LET'S Begin At The Very Beginning

blog by tan kheng hua

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. 

A story based on Tropicana the famous 1960s nightspot in Singapore popped into my head more than 10 years ago. I left it in this folder in my computer I label Dreams, along with many other ideas there labelled “Cake”, “Coffee”, “We Three Men”…go figure…a variety of projects I have dreamed up and would one day like to realise in some way. I am proud to say, many of my files in Dreams have actually been produced. So it’s not a dormant folder. It’s alive. It’s just waiting for the right time for the right thing to happen. 

The right time for Tropicana came at the end of August 2015. My 2015 was dedicated mostly to Singapore: Inside Out, a travelling showcase of Singapore art and performances by STB to celebrate SG50. We went to Beijing, London and New York and then performed back in Singapore. In all these cultural capitals of the world, I witnessed such great creative energies and experienced the company of wonderful artists at work. I missed producing an original musical and knew I wanted to feature one that would celebrate one of the most dynamic creative eras in Singapore - to me - the 1960s. And then I knew it was time to pop Tropicana out of the Dreams folder. 

My independent productions are like babies I birth. When I give birth to them, I have no idea what they will look like, what they will be good at, what sort of temperament they will have, what they will achieve and what they will bring into my life. That’s part of the fun. Watching these babies of mine grow up. With Tropicana out of the folder, I knew I had to build a family around it. The best family I can find. To nurture it, bring out its best, guide it into something good and support it all the way. The first person I knew I wanted as family was my good friend, director Beatrice Chia-Richmond. I knew Bea was the right person for the job as director of this musical because, not only does she have a great temperament for building production families, she has a great pulse on the general public and what they might like to see. When she accepted, I asked her who she would like to work with as a playwright. Her immediate response - Haresh Sharma - whom she had worked with for NDP and SEA Games. We met him, told him about Tropicana, sent him some research material and he was in. 

With Tropicana out of the folder, I knew I had to build a family around it. The best family I can find. To nurture it, bring out its best, guide it into something good and support it all the way.

Then the three of us holed up and dreamed. Big time. Laughing, munching, listening to music, reading research, and discussing what we loved about the 60s and what we wanted Tropicana to be about. And then we knew we had to list the actors we wanted to work with because good actors are hard to book these days! We wanted the best. And I am glad to say, we got them. Siti K. Rizman Putra. Lim Yu-Beng. Karen Tan. Ebi Shankara. Seong Huixuan. Sharda Harrison. Joshua Lim. Audrey Luo. Brendon Fernandez. Mitch Lagos. Many of these actors are triple threats. Can handle comedy and drama. Can handle text. Can devise plays. They all said yes. And I knew Tropicana was good to go. No stopping now. 

photo by jacqueline Chang @5degreeshift

photo by jacqueline Chang @5degreeshift

The Tropicana family has grown by leaps and bounds since then. And by the time Tropicana The Musical plays to an audience for the first time April 13, 2017, it would have been more than a year and a half since I popped it out of its folder womb. I like to liken producing to jumping off one cliff after another. You don’t really know where you will land, but you land, and you run from where you land. This jumping off cliffs will continue right until the musical closes. The adrenaline and the thrill of jumping off cliffs is unbeatable. But all the way, I make sure we’ve got our safety harnesses on. Every day on this project, my largest as an independent producer, has been a joy. And a source of stress. But this is the work I choose. And that I believe in. So jump we must. I am so thankful I am not alone. I jump holding hands with some of the best people any production could have. People who love the theatre, who love each other, and who love me. What more can i ask for? Watch out! Next cliff coming! Jump along with us and pray for a soft, fluffy, happy landing!