Time Out Singapore: Steven Yip, Q Framing

28 Dec 2015:

Steven Yip

Steven Yip, 51, managing director at Q Framing

How did you first get into picture framing?

By accident. I was trained as a marine engineer, but when I was waiting for my ‘O’ Level results to come out, I spent six months at Merlin Frame Maker – probably the oldest framers in Singapore. I did NS in the navy, but I saw some old sailors on the ships and they’re all very lonely. I didn’t want to become like them, so I went back to Merlin and stayed there for ten years. I also ended up meeting my wife, Zoe, there!

You’re a certified picture framer – what does that mean?

There are two trade bodies – the Fine Art Trade Guild in the UK and the Professional Picture Framing Association in America – that offer certified programmes to promote good practice, and I flew to Las Vegas with Zoe in 2007 and we did the examination. We also use higher-grade materials.

What makes museum-grade materials so much better?

Matte boards, for instance, are divided into five grades, and the lower-grade ones will leave yellow stains over time because they contain an acidic material called lignin. The museum-grade ones are made of 100 percent cotton, which don’t contain lignin and therefore won’t leave an acid burn even after many years.

Who are your main clients?

I have a regular group of art collectors, but I also work with high-end galleries such as STPI, Sundaram Tagore and the National Gallery.

Tell us about the most valuable piece of art that you’ve dealt with.

I’d say around 90 percent of Cheong Soo Pieng’s works have gone through us [to be framed]. One of them, called Balinese Dance, was sold at the Christie’s auction in Hong Kong last November for $1.4 million. It’s the work that fetched the highest price at the sale.

Would you say that 2D works are easier to frame than 3D ones?

Every medium comes with its own challenge. Two-dimensional works can be very flimsy and transparent sometimes, and it’s also important not to retain the tension of the canvases for oil or acrylic works, because otherwise the paint might crack and peel off.

How big is your team at Q Framing?

We currently have 17 staff. I don’t hire people with prior experience, because if they come from other shops and they’re used to doing things a certain way, it’s very difficult to change their habits. It’s human nature. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

When we first started the company, it was to convince people that they should get their artworks framed properly. Framing is a very Western tradition, and people here often think it’s just about giving pictures a structure so that they can hang on the wall. But if it’s done well, framing can really protect and even enhance the work.

Would you say that’s also the most misunderstood thing about framing?

Yes, a lot of people don’t see the point in paying 50 percent more than what they’d pay at the mom-and-pop shops. I hope that will change, and people will start demanding a higher quality of framing in the future.

Time Out Singapore: ‘My Forest has no Name’

28 Dec 2015: Artist Donna Ong’s latest exhibition, ‘My Forest has no Name’, invites visitors to look at tropical rainforests from a different light

Donna Ong

Donna Ong

Stepping through the door, we immediately find ourselves surrounded by lush layers of leaves. A few parrots peer at us curiously, while a tiger and a leopard snuggle together on the far end. In the middle of it all, Donna Ong sits at her desk, carefully adding another layer onto the diorama that she’s working on. No, this is no forest – it’s the local artist’s studio, the (faux) flora and fauna all part of her upcoming exhibition, My Forest has No Name.

In it, Ong uses tropical rainforests to illustrate the gap between reality and representation: specifically, how Westerners of the 18th and 19th century painted the tropics with such fancy and exoticism. The forests depicted in paintings and sketches from that era – which were often created by artists who had never stepped foot in these places – were as accurate as North Korean propaganda. Think ferocious beasts among banana and palm trees, with half-naked natives lending credence to the half-baked notion of the ‘white man’s burden’.

The artist hopes that visitors to her show will be immersed in a romantic, imaginary world that she wishes really had existed. As a child, Ong would pore over the pages of The Jungle Book and The Faraway Tree, and dream up fantasies of forests and mountains. It’s a wanderlust that she wants to elicit – and she wants visitors to also question their own impressions, true or not, of the natural world.

‘I want people to look at the forest as a whole and from different angles,’ she explains. ‘Imagine a building with many windows. I want them to look at the interior of the building through different windows.’

The little diorama that she’s working on, which comprises cut-outs of various plants and animals from natural history books that are sandwiched between sheets of acrylic, forms the central part of the show. Several of them are placed within modified wooden lightboxes, which are dotted around a room filled with the leaves and animal figurines that greeted us.

