Songbird: A review of Singapore’s first iPhone/iPad experiential play

May 31st, 2012 | by Chan Chi-Loong

What happens when you marry mobile technology with an art production?

You get Songbird, Singapore’s first experiential play totally played out on your iPhone or iPad.

Debuting at the Singapore Arts Festival last week, Songbird played to sold out crowds over the four days it ran, according to the staff at the information booth at the Singapore Arts Festival Village.

Being a big fan of alternate reality experiences, I was immediately intrigued by the concept of this experiential play.

Songbird, a mysterious singer about to make her debut, disappears just before her show. The audience, instead of listening to a concert performance, goes in search of her based on clues that they receive on their phone.

Sounded very geeky and fun, and I got a few of my friends to go down and partake in the experience. Also, I wanted to help support this show as it was put together by some people that I know — a shoutout to Victoria Ho from Business Times, who wrote all of the music for Songbird.

The whole experience was free, so kudos to the National Arts Council and our Singapore government for sponsoring the Arts Festival and driving the arts culture here in Singapore with tons of free events.

So how was the play?

I came to Songbird without any prior preconceptions of how the experience would be like. But after the whole thing, me and my tech buddies — not your average artsy play goers — agreed: The whole experience was quite fun.

First they create a whole virtual persona who goes by the moniker Songbird, and they even made an MTV video of “her” debut song “Maybe”.

But the kicker, of course is this: She doesn’t exist. Songbird is an actress in the play. The actress playing Songbird isn’t even the voice you hear on the MTV.

The second kicker: You never actually get to meet Songbird at all in person, nor any of the other characters in the story — you only see their lives unfold through video snippets and stories told mostly on your mobile phone.

That could be super boring if you sit in a room and just watch the videos. But it is not — the play enforces interactivity as you comb the Singapore Arts Festival Village area for clues. Without moving from location to location and looking for clues, you wouldn’t get to “unlock” the storyline.

It is this puzzler-cum-treasure-hunt aspect which I think I found the most fun. Also, it was fun to be surprised by the locations the play took you to, and how the story would unfold.

For example, we walked to Fullerton Hotel to get clues (where Songbird was staying) and to a “press conference” at the Arts House.

There was even free ice cream by an uncle who sold ice cream to passerbys, and a scene unfolding within a limousine parked by the curbside of the Asian Civilizations Museum.

I also liked the varied different mechanisms through which the story progressed. Much of it is through hunting for QR codes to scan to unlock the story, but some of it is location based (which will unlock conversations as someone “messages” you), and one by typing in a password.

What would have made the play really super cool is that if it also plays out in real-life, i.e. a scripted appearance by an actor maybe near the end, which would really transform this into a bona fide alternate reality experience.

But I guess that would have blown the play’s budget out of the water, and the logistics of that would require significantly more investment.

As it stands, the whole experience was more than fun. A full thumbs-up from my geek friends and me!

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