A former nightclub sees light of day as Projector X, a new pop-up cinema experience

From the creative minds that reinvented what it means to go to the cinema in Singapore, opening The Projector in 2014 – a much-loved space at Golden Mile Tower, comes Projector X. With plans for it to be around for only 18 months starting 30 April, the team behind the pop-up has proven again that old IS gold, and shows us a thing or two about how to transform disused spaces on a shoestring budget.

Remember the last time you walked into a club and the anticipation you felt as you were funnelled through a darkened tunnel or corridor towards the dance floor and a rising tempo? If you cannot then maybe independent cinema operator The Projector’s new pop-up experience at an abandoned Chinese disco might unearth some pre-Covid clubbing memories (sans the thumping techno).

Located on the fourth floor of Riverside Point, Projector X takes over the tenancy of what used to be X Music Entertainment Club, which shut its doors on 23 March 2019 (according to its Facebook page). It is a cavernous space, to say the least, with an expansive view of the Singapore River, Clarke Quay and Fort Canning Hill. Expect a similar look and feel as The Projector, where the design aesthetic is more boho, upcycled chic than cookie-cutter multiplex sensibility.

A brightly lit, open space greets you as you enter The Projector’s new pop-up venue Projector X. (Source: The Projector / Facebook)

The Projector’s General Manager Prashant Somosundram says that when the team first visited the venue nearly two years ago, the place had remained in exactly the same state as it was after the nightclub’s closing night. There were unfinished drinks, half-emptied jugs, unwashed glasses, furniture and a pool table. It was as if staff and customers had vanished into thin air.

He says that they found the space while looking for possible locations to move to in case the building that The Projector is in, Golden Mile Tower, faced an en-bloc sale. “We kind of fell in love with the scale of it, which is pretty hard to find,” he says. “By some luck this space was closed and available, but there are potential plans to redevelop this building, so it’s going to be a short-lived venture,” adding that it is a challenge as an indie cinema to find affordable spaces that they can stay at for a long time.

“We are quite conscious not to take things for granted. Enjoy the space while we have it. And you know, adapt and find new ways to present movies with whatever we can get.”

When The Projector team first visited the abandoned unit at Riverside Point, it found that the former nightclub had been left exactly as it was. (Photo by Kae Yuan, courtesy of The Projector)

In fact, this is not the first time the space has screened films. It used to be a cinema in the 1990s and when the National Museum was housed there between 2003 to 2006, it collaborated with The Substation and Singapore Film Commission to organise Singapore Short Cuts in 2004, a showcase of Singapore short films.

Although excited to be the latest chapter in the building’s cinematic history, Mr Somosundram is also nervous because it will be the first time The Projector is running two venues concurrently.

“It’s a pretty big project… not a conventional kind of cinema. It’s something that we’ve done on a shoestring budget,” he says. “But we want to create that interesting experience that people are starved of… It’s going to be very different from going to watch movies in other cinemas. We’re looking forward to the public discovering this forgotten space… and envision people coming in for drinks and food with a beautiful view.”

Getting creative on a shoestring budget

In keeping with its practice of “adaptive reuse”, as was seen at The Projector, Mr Somosundram says they did not throw out the items left behind, what others might have considered ‘junk’. Instead they went in with a “light touch”, repurposed existing spaces, repainted the walls themselves (with the help of friends and supporters), salvaged what could be recycled from the former tenant, like the bar counter and some furniture, and repaired existing TVs and electronics to be reused. The curved vinyl booth seats were also kept in what used to be the dancefloor, and is now the Neon Room, Projector X’s only cinema hall.

Some of the standard issue nightclub black bar tables and stools have made a reappearance alongside low-rise, retro-style couches and armchairs, as well as wooden-top tables and vinyl-cushioned chairs. The windows, stripped of tinted film, finally allow sunlight to flood into what used to be the main bar area.

Explains Mr Somosundram, “Beyond watching movies, it’s about how we use space. It’s not necessarily having to get something new and fresh. You can have old spaces, but with fresh ideas and fresh eyes. When we first walked in it was large, daunting and cluttered. But for us, it’s like, ‘Okay, what are the merits of the space and try and make it work.’” 

Notes The Projector Co-founder Blaise Trigg-Smith in the media release, “The whole team and many friends have gotten involved…seeding a sense of community and ownership that is part of what gives The Projector its special vibe.”

Adds Co-founder Karen Tan, “This as an opportunity to create something positive and energising out of a rather challenging and negative Covid environment that has resulted in the closure of many businesses… We hope to spark ideas and dialogue on sustainability, in terms of urban development and a way of life.”

Neon Room X-perience

Because of the short lease, it did not make financial sense to install new acoustics in the hall, although it is kitted out with a Digital Cinema Package projector. Instead, they solved what could have been a problem by using wireless bluetooth headphones, which provides a more immersive experience by shutting out any distractions from the real world: “It has its own benefits of you being more sensitive to the sound design of films, for example, and also not being disturbed by the people around you.” says Mr Somosundram.

Cinema-goers to the Neon Room at Projector X will wear wireless bluetooth headsets while watching the movie.

Working with designers at Wynk Collaborative, the Projector X also offers more leg room (your knees will thank you) in its “purpose-built, socially-distanced” 48-seater cinema (arranged in pairs), complete with an upgrade in seats – they have headrests and were an upcycled purchase from another cinema operator.

