ST: 8 questions with... Loretta Chen (Sept 29)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sep 29, 2008
8 questions with... Loretta Chen
Wild thing
First, an Annabel Chong play. Now, The Vagina Monologues. Loretta Chen
is big on taboos
By tara tan

Theatre director Loretta Chen, 31, is a political animal who pushes
boundaries on and off the stage.

Her controversial play about Singaporean porn star Annabel Chong, 251,
got people talking when it was staged in April last year.

She is also an active member of the Young PAP and posed questions
about censorship to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at a youth dialogue
last year.

Chen was recently nominated by DrTeo Ho Pin, mayor of North West
district, to be in the North West Community Development Corporation's
executive committee.

Her current project is Eve Ensler's feminist play, The Vagina
Monologues, which opens on Wednesday. The play also marks the
inaugural show of her new company, Zebra Crossing.

Here is a little-known fact: She is also the baby sister of television
actor Edmund Chen.

'As a 10-year-old, I used to tag along to all his filming sessions,'
chuckled Chen, who is 14 years younger than her brother.

'That was what got me hooked on performances: seeing my big brother
turn into someone else on screen.'

Born to a clerk and a housewife, Chen, who grew up in a two-room flat
in Tanglin Halt, calls herself 'a complete accident'.

'My dad was 41 and my mum was 39 when they had me. Eric, my second
eldest brother, is only three years apart from Edmund,' said Chen.

She went on to study theatre studies at the National University of
Singapore, where she now teaches part-time while pursuing her
doctorate on queer performances staged in Singapore.

In 1999, she headed to University of London's Royal Holloway for her
master's, before starting on her doctorate at the University of
California in Los Angeles where she lived for over two years.

She returned to Singapore in 2002 and went on to garner a Life!
Theatre Awards nomination for Best Director for Ten Brothers, a cheeky
retelling of a Chinese folktale about 10 siblings who each possesses a
different superpower.

1. What draws you to controversial plays?

I am drawn to material which is overlooked in mainstream society and I
question why people react to it that way.

The contents often centre on fascinating personalities such as strong
women, as well as issues I feel very much for.

2. I hear you are quite superstitious. Is that why you are dressed in
all white today?

Yes, my geomancer told me it is my lucky colour. I just thought, what
the heck. I bought a white car, lots of white clothes, then white
shoes and white bags to match.

When I was harbouring thoughts of starting a theatre company, I got my
fortune told in a temple in China that said I should start my business
with my close friends, which I did.

3. Why name your theatre company Zebra Crossing?

(Laughs) I have a theory for that. We spend a lot of time on the road,
where people have little patience or much space.

At zebra crossings, however, traffic ceases to exist and only people
matter. No matter how important the driver is or how big the car, you
have to stop for the pedestrian.

Zebra Crossing will produce all sorts of theatre, from Broadway
musicals to newly commissioned works.

4. What does theatre mean to you?

When I was studying in California in 2002, my partner committed
suicide. Theatre, in a way, helped me deal with this very difficult
time. I was able to look at it as if it was a scene from my life's play.

Sometimes, when something melodramatic happens to you, you need to be
able to distance yourself and look at it with some objectivity.

5. What was your childhood like?

I grew up in a working-class family but I always had enough even
though we were not very rich. The house was full of love.

I never felt poorer than my classmates, who were always jetting off on
holidays to the United States or Europe.

I had nice pencil cases and birthday parties at McDonald's. Thinking
back, all these must have cost my parents quite a bit but they gave
them to me so I was never in want of anything.

6. What do you think makes a strong woman and do you think of yourself
as one?

To me, a strong woman is someone who says she can do anything she puts
her mind to. Sometimes, it takes more strength to be able to say you
are wrong or you are not good at something.

As a director, I rely on my collaborators. I have ideas but need
talented people to carry them out. We directors are useless without
them behind us.

7. What made you join the Young PAP?

If you want to make a change, you have to actively make it and that
means working within the political avenues.

Some people get quite disheartened, cynical and feel powerless because
they keep criticising from the outside.

I say: Jump in and fight for what you believe in. Theatre is a great
platform for me to be politically aware and socially involved while
still being creative.

8. Complete this sentence. If I could live my life all over again,

Not change it at all. I needed to go through my life the way I did.

On a lighter note, however, I wished I went for my bunion operation
earlier. I am going for it next month but now my feet look funny.

book it

(Rated R18 for adult content and strong language)

Who: Zebra Crossing
When: Wednesday to Oct 12 (except Mondays and Sundays) at 8pm.
Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm
Where: Drama Centre Theatre @ National Library Building
Tickets: $17 to $57 from Sistic (log on to or call