Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Chat with Jenny*- Problems in Singapore Theatre Scene

*Jenny and I met over twitter back in 2011. She offered to speak with me about the theatre scene in Singapore. She wished that I not use her real name as it could affect the type of work she can get. So you get some background info: Jenny* is a college graduate of theatre, she works professionally for a theatre in Singapore as a box office manager but her real passion is acting and producing. She is a lovely person and I deeply appreciate her answering my questions.

1. What is like being an actress in Singapore?
It's not very easy. Most of the work is in English because it's our first national language. Theatre is very competitive especially among the women. They want the most pretty girls and they will pick someone pretty over someone who is talented.  They sometimes pick shows and want a ton of men (who they have to beg to be in the show) but they only want 1 or 2 women and we all have to jump through hoops. It seems unfair. They should pick shows that work better for the acting pool they have. It makes no sense to do a show about problems with being African American when we have a very small black acting community.
Paid work is few and far between. You're more likely to get paid with commercials or voice overs which is what I do more of now. Theatre is my passion but it just doesn't pay!

2. Is there pre-casting?
Yes, and it makes people angry. They did a show a while back and we all went to the audition wanting the lead part. When we got there they told us that they were only auditioning for chorus parts that were unpaid. It's not fair! Auditions should be open to everyone!

3. What are the best things about working in Singapore?
Singapore is so beautiful and the people make great audiences. They are always ready to go on the journey with you. The museums are also the best in the world I think! And a lot of them have free days. Check them out if you have time!

4. What are the biggest problems in your opinion?
Venues and Tours. International tours come in all the time for our arts festivals and people would rather pay 10X the ticket price for the Royal Shakespeare Company than support a local artist. The venues are also really expensive which makes it hard for companies to pay their actors and designers. Also, a lot of the main performers in some of our major acting and dance companies aren't even from Singapore. I think they should be. If the company is getting grants from the government to promote Singapore art they should only hire Singapore artists. It shouldn't be 90% foreign talent and 10% local. Not fair but my mom says life is not fair!
Singapore is an expensive city for everyone not just artists. People struggle to pay their bills let alone buy theatre tickets. It's hard to be an artist in our town. You are either very rich or not rich. No middle.

5. How do you think these problems can be improved?
 I think the government needs to support more local artists. They support a lot of local visual artists but they haven't done the same for theatre or dance artists. They should give us discounts on the venues and The Singapore Art Festival should have more Singapore artists in it.
They do a great job with the museums, I wish they would do the same for other mediums.

6. How does the community promote itself?
To be honest, we don't really do that much. Some people use facebook and twitter to promote themselves but we do very little otherwise. I think we can do better. People are so competitive they don't help each other as much as they could.

7. What do you think the theatre community can do to improve itself?
I think we could do a tweet up to have more communication between us and our audience. What shows do they want to see in the next season? I think season tickets are also a good thing for companies to do, it creates brand loyalty.

8. What's the best theatre company in Singapore?
Hands down, Singapore Rep. They have the best reputation, they pay everyone, they are nice to everyone. But once again, it's really difficult to get in. Once you're in- you're in for life though...

9. Are you in?
No, almost. I made a final call back once.

10. Any advice for theatre people moving to Singapore?
Bring dance shoes, we do a lot of musicals.

Again, thanks to Jenny* for her time and her trust in sharing her story.
You can see from her answers that a lot of the problems Singapore's theatre community is having Hong Kong's theatre community is having as well. We all struggle with venue prices, tours being brought in, and basic budget issues. I think it proves that the theatre community can only grow more if we stick together and create an open dialogue between us and the community we live in.

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