Films will be chosen to complement the audio and visual nuances of the new venue: “Which is why we’re opening with Forever Fever, because it has a nightclub feel. We are also picking stage-to-screen kind of programming like Kinky Boots [The Musical], so your audio experience is more interesting.” shares Mr Somosundram. “Some of the older classics will probably come here… romantic classics since we only have couples’ seating. We are also looking at music and film as a theme, because I think that lends itself to [the headphones], like biopics about jazz musicians… those are some titles.”

But he reassures that there will be regular programming of the latest mainstream movies: “It’s going to be quite diverse; there are going to be specific programmes designed for this space.”

The Neon Room, Project X’s only 48-seater cinema hall has upcycled seats arranged in pairs with more leg room and curved vinyl booth seats for two.

Time travel X-perience

In one of the back rooms TheHomeGround Asia peeked into, what was then the performers’ dressing room had been left untouched: A faux fur coat that had seen warmer days lay draped over a chair; on a rack, empty hangers and shiny, sequined pieces of clothing hung askew; against a mirrored wall high heels and platforms of varying colours lay scattered on metal railings and the floor, while on the table a clock-in and -out machine appears frozen in time at 6.30am or pm? 

Another two rooms have also been memorialised, giving visitors a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of the past occupants of #04-13, Riverside Point. 

One of three back rooms that used to be the dressing room for nightclub performers has been left as it is as a form of art installation.

Art space X-perience

Given the large amount of wall and floor space, Projector X is collaborating with artists to create pieces for display, turning the venue into a blank canvas for their imagining. There are also plans to organise pop-up exhibits or marketplaces for creatives to sell their work. 

Local poet and photographer Marc Nair for instance agreed to capture the venue’s transformation. 

“I offered to document the space as it underwent a metamorphosis into its current form, spending the most time in the three rooms, photographing details of lives left behind so ignominiously,” explains Mr Nair. “From the photographs, I crafted three flash fiction pieces that take inspiration from names and objects found in each room, crafting them into an interconnected narrative of what life in the nightclub was like.”

Other original feature installations include a mural by Mojoko that was inspired by old film posters and a fabric mural by Becca d’Bus made from sequined sashes left behind by the former club’s performers. 

Singapore poet and photographer Marc Nair documented the Projector X’s space as it was metamorphosed into its current form. He focussed on the three back rooms that had been left in tact by the former tenant. (Photo by Marc Nair for The Projector)
The mural by artist Mojoko that was inspired by old film posters graces a back wall overlooking the Neon Room.

The pop-up X-perience

After cinemas were first closed in March last year due to the pandemic, The Projector had scrambled to find new ways to create revenue outside of a physical cinema. This has been essential for surviving long-term in a Covid-19 world, where audience numbers have been slashed to allow for safe management measures.

For instance, it enhanced its range of merchandise and started selling vouchers in advance, because it needed the cash flow. Mr Somosundram says that its community of movie-goers “really came together… and supported us” and “gave us that mental space to think about what we wanted to do [next].”

It also accelerated the launch of its virtual streaming platform Projector Plus (in July 2020) which might have only happened “years down the road” if not for the pandemic, he says. Besides bringing on-demand content into people’s homes, the platform has managed to widen The Projector’s pool of movie-goers.

“We are finding a new audience of people who may not even have gone to Golden Mile Tower, or may not be able to make the eight o’clock timings, because they have kids, and all that,” he explains. “…They’ve missed so much content that was never available on other platforms, because they couldn’t make it down physically.”

Expect a unique use of the abandoned nightclub at The Projector’s new pop-up experience Projector X, which will be opened for 18 months.

But to compete with streaming platforms, such as Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime and Disney+, The Projector will have to continue to experiment with fun and irreverent concepts that take audiences out of their homes and off their devices into physical cinemas. 

“What are the opportunities in the current climate? Let’s go with it in very measured ways. It’s definitely rough around the edges. But we’ll find our audience and try and give people things that other cinemas don’t necessarily offer,” says Mr Somosundram.

Looking ahead, he says that The Projector will keep their eyes peeled for unique venues to hold pop-up projects. For instance, it is currently in talks about a drive-in movie experience at the historical landmark Pasir Panjang Power Station.

“We are working with the authorities to see how we can do it safely with all the Covid restrictions. So that would be interesting to rediscover the magic of a drive-in cinema where you listen to the audio on your radio, in the car,” he shares. “But if that doesn’t come through, because of the restrictions, we may look at some pop-up events there also, but probably on a short-term, weekend kind-of-thing, every quarterly or so. These are still moving parts that we haven’t finalised.”

Projector X opens with the restored 1998 Singapore-made film Forever Fever, by Glen Goei.

Projector X: Riverside opens on 30 April with a screening of Glen Goei’s Forever Fever (1998), starring Adrian Pang, Annabelle Francis and Pam Oei, and restored by the Asian Film Archive. 

Tickets for this and other movies at the Projector X’s Neon Room are for sale on The Projector’s website, but due to social distancing restrictions, will only be sold in pairs (S$40). A combo of two tickets plus two drinks (cocktails or mocktails) and popcorn costs S$55. The Projector Fan Club members enjoy further discounts.

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