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Interview: Dwayne Tan and Denise Tan of W!ld Rice’s Hansel & Gretel

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W!ld Rice‘s new musical Hansel & Gretel is set to run this week, and its stars Dwayne Tan and Denise Tan took some time to answer some questions about being in this musical version of the beloved children’s tale.

 

DWAYNE TAN

You’ve been acting quite a bit. How did you get into acting in the first place?

I’ve always been interested in acting and singing. When I was in secondary school, I tried to get into the drama club but was rejected. I was also rejected by my primary school’s choir. Undefeated and still passionate about acting, I eventually became the vice president of the drama club in Polytechnic, but mainly to do administrative work. Eventually, I got roped in to attend some drama workshops conducted by Margaret Chan whom we invited. I also joined The Pyramid Game and won some cash. Determined to learn singing properly, I looked up Jacintha Abisheganaden by calling up her record label. Coincidentally, she had a music school where I paid for my first singing lessons.

How has it been rehearsing for Hansel & Gretel?

This is my second pantomime with W!ld Rice. It has been so much fun. Most of us have worked with each other before and we’re even close friends. That has helped [in] understanding each other better and working faster. Because this musical is so much about food, we’ve been bonding even more and have been enjoying great moments of laughter as we try to stage funny moments for the audience.

Is this going to be the traditional children’s tale?

We’ve used the original tale as a guide but this story is in our hands. Do you think we’re going to keep it as traditional and dark? No way! Alfian Sa’at has written a wonderful local version of the tale.

What can audiences expect from W!ld Rice’s version of Hansel & Gretel?

Expect to tickle your tastebuds and funny bone, as well as feast your eyes on all things sweet and savoury!

You’ve quite an extensive resume of plays and musicals, but have you done any television or movie roles? If so, please elaborate.

Many years back I was in a sci-fi movie called Cyber Wars (starring Joan Chen) playing a youth with one fake eye. I was also an extra for the Disney movie Enchanted. I had to because I am such a Disney fan. I’ve made guest appearances on several Mediacorp serials too. The most recent one I filmed is for the upcoming Point of Entry Season 3. I play a Chinese murderer in episode 14, which is loosely based on the Yishun murders. I’m also going to be in the HBO series premiere of Serangoon Road coincidentally starring Joan Chen again. I play a very interesting and challenging character that I can’t wait for people to see.

Which medium (big screen, small screen, plays, musicals, radio) is your favorite and why?

Musicals have always been my most favourite medium. It was when I first started watching Disney movies and wondered why those songs were different from the ones on radio. Then I discovered they played out like musicals. I love the live interaction you get with the audience on stage. I also love channeling emotions through songs. No show is exactly the same and every show grows with each audience. Theatre is magical to me because the entire story plays out on one stage. In theatre, we rehearse scenes over and over again but in film or television there often isn’t as much time for that and it is more improvised. I enjoy both, but I prefer to spend more time solidifying and building certain specifics in a scene.

Hansel & Gretel is about a brother-sister relationship. Do you have any siblings and what is your relationship with them? If you are an only child, do you have anyone you consider a “brother” or “sister” to you?

I lost my brother two years ago, so I am an only child now. It means a lot to me that this production is about a sibling relationship. I consider many of my close friends like brothers and sisters. Denise is one of them, so it’s quite perfect that we’re playing siblings. And I never forget to tell my loved ones how much I love them.

You studied in New York City – the epitome of culture! How long did you live there, and how was the experience?

I lived there for about three years. I really learned a lot about being independent. It wasn’t easy. Living abroad actually makes you discover your identity very quickly because you realise what you miss or like and how you are different in a whole new surrounding and who you want yourself to be in a sea of such colours. I actually wrote a book very loosely based on my New York experience that is selling on U.S. iTunes with my music.

How does Singapore’s arts scene compare to New York’s in your opinion?

We certainly hold our own. We’ve got equally good productions. We are a younger industry and although the infrastructure seems developed on the outside, in my opinion, there is still some way to go in terms of being a cohesive unit. For example, agreeing and keeping to a certain understanding of standards we want for ourselves. It’s all very exciting though because that means we have the opportunity to be a part of shaping these things the way it will work for us in Singapore.

I see you’ve done some writing and producing as well; is it easier to do that, or be a performer? Will you be doing more writing/producing in future?

I definitely have less experience with writing and producing. But it’s something I’ve started to explore because I’ve gotten itchy watching other people do it. As a performer you’re always part of a project that has already taken off mostly. And in many ways, you are part of someone else’s vision. As a writer or producer, you get to hatch a project and create the framework for others to join in and share that vision you have created. I absolutely hope to write, produce and even direct in the future. In fact, in December, I will be making my directorial debut for a mini musical I wrote!

What are your plans for the short term (what are you doing next) and long term (what do you hope to do in the future)?

I’ve been engaged to work on a new original musical by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles. They are the team that wrote Honk and the new music for Mary Poppins. It’s a great honour to be working with them. One of the productions I did this year is making a comeback next year too. I’m also working on a second album. It will be a Disney album, so I can get that out of the way and grow up with the album.

