I almost never get to dress up for the theatre. Suits and ties are reserved for days like today, when I'm doing corporate training. Using drama to teach skills to people who work in the CBD. I like to pretend I'm cosplaying.
Since then, I'll bring it to theatre and wear it during the bump in and show period as it brings smiles to people's faces, and I also want to be constantly reminded of where and how I began my acting career.
To me. Certain genres are created just to allow you to lepak and be senang senang, to be listened at quarter volume. I don’t listen to things at quarter volume. When I listen, I listen.
Ju Meng, you are an architect. You are trained to build houses. Real ones. The sort people actually live in. How did you get into set design? Building bluff things for bluff situations and characters that are unreal.
I see my Architectural education as a way of understanding the world around us and the world of design. For me it's just a framework of understanding things and not limited to architecture with a capital "A". Hence, I've always been interested in trying other realms of design, graphic design, furniture, set design and so on. In fact, I take the way I see things into how I see management of projects, critiquing structures of all forms and systems. Moving laterally (design wise) into set design provided different design challenges to me, different criteria of design. Hey, isn't everything an "illusion" anyway? ;) It's all relative. What's happening on stage is "real"! What we see and feel is real. So to me it's just a different experience. Some people might even choose to live in a "set-like" environment! Come to think of it, isn't our home a set for our own lives?
What is it you enjoy about set design that you don't get from architecture? And vice versa?
Well, I think that one big difference is the temporary nature of a theatre set. Also, a set in a theatre or event is primarily geared towards presenting a scene from fixed vantage points and (usually) less spatially plastic in nature than actual space for habitation. So, it's just different. I also feel that in set design, one can more readily explore ideas in metaphor, abstractions and exaggerations without being overly concerned with function.
What do you remember about Tropicana the nightclub?
The Dim Sum! I ate a lot in my young age and oddly, remember the food more than the topless shows! Haha! But maybe this was a sign of my future interest and profession, I remembered the screened facade of the building quite vividly.
When I mention 60s Singapore, what are the things you think about? Or that strike you?
Frankly, not much. Perhaps I was too young at that time. The most I remember of that time are probably of my kindergarten days at Sunrise Kindergarten along a row of shophouses along Orchard Road next to the old Heeren Building where I used to get my haircuts! Or more like head shaves. But I remember life as more idyllic, spacious, much slower and less urban. It's like a b/w photo/movie to me when i think of my life in the 60's.
What about the Tropicana play that grabs you most?
I reflect on the dichotomy and tension of societal forces that shape how art is created and expressed back then and now. But when I first read the script, the first (positive) thought I had was that this show was going to express ideas beyond a typical feel-good-song-and-dance story. It's exploring universal and timeless themes and boundaries of artists' rights to freedom of expression and a life of free will.
Without too many spoilers, share something about what you are intending as the set for the play.
There won't be too much glitz and glamour! But it won't lack drama!
You live in Santa Fe. Most people think that has something to do with Santa Claus. That's how far out it is. How in the world did this Singaporean get there?
The most recent popular reference to Santa Fe in Singapore might the song "Santa Fe" from Pangdamonium's production of RENT. I can believe Santa Fe used to have that vibe where American's romanticise about "opening up a restaurant in Santa Fe". Haha. Traditionally, it's a place where people come to re-define their lives in a place that is not so American. But it's a small city in northern New Mexico in the USA at about 2100m. Back in the late 90's, I had a job offer there and so my wife and I decided that the opportunity to live there was hard to resist. We stayed for a couple of years before moving to Singapore. But about 8 years ago, we decided to go back to the US with our daughter. Santa Fe just came back to us.
Do you have a secret talent we don't know about?
I really don't know what you're talking about!
A little bird told me you are a self-thought musician. Play and record a segment of a 60s song. And no, you don't have to sing.
Hardly a "musician"! Just "gorenging" around for personal pleasure.
Give us a photo of a 60s icon that you love.
Tropicana was Singapore’s first entertainment complex to feature a cabaret theatre, restaurants and nightclubs. Opened in 1968, it was best known for introducing topless revues to Singapore. Extremely popular in the early years of its existence, Tropicana closed in 1989 and was redeveloped into a shopping centre. Read more about it over here.
Tropicana The Musical began exactly like other projects I have independently produced - by living life. I love and live my work every day. I shouldn’t even call it work. This is just the way I live. I look around me, at people, at things, at buildings, hear conversations, and then stories and ideas pop into my head, stories I feel like sharing in a form I enjoy - maybe theatre, maybe tv, someday maybe film.