‘Oh, I bought these from antique shops. Some of them are from Carousell,’ Ong giggles as she gestures towards her exotic porcelain menagerie. ‘When I went to collect these from people’s houses, sometimes the owners would ask me what I’m planning to do with them. I’d try to explain that I want to use them for an exhibition, but sometimes they don’t really get it.’

Besides the figurines, the other works on display include photographs of artificial rainforest landscapes that Ong found within hotels and botanic gardens around the world. There’s also a treasure chest filled with items like guns, bones and condoms – things that have been linked to the jungles in various newspaper articles that she collected – to expose the dark side of the woods, lest we miss the forest for the trees.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Paul Husner on Bali ‘

1 Jul 2015: Gwen Pew talks to Paul Husner about his artwork

Paul Husner - Arma IV

Paul Husner’s ‘Arma IV’

Swiss artist Paul Husner’s first love led him to his second. It started when his anthropologist wife, Tine, wanted to study the Batak culture in Sumatra. The couple arrived in 1983: ‘Tine to conduct her research, me to draw and paint,’ he tells us. It wasn’t long before the couple settled down in Ubud, Bali – and more than three decades later, Husner still spends his time capturing the beauty of the Island of the Gods.

‘The light in Bali has a remarkable quality that captivates me. It’s unlike light you can find anywhere else in the world,’ he says. ‘The light, to me, represents the spirit of the environment. I knew I was in a place that best allowed me to express myself.’

His oil paintings are characterised by their bright colours and bold lines; viewers can almost feel the tropical heat radiating from the canvas.

But they’re more than just pretty landscapes, Husner insists: ‘I do not view [Bali] as merely an exotic locale; it is a magnificent conduit whose light allows me to give form to colour, and composition to form. As an artist, I do not aspire to merely create things of beauty. I wish to faithfully represent the truth of my subject matter through analysis and a distillation of structures to their simplest form.’

Time Out Singapore: ‘Another Country’

22 Jun 2015: In Wild Rice’s upcoming play, ‘Another Country’, the battle of the century unfolds: Singapore versus Malaysia. Ivan Heng tells Gwen Pew more

AnotherCountry

Ivan Heng is reading from a script, his arms flowing and eyes dancing to the rhythm of the words. ‘Every Oriental costume from the Levant to China floats through the streets,’ the Wild Rice co-founder begins. ‘Robes of silk, satin, brocade and white muslin, emphasised by the glitter of barbaric gold and Parsees in spotless white; Jews and Arabs in dark rich silks; Klings in Turkey red and white; Bombay merchants in great white turbans, full trousers and draperies, all white with crimson silk girdles; Malays in red sarongs…’

He pauses to make a point: ‘This was written in 1879. 1879, and not a swamp in sight!’

Which makes it easy to see why, on our nation’s 50th anniversary, the colourful passage was selected as one of the 50-plus published works to be featured in Wild Rice’s upcoming play, Another Country. Lifted from a letter written by English explorer Isabella Bird to her sister during the former’s visit to Singapore, the description of the island is at odds with the version preferred by those who believe in the ‘fishing village to first world’ narrative ascribed to a certain, late political leader. Provocation – along with a good dose of humour – is the crux of the production.

Another Country is, chiefly, a story of two neighbours: Singapore and Malaysia. It explores the relationship between ‘us and them’ – and humanity as a whole – using short stories, plays, interviews and jingoistic songs to bridge the pair. The first half of the performance features texts culled from Singapore’s cultural archive while the second half plumbs from Malaysian works. And the twist: each half is performed by actors from the opposite country.

‘Singapore and Malaysia are like divorcees. Or siblings. Or rivals. We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them,’ muses Heng, who directs the Lion City portion of the play. ‘We share so much with each other: our heritage, our culture, our stories. [The stories in Another Country are] of hope, disgust, strength, humour, love. There’s a sense of longing and wistfulness about them that’s quite romantic, quite sayang [a Malay word with dual meanings: ‘love’ and ‘with pity’].’

Through the barricades

The chosen texts date back to the 15th century. Alfian Sa’at, who curates the Singaporean works, explains that while he was led by his ‘idiosyncratic taste in both the literature produced about Singapore and by Singaporeans’, he opted for a ‘broad historical sweep’. Texts from the Malay annals, writings from colonial travellers, Singaporeans writing in exile, songs about the Little Red Dot and even the work of Catherine Lim and Michael Chiang make appearances. ‘I was very conscious that I wasn’t performing a canonising function,’ Alfian adds.