 

DENISE TAN

You’ve been acting quite a bit. How did you get into acting in the first place?

It started with me playing a duck in my Kindergarten graduation show, that’s when the performing bug bit – the costumes, the song and dance, the acting, the adoration from the audience (lol!) and I followed this all through school with story-telling, coming up with and acting in skits at school assemblies, choir, Drama club. I liked it so much I decided to pursue a degree in Theatre Studies and English Lit and performed in musicals all through Uni. When I came back to Singapore, I jumped right into Theatre education, school tours, and started auditioning for shows. The first one I ever auditioned for was Beauty World in 1988. And I haven’t stopped since!

How has it been rehearsing for Hansel & Gretel?

Tiring. And awesome! I love my co-actors – it’s a small cast (only six of us) so we have to really work well together. There are a lot of songs, dance numbers, and antics, and while we’re only at the start of week four, everything is falling together well. We laugh a lot and talk about food a lot (mainly because four out of six of us are on a diet and can’t actually eat – hence the food talk! We’re a good support group for each other – we even had badges made up for our little group!)

Is this going to be the traditional children’s tale?

This is a W!ld Rice production! Of course not! We take the traditional fairytale and give it lots of local flavour and humour. Audiences will still get the general shape of the original tale, just with lots of garnish!

What can audiences expect from W!ld Rice’s version of Hansel & Gretel?

They can expect to feel hungry! As I mentioned before, there’s lots of local flavour and humour, songs and dances, the childrens’ cast gets to lots of adorable things, a roller coaster of emotions, colourful costumes, a super yummy set, the list goes on. Rest assured, all your senses (including taste and smell) will be stimulated and sated!

You’ve quite an extensive resume of plays and musicals, but have you done any television or movie roles? If so, please elaborate.

I’ve done cameos in Phua Chu Kang, Living with Lydia, Maggie and Me. And I was in the sitcom House of Chow for one season. I’ve also done a few roles in short films, mainly with director Wee Lilin, and a made-for-tv film trilogy with Royston Tan.

Which medium (big screen, small screen, plays, musicals, radio) is your favorite and why?

Gosh, this is like asking me to choose between laksa, mee pok and chicken rice! How to choose – all give me so much pleasure and satisfaction! I will say this though, Theatre will always be my first love and radio is just an extension of it.

Hansel & Gretel is about a brother-sister relationship. Do you have any siblings and what is your relationship to them? If you are an only child, do you have anyone you consider a “brother” or “sister” to you?

I have a brother who’s four years older than I am. We had a real love-hate relationship growing up, a lot of playing together and a lot more fighting together. But I have great memories of our adventures. He’s a major influence on my sense of humour, my taste in movies and music too. When he went to Uni and I was still in secondary school, it did feel like the age gap was vast and I felt like I was an only child for a few years.

You studied in Leeds; did you take in shows on the West End? How long did you live in the United Kingdom, and how was the experience?

I was in Leeds for three and a half years and I loved every minute of it. These were my years of discovery, freedom, experimentation, living life fearlessly and embracing every new experience. I watched amazing theatre, discovered new music, made friends from all walks of life, halcyon days, you know? Of course I took in shows on the West End, but also at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse and Sheffield’s Crucible.

How does Singapore’s arts scene compare to the United Kingdom/West End’s in your opinion?

Many will say Singapore aspires to produce “world class” theatre like London’s West End or New York’s Broadway, we’re on the fast track to being a global “arts hub”. We certainly have the infrastructure, but I feel our arts scene needs the time and space to develop organically and not be shaped into becoming anything in a hurry. It’s not about imitating or importing, but creating, educating, and growing our own unique arts scene that cannot be copied or replicated elsewhere. We’re still a young nation and our scene is likewise very young – I think we’re just getting started and feeling our way. It’s encouraging, though, to see more people take up the mantle full time, also to see how things have changed for the better in my 14 years in theatre.

You are a DJ on radio, GOLD 90FM. How did you get into that, and is there anything in your DJ-ing career that has helped you in this (or other) musical(s)?

I decided to take a little hiatus from theatre to try new things and went in for a voice test at a radio station just to see if there were any opportunities there. I ended up getting the job and discovered that there was so much more to radio than what you hear. So many things go on behind the scenes to put out music and entertainment 24-7 and I loved the chance to learn all these things. Bonus was, I realised that presenting on radio is an extension of theatre – it’s not visual, so you’re constantly coming up with new things to engage the theatre of the mind. Imagination, creativity and entertainment – these are things I already knew from theatre that fed into radio and vice versa!

What are your plans for the short term and long term?

Short term plans: drink an ice-cold beer, eat a hamburger and fries and all the food we’ve been talking about once the diet is over! Haha.

I’ll be helping my friend and co-actor Sebastian Tan with a little writing for his next Broadway Beng Show next year and also performing in it.

Long term: I just hope to continue doing the things I love and get paid for it! I’d love to keep on being on radio, bagging great roles, performing, and also hope one day to collaborate, write, direct, produce, and be involved in the non-performance aspects of theatre.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.