taken from New Strait Times 24 July 2020
By Aref Omar
AFTER four months of being shuttered due to the Covid-19 crisis and the ensuing Movement Control Order (MCO), Istana Budaya opened its doors once again recently with a special performance.
The country's premiere arts venue held a two-day run of Konsert New Normal, which was a way to illustrate its commitment to ensuring that events could still be organised and carried out during the ongoing recovery phase of the MCO.
The 90-minute concert featured performances by Datuk M. Nasir, Zizi Kirana, Rojer and Dhiya, who were accompanied by the capable musicians from Orkestra Tradisional Malaysia (OTM).
Nasir performed a string of classic hits from his long-standing career that included Mantera Semerah Padi, Keroncong Untuk Ana, Mustika and the rocking Gerhana from his days in the band Kembara.
Sabahan singer and rapper Zizi performed her latest upbeat single Eh, which was given a traditional arrangement by the OTM, and a duet with Nasir titled Dua Insan.
OTM and Istana Budaya's troupe of dancers also performed a series of traditional and folk songs from East and West Malaysia.
They performed a track that highlighted the standard operating procedures (SOP) of the new normal era as well and did another that was dedicated to the nation's brave and hardworking frontliners.
The audience was made up of invited guests who were frontliners from the medical profession to personnel from the Ministry of Health, Royal Malaysia Police, Malaysian Armed Forces and Fire and Rescue Department.
During the show, Istana Budaya adhered to the SOP that had been announced earlier by the government.
Right from the start, patrons were required to register themselves at the entrance and have their temperatures taken before being granted access.
There were hand sanitisers available and guests were required to don face masks while in the venue.
Istana Budaya personnel were also stationed at various check points to assist audience members who had any queries on the safety measures. Sign boards highlighting the new normal procedures were visible as well.
In the main Panggung Sari hall, guests were able to clearly distinguish between the available seats and those that were crossed off with visible signage in order to adhere to the one-metre social distancing SOP.
Some of the other new rules enforced were that patrons under the age of 12 and over the age of 60 would not be allowed to enter the hall and that the venue would undergo a comprehensive sanitation process before and after each show.
The duration of shows that are staged there have also been capped to 90 minutes.
A full set of SOP for audience members and event organisers can be viewed on Istana Budaya's official website and social media accounts.
When met after the concert, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri reiterated her ministry's commitment to help the local arts and entertainment industry by carrying out an exemption on rental fees for Istana Budaya, as well as the auditorium of the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MATIC), until the end of December.
She added that several producers have submitted their applications to stage productions and these consist of live shows and digital ones as well.
"We will help them out and provide assistance as best as we can and we will monitor the situation. As for the exemption of rental fees, it will take effect till the end of the year. "But if need be we might further extend it. We will see how it goes," she said.
Due to the social distancing safety measure, the seating capacity of Istana Budaya's Panggung Sari hall was severely reduced from over 1,400 seats to only 505.
This would in turn call into question the viability of organisers in staging shows at the venue as ticket sales would be affected.
Aside from that, the performers would also be impacted by the lack of audience members since they'd be performing to a mostly empty space.
Veteran artiste Nasir confessed that a huge crowd of fans have always been a potent motivator to inspire him to deliver an even greater performance onstage.
"As a singer, we always hope for a full house with a sea of audience members to heighten our spirit.
"But when we see a lot of empty seats, the atmosphere is a bit deflating and less emotionally satisfying for the artiste.
"We do understand what's happening though. It's not that people don't want to come — it's because people can't attend in droves like before. "So as performers, we have to behave in a professional manner. We have to force ourselves to feel the aura of the moment on stage.
"I just picture the concert as a full-house crowd even if it isn't in reality," he said, when met after the concert.
When asked if he would stage a solo concert anytime soon, the award-winning artiste lamented that he would not.
"To me, it wouldn't be practical at this time to organise any concert. I can't be selling tickets at exorbitant prices. Who would want to buy tickets unless it's for a free concert like this," he said.
Istana Budaya director-general Zaiton Md Desa said that the prestigious venue would not compromise on safety and would strictly adhere to the SOP provided by the government.
"Our people will monitor and conduct checks to ensure that the venue complies with the SOP. We want to ensure the safety of everyone and do not want to be caught off guard when personnel from the National Security Council (MKN) carry out their checks onsite," she said.
But Zaiton sympathises with organisers as the additional costs of staging a production is still a burden even with the exemption of rental fees for the venue.
"The SOP are strict, such as each location must be thoroughly sanitised. This process costs at least RM1,800.
"Organisers also have to make sure certain things are not shared like makeup for example. So productions which feature more performers like theatre and dance shows would feel the pinch," she said.
It was reported that five events that were supposed to take place in Istana Budaya have already been cancelled, with bigger concerts pushed to next year.
However, seven foreign productions have been chosen to fill in the slots for this year, which include a ballet production of Swan Lake and a music concert by the Asia Traditional Orchestra.
Istana Budaya will also be staging its own shows, such as Colours Of Malaysia, Teater Siti Di Alam Fantasi and a production from the Lambang Sari Series.
"I understand the situation but we have to comply with the current SOP. We can only wait for further developments from MKN in announcing the relaxation of SOP," said Zaiton.