And not a rabble-rousing function, either. Malaysian playwright Leow Puay Tin – he’s Alfian’s northern equivalent inAnother Country – insists his chosen texts serve not to mend fences but break them altogether.

‘In his poem “Salam Benua (Greetings to the Continent)”, the Malaysian National Laureate Usman Awang urges us to choose not to be separated by “passports, visas and frontiers”, which are all “names for barriers”,’ recalls Leow. ‘The world would be a better place for all of us if we could follow him in sending our greetings past these arbitrary man-made barriers, to humanity, to the people of all continents.’

Heng agrees with Leow’s message of amity. He believes Another Country is, above all, about peace. ‘Peace is the ability to put yourself in others’ shoes and understand one another as human beings,’ he says. ‘We all want to be happy. It’s a utopia, of course, but we try.’

Time Out Singapore: Claire Nouvian

3 Jun 2015: Claire Nouvian gives us five facts about the exhibition – ‘The Deep’

ClaireNouvian

1) Nouvian owes the inspiration of The Deep to: ‘Footage shot in the deep sea by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California in 2001,’ she says. ‘I dove into the abyss with both feet, driven by the immediate desire to break the news of these extraordinary discoveries to the public.’

2) The Deep began as a documentary film (2001) and a book (2006): ‘And then, I developed the concept of the exhibition over several years with the assistance of architects, graphic artists, aquarium developers and taxidermists, in order to present the deep sea in the best possible conditions.’

3) One of her most exciting discoveries is called the ‘red paper lantern medusa’: ‘I was on an oceanographic ship on the east coast of the US when we found it. We were completely puzzled because the animal can really shrivel, wrinkling down to peanut size – and then it opens up both ways and looks like an accordion, or a paper lantern.’

4) She wants to send the message that: ‘Just because [these creatures] are unseen, it means they get all the bad treatment. If you wake up in many places after a storm and go to the beach, you will find that it is literally covered with plastic bags. Imagine deep sea creatures trying to survive in that context, and then be targeted by fishermen with all types of destructive gear.’

5) The exhibition is her attempt to persuade the younger generation to protect the oceans: ‘It will take years of construction, effort, and initiatives both individual and public to prepare the ground for change. But I hope that my achievements and actions may eventually have an effect on the course of events, on laws and the status of conservation.’

Time Out Singapore: ‘After Utopia’

6 May 2015: The Singapore Art Museum’s new exhibition tackles the theme of utopia. We find out more from the co-curator

Artwork: 'Summit' (2009) by Shen Shaomin

Artwork: ‘Summit’ (2009) by Shen Shaomin

A wonderful place where the sun shines, food is plentiful and everyone is always happy. Plato wrote about it in The Republic back in 380 BC, and Sir Thomas More gave it a name in 1516: utopia.

By coining the term from the Greek words for ‘no place’ and ‘good place’, More concedes that utopia does not and cannot exist. Of course, it hasn’t stopped world leaders and politicians from trying. From the kibbutz in Israel to communities in the US, history is dotted with examples of these attempts. But just how successful are they? What happens when they fail? And what, really, does utopia even mean?

This is what the latest exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), called After Utopia, explores. The title, as co-curator Louis Ho tells us, ‘is a play on the word “after”, which can either mean what follows, or to chase what’s on the horizon’. The show tackles an ambitious and fascinating topic, but also gives the museum a chance to show off its permanent collection, some of which were recently acquired and displayed to the public for the first time.

The 20 works by artists from Asia are divided into four themes: ‘Other Edens’, which uses the garden as a symbol of paradise; ‘The City and Its Discontents’, which examines how dreams and good intentions give way to reality; ‘Legacies Left’, which looks at the legacies of various ideologies; and ‘The Way Within’, which delves into the realm of the spiritual.

One of the eye-catching pieces is Shannon Castleman’s photograph, ‘Jurong West Street 81’. No prizes for guessing where it was shot, but the artist created the image by filming residents from the opposite block (with their permission) as a way to bring back the kampong spirit. ‘She realised that even though we live in such close proximity to one another, we’re not close to the people next to us,’ Ho explains. ‘There are also dystopian connotations in the sense that it shows how we are all privy to one another’s lives, and how surveillance in the form of CCTVs is everywhere.’

