Ong Keng Sen, is a Singaporean theatre director who is known around the world for his innovative approach to performance and theatre making. Often utilising his unique approach of combining both Eastern and Western performance traditions, he creates theatre that is truly multi-cultural, crossing boundaries and borders to reach the essence of what performance means today.
Ong's approach focuses on embracing differences whether that be artforms, people, nationalities or cultures, and he remains fascinated by how theatre-making can be combined with film, music, dance and visual arts to “combust together” and create a live work of art.
Ong's believes the true skills of a theatre director are not only to be a problem solver but also an expert in human communications, and he uses these skills to enable artists of different nationalities create new perspectives and experiences.
One example of this is his long-running Flying Circus Project, which brings together established artists from around the world for a residency programme to collaborate with the emerging, local artists in countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. The project offers an opportunity for artists to think, exchange and challenge ideas, creating a unique and powerful environment for learning.
This expansive and welcoming approach, guided by the principles of human rights and justice, has placed him as one of the leading voices in the Singaporean art world. As the Artistic Director of TheatreWorks, Keng Sen was charged with developing Singaporean writing and theatre, and he guided the artists he was working with to confront the injustices of the past to create a new and independent vision of their own cultural identity and representation.
He then furthered this agenda by becoming the first artist to direct the Singapore International Festival of Arts, increasing audience numbers and participation in the festival, as well as raising awareness of Singaporean art through international partnerships.
Ong believes his greatest work is when a production goes beyond simply good theatre but also has a cultural, social or political impact. He says, “Of course the imperative if you are a theatre director or a fashion designer or a scientist, (is to) make good work…but to do something more than that is a great privilege and an opportunity.”