Singapore Heritage Festival was held over 2 weeks from the 18th – 27th July. There were many different booths all over the island and I was tasked to design a performance that would showcase the various aspects of the Peranakan culture in Singapore.
Apart from the delectable Peranakan cuisine, I did not know much about the Peranakan culture. In order to be able to craft magic effects that were relevant to the theme, I had to do more research by visiting the Peranakan Museum. I looked out for interesting artifacts that would enable audiences to quickly identify them with the Peranakan culture. While there were several artifacts that were very distinct, my preferences were aligned to the cuisine, the attire and cutlery. It was an enriching research experience for myself to learn about their culture. Did you know that the Peranakan men were discouraged from being in the kitchen?
The next challenge was to acquire some of these items. And as you would imagine, the museum does not sell them so I had to do another search and decided to visit the Peranakan Association at East Coast. The place was filled with numerous Peranakan paraphernalia. I was very fortunately to be shown around by Mr Peter Wee, the president of the Peranakan Association. In fact, one of my routines was inspired by a conversation that we had about the Baba’s (Peranakan men are called Babas, and women are called Nonya) evolving attire. In the past, the men would wear dress-like attire called the Baju Lokchuan, however, in modern times, it has evolved to a simple Chinese collared shirt or a Batik shirt. This inspired me to create an effect called Instant Batik where I magically print a white shirt with Batik prints.
After getting enough information, I went back to my office to conceptualize the type of magic that would be suitable for this. I also had to think about the congruence of my props in relation to the theme. I added a quaint looking case on top of a carved wooden pedestal to enhance the authenticity of the act. In fact, several of the guests in Changi City Point mistook my case as an exhibit! The crew actually had to stop them from opening it before the show.
I devised 3 effects specially for the Peranakan exhibition. They were intended to tell a story of the Peranakan culture, and its influence on Singapore. I made sure that the effects were visual and educational so that people would remember the message and the magic. The first magic effect that I did was to change a white shirt into a Batik shirt while explaining the changing fashion trends of Babas. Thereafter, I quizzed the audience with pictures of the different Nonya Kuehs and made these pictures into real Kuehs. Lastly, I did an effect using the Peranakan bowls which ended with them being filled with a Peranakan snack, the Kueh Bangkit, for the audiences to sample. This added an experiential component to the show which the guests really enjoyed.
The show spanned over 2 weekends and had a great reception. I spoke to some of the Nonyas and Babas who were present and they enjoyed the performance and were impressed by the accuracy of my research.
It was a great experience for me to share the culture with my audiences through my story telling in magic. Magic has far greater potential beyond deception and illusions. Through story telling and well crafted presentations, magic can transport the audiences to a different place and experience emotions that they might have not felt before.
If you are a magician, I hope this article would guide you in the customization process. Doing research and conceptualizing is part of this specialize service that we provide, hence we need to do our best to be as accurate and as well informed as possible. For non magicians, maybe you can think about how using magic can enhance a particular story you want to share. If you have any ideas, drop me an email here, I would be happy to discuss!
And lastly, since it is 9th August tomorrow, Happy 49th National Day Singapore!