On the other hand, Maryanto’s ‘Pandora’s Box’ – a site-specific charcoal and graphite drawing first conceived in 2013 and recreated on the walls of SAM – focuses on environmentalism. He is inspired by the landscape of his native Indonesia, where natural resources are often quickly stripped and the land around it turned into a wasteland. Depicting a grim, gritty, suffocating space, the piece is the very image of a dystopia.

It gets even darker. One of the most unsettling pieces is Chinese artist Shen Shaomin’s installation, ‘Summit’. The work presents the life-like bodies of late communist leaders Mao Zedong, Kim Jong-il, Ho Chi Minh and Lenin encased in glass coffins, while Fidel Castro rests on his deathbed with a pump installed to make it look as though he’s breathing. ‘This work is one that I find myself thinking hard about because I’m not entirely sure I agree with the statement that Shen seems to make,’ says Ho. ‘He believes that socialism/communism is dead, but I don’t. I believe that socialism exists in balance with capitalism, as two halves of an almost necessary balance.’

Ho also declares that he doesn’t even believe in the idea of utopia – at least, not in the sense of a physical space: ‘To me, it’s more about people. You know, home is where the heart is and all that. I think it’s more about connections, and the spiritual, personal space that exists inside us.’

Regardless of your views on utopia, politics and social issues, After Utopia promises to set you thinking. Who knows – you might even find your own idea of paradise there.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Normal’

6 Apr 2015: Back to the old school

Photo: Joel Lim / Calibre pictures

Photo: Joel Lim / Calibre pictures

‘I had a silly fight with my husband a while ago. He made an offhand remark like, “Why are you so stupid?” and I totally snapped. After I calmed down I thought about why I was so angry, and it occurred to me that I was carrying a lot of baggage from my past,’ confesses Faith Ng.

And then, all the unfortunate memories of the time she spent as a Normal (Academic) student came flooding out – like having a teacher lambast her for being ‘stupid’. But rather than let the unhappy thoughts eat her up, she channelled her angst into a play, simply titled Normal. Following two Secondary 5 Normal (Academic) students, Normal is an examination of those who have fallen through the cracks. And yes, it does get personal. She interviewed old classmates and former teachers, and about half of the work is based on actual events.

‘I’m usually quite fast at finishing the draft for a play, but this one took me two years to rework, and I had so many breakdowns!’ says Ng. But seeing it brought to life by the cast under Checkpoint Theatre’s co-artistic director, Claire Wong, made it all worth it. ‘[The way it looks on stage] wasn’t like what I had imagined at all. It’s so much better!’ she smiles.

And while she admits that she didn’t like school, little moments of compassion pulled her through. ‘My twin sister, who was in the Express stream, would slip me notes during breaks with messages like, “I hope you’re doing okay today!”’ Ng recalls. ‘There should be ways to define who we are other than how we do in exams.’

Time Out Singapore: Dick Lee

As Dick Lee celebrates his 40th anniversary in the entertainment scene this month with a revival of his 1997 musical, Hotpants, Gwen Pew chats with him to look back at his glittery career.

Dick Lee 40th Anniversary

30 Jul 2014: Forty years is a long time, and a lot can happen during that period. For showbiz veteran Dick Lee, who turns 58 this month, however, things have by and large remained unchanged. ‘Forty years ago, I was having a blast designing, writing songs and putting shows together,’ he tells us. ‘And now… I’m doing exactly the same thing!’ That’s not to say that he’s still where he started at all those decades ago, though; indeed, we can think of few other local artists who have had such an illustrious and successful career across multiple disciplines.

Lee dropped out of school at 16 and began his life in entertainment by taking part in various talent shows with his siblings. Making it a point ‘to know all there is to know’, as he puts it, his determination and passion paid off when he went on to write hundreds of songs, such as the catchy ‘Mustapha’ from his critically-acclaimed 1988 album The Mad Chinaman and Kit Chen’s 1998 National Day favourite, ‘Home’, as well as musicals, including household titles like Beauty World (1988) and Fried Rice Paradise (1991).

