just treated a sneak peak of, is played by a woman. Any thoughts?
Women adopting different roles in creative industries is quite a big topic right now. Especially for myself, being in a male-dominated role in a male-dominated industry, I think it's about owning your role whether you are male or female. It's about being good at that role and really making sure you are putting in the time, the dedication, the commitment, focusing on yourself and your own skills and abilities. It's about being the person for the job. Jo Kukathas (who plays Julius Caesar) is an actor first and then a female second. At the end of the day, what we really want to aim for is that not to say, "She's a female leader" or "Female in the motor squad industry", but that "She's the best person in motor squad". Gender shouldn't have anything to do with it; it will just be a person in that position.
ALEXANDER YUE | ACTOR AND MODEL
If you could pack your bags and your passport right now, where would you go and why?
I just got back from a trip from the States and Canada, so I would love to go back there. I think there's a lot of potential in what I want to pursue in Los Angeles and New York City. For leisure, I've been itching to go skiing so I would love to go to like the Swiss Alps or return to the slopes in Japan. The best skiing I've done is definitely Hokkaido. I used to go to Rusutsu Ski Resort almost every year for the past six years, so that's just been like a tradition for our family and family friends.
What makes or breaks a holiday?
It's the company, for sure. I could go anywhere, and if the company was right, I could be there for a long time. But if you are in the situation where you are just not clicking, or you're with people that you are not too comfortable with, or not too familiar with, or you have to kind of withhold certain parts of yourself, then it kind of just gets in the way of having a good holiday.
Are you a planner or are you more likely to go with the flow?
I'm a sheep, I like to follow. I like it when the people I travel with are into planning what we are doing. I'm really easy-going in that sense so it's basically about company for me. I like it when people are like, "Oh you know, I heard about this really good restaurant; I want to eat here." Sure let's go. Or, "I want to go sightseeing, I want to see this". Yeah of course. I like to just explore, I don't like to plan too much, I don't like to think about it too much. I'm a very strong believer of whatever happens, happens.
Why do you travel?
To see more of the world, to experience. That's a really big part of who I am, because I didn't realise how isolated I was growing up in Australia. I moved to China when I was about 12 years old, and from China, I got to see different parts of the world — other parts of China and Southeast Asia. I was able to visit my family that I didn't know I have in Southeast Asia, from whom I learned about travel's infinite possibilities; it just kind of feels endless. So I was like, you know what, I need to see what other cultures are like.
JAELLE ANG | CEO AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE GREAT ROOM
Describe your perfect holiday.
I love hotels so I think hotels make up such an important part of a holiday. I love different neighbourhoods too, so when I travel, I sometimes go to different hotels in different neighbourhoods. It's become such a large part of my holiday. And I like exploring very local neighbourhoods, which explains why I don't tend to plan a whole big trip. I only plan one day; the first day, I book the hotel room and then I follow my nose. I've done that in Iran. Also in Ethiopia as well as Uganda where my husband and I went for our honeymoon, we literally made friends and one adventure led us to another. I like that we have serendipity of adventure and not knowing what happens next. So much of work is planned and forward-looking; holidays should be a bit spontaneous.
What do you seek when you travel?
The idea of discovery and of challenging everything that you thought you knew. Seeing the world in different people's lenses, seeing new places, it brings out the child in me. It's the sense of wonder and delight and just not knowing — that's exciting. In everyday life, I like to know everything, I like to think that I can control everything, plan everything. Over the holidays, I let go and let things guide me and teach me and open my eyes. And the interesting thing is when I come back to Singapore, I always look at the familiar in a different lens. I see the same things with fresh eyes all over again.
What are the best souvenirs of a holiday? What do you bring back that you cherish most?
Stories. I travel really lightly; I go with carry-on and I usually come back with carry-on. I don't buy stuff and as I grow older I collect experiences. When I travel I like to go where the locals go, see what they see, kind of live their stories. When I travelled to Uganda, I met someone on the plane and he said, "I've been away for two years, I'm going home to visit my mother. And it's Christmas tomorrow! If you aren't doing anything, do you want to come with me?" My husband and I went with him. This was Uganda and this stranger's mother is a fundamentalist Muslim but we went with him anyway. We were already on the road for two days and we travelled for another four more. Long story short, we actually had a cross-country travel of Uganda where we saw the most beautiful places and heard the most interesting stories. Travel is about collecting these stories and bringing them back to your life. They are like a string of pearls; you kind of collect them along the way.
What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you when you travel?
My travels are always crazy. If there is one consistent theme, it's that they are always crazy. Here's one: we were finally in the village in Uganda. Our host's lovely mother cooked a chicken everyone shared, and for the guest of honour, we had to eat this strange chicken liver. My husband is terrified of innards and he was just absolutely horrified of this situation he couldn't get out of, because we were the guest of honour, and to them, we are so precious — so valuable we were there with them that we were given this amazing part which none of them got to eat! He was just horrified and everyone was just watching him eat that thing in humour. These are precious memories to me.
PAUL SEMPLE | PRINCIPAL DESIGNER AT HASSELL
Which has been your favourite holiday to date?
18 months ago, my partner and I travelled to Greece with a very diverse group of friends over two weeks. We started originally on a friend's yacht. I've never been to Mediterranean, I've never been sailing like that before, and for me, what was wonderful about the trip was that it was set off by a friend's 40th birthday. We were just immersed in this... it was everything you imagined the Mediterranean to be. But it was real, and we could touch it and feel it. We were on this boat for seven days and we slept on the boat at night in different locations. It was just this wonderful kind of luxurious experience, a sort of endless calm and bromance.
It's true then, that the company is the most key aspect of a holiday?
All holidays are about the people you are with; the people you encounter and the people you talk to, the meals you have, all the moments you share.
Do you bring entertainment with you when you travel?
I am very avid with podcasts. I have a very eclectic mix of podcasts that is not just for travel, but I often re-listen to things or re-read things when I am on holiday, because I find that life is so often frantic that you kind of just skim, skim, skim. I listen to a lot of NPR. I must say, I'm not a great reader of books. My partner is an avid reader and has a Kindle and I'll occasionally pick it up and wonder what should I read on this trip. I may also grab two or three books with the intention of reading them, but always go back The Economist or Vanity Fair. I just like to be kept up to date with what is current. One day, my pace in my life will slow down enough that when I am on holiday, I will actually read a book. Someday.
What are the best souvenirs to bring home?
My partner and I, we love to buy things. We consider ourselves collectors. We collect art, we collect objects, and we probably don't do it as much as we used to, but I still do like to find a thing on a trip, something that reminds me of a moment in time. That's important to me. For example, we were just in Tokyo doing some work with Shiseido, during which we were taken on a tour in its Ginza flagship store. The cafe and concept store is part of Shiseido's history, dating back to the 1880s... anyway, that was where I saw these beautiful glazed timber bowls that were incredibly exquisite and fine. It's about earning that beautiful object, you know. We're designers too so naturally we love a beautiful object.
What are your thoughts on a woman playing the lead in Julius Caesar? What do you think it says about where society stands today?
I think the questions it raised, about power and what power stands for; who should have it; what it actually means; and if you are in a position of power, what you actually do with that, those questions should be asked in this peculiar time we live in. In my business, we are increasingly conscious of trying to find a much better [gender] balance than we've had at the start, in terms of female leadership. It's an interesting time that we live in that questions about equality are not only being asked, but actually I think, are starting to be resolved. When we look back at where we are now, maybe we'll see that this was the time when things started to shift in a real, tangible way. So yes, the idea that Julius Caesar will be played by a woman, I find it to be poignant, relevant and provocative.