Cover Glen Goei, Pam Oei, Ivan Heng

For the first time since theatres in Singapore were closed in March, the lights at The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre shone brightly on October 3 for the Rice Ball. But this annual fundraising gala of theatre company Wild Rice was unlike any other.

For one, there were no guests in the room, which typically would be the Island Ballroom at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore. Instead, the 19th edition of the Rice Ball had gone online and was beamed live into the homes of 500 guests around the world, from Singapore to the UK, from the theatre company’s performing arts complex in Funan. Exquisite meals from the kitchens of Michelin-starred Odette and Braci, as well as The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, 3 Embers and Opio Kitchen & Bar were also delivered to the homes of each guest.

“I never thought we would produce a show like this,” said founding artistic director Ivan Heng. “But we are always ready to push the envelope and rise to the challenge.”

The year 2019 was momentous for Wild Rice, with the opening of Wild Rice @ Funan, from where it will stage new and original works, along with new interpretations of Singapore and world classics, and new initiatives such as the Wild Rice Academy and Singapore Youth Theatre in the pipeline. The company was all set to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, but when the pandemic hit, the lights in its theatres dimmed and much of its 2020 season was cancelled—and sadly, even its annual crowd-pleasing year-end pantomime.

(Related: 5 Facets Of The New Wild Rice At Funan That Make It Truly A Home For Singapore Theatre)

But a pandemic is a time to reflect, said Heng. Wild Rice is grateful to its audiences, supporters and community for taking a leap of faith and joining the company for its first-ever virtual Rice Ball. The over $660,000 raised from table sales, donations and the evening’s silent auction will help the company survive this pandemic.

Before the theatres open again, even its brightest stars and luminaries have had to adapt and evolve: Dwayne Lau produces video content, Audrey Luo conducts live-streaming seafood auctions and Pam Oei makes Agatha’s Garlic Chilli, from her late mother’s recipe.

And what is a Rice Ball without the musical numbers from Wild Rice’s fabulous repertoire—some with their lyrics updated to reflect current times—and laugh-out-loud comedy sketches, including a Miss Singapore 2020 contest featuring Miss Bukit Panjang, Miss Sengkang and Miss Tampines/East Coast, co-directed by co-artistic director Glen Goei, and Oei, who was also the host for the evening. Meanwhile, the company’s rendition of composer Zubir Said’s Semoga Bahagia brought on a note of positivity during these trying times.

The Best Dressed guests were crowned—in recognition of those who always brought their A-game to dressing to the theme, making the Rice Ball one of the most anticipated galas every year. And this year was no different!