When he first started out, he remembers Singapore’s arts scene as a very different landscape. ‘I only recall Neptune Theatre and Tropicana nightclub, both of which had topless cabaret shows back then! There was the occasional arts performance brought in by legendary impresario Donald Moore, who was rumoured to be a spy. I remember particularly the Bolshoi Ballet at the Old National Theatre,’ he recalls, but also added that ‘the local music industry that thrived in the ’60s was killed off in the ’70s by the “cleaning up” of Singapore, the introduction of NS, etc, so it was pretty dire. One could only play in bars or take part in talent shows. I did both.’

From his first fashion show in 1973, for which he ‘designed the clothes, wrote the music and directed’, to his first performance in Tokyo in 1990 and ‘floating over the Old National Stadium in a balloon during the National Day Parade I directed in 2002’, the Cultural Medallion recipient has plenty of memories to look back on today. But aside from music and theatre, he has also dabbled in fashion and food – his restaurant MAD (Modern Asian Diner), which was styled after his Mad Chinaman moniker, closed its Singapore outlet earlier this year, opening one in Jakarta instead. More recently, he has also showed off his skills as a visual artist by debuting some of his drawings and paintings at Galerie Belvedere (some of which can be viewed there this month). When we asked him whether he’s got more secret skills hidden up his sleeves, he replies ‘I’m afraid that’s all’ – before going on to reveal that he’s preparing to direct his first movie, which begins filming in January next year.

To mark his showbiz milestone anniversary this month, he will be staging the first revival of his 1997 musical, Hotpants. Set in the golden age of the 1970s, the story is centred on a trio of friends – and their mothers – as they attempt to deal with various family members, rivals and a common love interest, all while trying to make it big through the inter-school talent show. ‘The ’70s is an era that’s very special to me, as that was when I decided to follow my heart and do what I still do today,’ explains Lee. It stars a hot, young cast comprising radio DJ, actress and newly-minted Dim Sum Dolly Denise Tan as leading lady Connie, and Dwayne Tan as her husband Alfie; they are joined by Nikkie Muller, Singapore Idol alumni Tabitha Nauser and Joakim Gomez amongst others. ‘I’ve removed some songs and added a few more, as well as tightened the script,’ says Lee. ‘But most importantly, I’ve still retained the atmosphere of innocence and charm.’

On top of the movie and Hotpants, Lee is currently also preparing for this year’s National Day Parade – which he is directing – working on three new musicals, as well as a bunch of other projects that are part of the SG50 celebrations. Happily, he’s still living it up and loving it all: ‘I feel blessed to have been on my journey, and thankful that I followed my heart at every crossroad and turning point,’ he concludes. We look forward to many more decades of great shows, great tunes and great times from him.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Chap Lau Chu’ Preview

Student Aurial Lee speaks about a new show ‘Chap Lau Chu – The Re-Opening of Commonwealth Drive’ by students of NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media which features the area’s resident karang guni Mr Chua.

Chap Lau Chu

30 Jul 2014:

With Singapore undergoing constant change over the years, a group of students from NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media decided to explore HDB’s Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) and its effects on people displaced from the evicted estates. They chose to focus on the recently evicted Tanglin Halt area, and when visiting, stumbled across the area’s resident karang guni, Mr Chua, who inspired them to feature him in a series of staged photographs depicting the ‘reopening’ of the estate. Here, student Aurial Lee, 23, explains more about the show.

‘We have been prescribed a generic way of looking at the past, but it is important to understand that history is plural. This project explores the lesser-known narratives that veer away from orthodox versions of how we remember Singapore, and we want more people to uncover these stories.

‘We focused on the Chap Lau Chu (which means ten-storey estate in Hokkien) in Tanglin Halt because of its historical significance – it was where some of the first ten-storey HDB flats were built in Singapore. The flats signified a period of rapid modernisation in the ’60s. It was also adjacent to the KTM railway – the umbilical cord that connected Singapore to mainland Malaya.

‘As our initial aim was to uncover stories from the ground, we explored the area hoping to talk to ex-residents, but the estate was already mostly evicted – its emptiness was jarring. While walking, we spotted piles of recyclable materials that led us to Mr Chua’s corridor/ living space. We found out that he had been a karang guni man for more than ten years, and he sees his job as one that helps save the environment. He had a certain presence in the estate – often the target of complaints among the residents due to the clutter he was responsible for. He kept the corridor of his old house as a holding ground for his stuff, but has since had to move to a new block nearby, where he is unable to continue as a karang guni man due to space constraints.

‘But Mr Chua remains unfazed. He told us very matter-of-factly that he would “just get another job”. His tenacity with regards to finding a new home or a new job was what inspired the satirical approach for the project – we asked for his involvement as the central figure in our photos, and after understanding his role in each shot, he even gave us some input as to how he should stand or which props to utilise.

‘The photoshoot had a performative aspect, which we followed up with a showcase at the Chap Lau Chu void deck that brought together ex-residents and like-minded individuals. Our previously over-romanticised presumptions on “memory” and “past” have been altered by Mr Chua’s resolve to carry on with the everyday. Each stage in our project created a new layer of meaning for Tanglin Halt – the beauty lays therein the dialogue about memory, space and progress that kept growing as more people learn about our project.’

Time Out Singapore: Tim Garner

An actor, singer, producer and director, 29-year-old Tim Garner founded his eponymous production company last year and made his well-received debut withTake Me Out, a play by Richard Greenberg about an American baseball player who deals with coming out from the closet. This month, he’s following up with another ‘gay play’ in the form of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, which starts with eight guys celebrating a friend’s birthday, but soon gets complicated as their prejudices and true colours come out. Gwen Pew learns more.

Tim Garner

24 Jul 2014:

You mentioned before that a lot of your friends are part of the LGBT community – would you say that that’s one of the reasons why you decide to stage plays that often deal with homosexuality?  
I certainly would. It was actually a realisation that came to me midway through the season of Take Me Out. I hadn’t decided to stage that play because of its LGBT theme – it was simply a play that I always loved and would one day put onstage somewhere in the world, but in Singapore in 2014 it carried an extra weight. Then midway through the production I looked around at the people that were seeing the show, the warm welcome received by the critics and personal comments people were making, and I thought that perhaps this should be my mission – rather than stage one LGBT play and then move on to other more popular things, maybe I can contribute to the LGBT cause with an impartial voice, as a straight ally, and help tell these stories that audiences here hadn’t seen before, and maybe never would.

It’s a small contribution to a community that has welcomed me unconditionally since I was 15 and been mentors, advisors, inspirations, angels, and have not once held my ‘straightness’ against me – and I have a real thing for justice, so it now seems like the obvious road for me. Friends have suggested that I be wary of pigeonholing myself, but it’s no real concern to me – if someone can build a reputation as a supporter of one avenue of human rights through presenting unique, unknown plays, and eventually be relied upon for this, I’ll gladly do that.

How do you decide what works to stage? And is the fact that they’re ‘gay plays’ a must-have criteria?

Essentially, they are favourites of mine as dramatic works in their own right – And maybe in the same way that my social circles for the most part consist of gay people, so do my personal favourite theatre pieces. Sometimes the ‘gay’ element shows up in varying degrees – with Take Me Out it was a small but essential catalyst in an otherwise straight world, but with The Boys in the Band, it’s an overwhelmingly potent theme. And in A New Brain, which I’ll do next year, two characters just happen to be gay and nothing more is said about it – it’s simply a normal part of the world that the show is set in. This, ultimately, is what I want to convey…the plays are about lives, and sometimes the people whose lives we’re watching are gay people. In a couple of years, if things grow the way I’m hoping, there are other shows with themes around broader humanity, the triumph of the human spirit, struggle and ultimate success, etc, that I’d love to present. Shows that really mean something, ones that change lives and opinions. As much as I love things like Anything Goes and Joseph, you won’t see them from me.

What do you love about The Boys in the Band, and why did you choose to stage it?

Foremost, I love the wit. The characters are incredibly intelligent and it will be extremely thrilling as a performer to speak the lines on the pages. Mart Crowley has taken the most hilarious, pointed, desperate and pathetic moments from his social life and put them into a two hour birthday party, and each character serves a careful purpose. There’s no dead weight in the piece, even if one character sits and doesn’t say a word for 30minutes. To share a stage where everyone matters even if they’re silent will be very exciting for me and I hope for the rest of the cast. I also love the overall world it displays – the 60s, of course, where there’s an element of decadence, and of course where friendships can turn on a dime and loyalty is so fleeting…I think it will really make people think about how they treat their friends.  I chose to stage it as almost a reference point to Take Me Out, which was a very contemporary look at the LGBT situation in sports – with Boys, I thought it might be interesting to go back to where it all began, literally, as Boys was the first play to seriously show gay men as regular people, rather than some funny uncle or camp villain. I think it’s important to have perspective on this journey and to know where it all began. I hope the audiences find something in that as well. And finally, Mart Crowley calls the play ‘a condemnation of the closet’. So if there’s some way that the play encourages anyone out there to be a little more of who they truly are, then that’s great. No shame.

And the cast – have you worked with them before, or did you find them through auditions?

Some of them I have worked with before – Chris Bucko, who was terrific inTake Me Out, will be playing a role, and others I’ve either performed with or know from around the industry. I didn’t hold auditions for this one – with Take Me Out, I did to find certain roles – but with Boys it was mostly a matter of feeling of who might fit which role, and who are actors or friends in the industry here who perhaps don’t get to perform as much as they are capable of.  When you’ve been an actor for a long time and if you sit and observe enough, you get pretty good at knowing what kind of person can play strongly which kind of role…and with the amount of visualising I do, it doesn’t take long to work out who I’d offer roles to first. In the end, with Take Me Out, I hadn’t heard any of the actors read their lines before we began rehearsal – I just went with my intuition and who I knew would ‘fit’, and in performance the cast was exceptional, with many of the reviews and general public commenting along those lines. ‘Is this the Broadway cast?’ one lady apparently asked!

There are nine dudes in the play. Which of the characters do you relate to the most, and why?

I think I relate quite well to the character Hank – I’m actually playing Michael – but mostly Hank because of his balanced nature. If someone spills a glass of wine, Hank would be the one to clean it up, and so would I. He does similar things in the play – helping a character who has just offended many of the others but who needs some assistance. I guess you could say he’s quite caring and understanding. Michael, on the other hand, is almost the polar opposite. I’ve never had to be as mean onstage as I am in this play!

When it was first staged in the late ’60s, many of the audience members were shocked. Do you think that Singaporean audiences will feel the same way when they see it?

I don’t think it will be quite as shocking this time around – film and TV have conditioned society to a lot of what Boys first showed, both in terms of hedonism and the language used – but I think it will be confronting in another way. Rather than look at the stage and say “that’s not us”, as was the reaction 45 years ago, I think audiences now will ask “is that me?” By the end of the night I think the audience will have forgotten that any character is gay or straight, and just see them as humans – it’s so raw, so visceral, that the characters and audience will have been equalised – no one escapes the wrath of The Boys.

What are some of the other plays that you hope to stage in the future? And do you have plans to move away from works that feature gay characters (or do shows that talk about lesbians, or bisexuals, or transgenders)?
I have some other favourites – A New Brain, of course – but also, later this year I’ll present The Normal Heart which looked at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in New York. I’d love to look at some Terence McNally plays and maybe eventually Tom Stoppard and Edward Albee. Ironic isn’t it – the musical theatre guy is doing mostly plays – but that’s where my heart is going. I definitely need to do more reading on the L, B and T areas and see what might be interesting for audiences here. Much like the inclusion movement stands for, I’m open to anything!

And finally, tell us a bit more about yourself – where are you from, how old are you, when and why did you come to Singapore, and how did you first get into theatre?

I’m originally from Auckland, New Zealand, although my accent is closer to Australian now and I think many people think I’m from there. I’ll be 30 in a couple of months which is scary, and I’ll probably have to throw a party for that one whereas usually I don’t – I can’t stand the attention. I arrived in Singapore in 2006 to study at Lasalle which was really a life changing moment. I’ve grown up here and almost can’t remember the person I was before Singapore. It’s been a wonderful place to develop. It was really Les Miserables that shook me to the core and showed me that a lot of meaning can be gleaned from what we see on the stage. And of course, because it’s a musical, I would sing the very catchy songs around the house and started to imagine maybe being an actor. This led to high school productions, amateur theatre shows, some professional work (but in Auckland at that time it was quite limited) and finally a realisation that I should study musical theatre overseas if I wanted to part of the industry in Australia – which I’m still working towards – I audition for those shows when I might be ‘right’ for a role, but mostly now I’m putting things onstage here!