Like many other Singapore students, Caroline’s encounter with theatre began in her secondary school. Then, she was on the Drama Elective programme. But more than a passing passion, Caroline delved deeper into theatre and dance, even taking a gap year after junior college to do so.
During that time, she worked with Drama Box and was also part of Maya Dance Theatre’s MOVE Programme (2015), where she co-created an original work, i have nothing to do with explosions, most recently featured in the M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival’s Off Stage Programme (2017). She has also trained in butoh under Yoshito Ohno at the Kazuo Ohno Dance Studio in Yokohama, Japan.
Post-graduation, Caroline hopes to collaborate with those of different backgrounds and art forms to explore how differences can find harmony through art. She is also keen to further her studies and hopefully deepen her training in one or more of the traditional forms she’s been immersed in during her time at ITI.
Caroline is a recipient of the ITI-William Teo Scholarship.
Why were you compelled to take a gap year to truly explore the performing arts?
After completing my A-levels, I knew I wanted to do theatre; but I didn’t know where to go. I was also not in a hurry, so I decided to take a gap year, which extended into another one before I started my training here. Those two years were very important for me in preparation for ITI - one being that I found out about ITI through co-actors of a production I was in, and that I had time to train in dance and acting from different practitioners and places that served me well for this. I also worked odd jobs to partially fund myself.
What about ITI called out to you?
I knew about ITI vaguely but didn’t seriously consider it until I met Zachary Ho, a former TTRP student [ITI was formerly known as Theatre Training & Research Programme (TTRP) until 2011] whom I acted alongside in a production with Drama Box in 2014, and my fellow co-actors also recommended that I join ITI. I looked it up on the website and that was it - it was everything I was searching for.
So, in January 2016, you stepped into ITI as first year student. What was that step like?
I was lost but excited. I remember being in an orientation circle where everyone introduces themselves and where they’re from. It was then that I had to say “I’m from Singapore” - a fact I sometimes forget when I’m in Singapore. Unlike saying it in another country, saying that here was new and strange because I often take it for granted. I felt like I was suddenly made to own that identity here, in my own country, for the first time.
How have the past years of training been?
Wonderfully exhausting. It is of endless contradictions and questions, settling and unsettling, constantly discovering paradoxes.
Diversity is a mainstay of every ITI cohort. How did you work with that?
Difference is not easy - and the basis of our differences usually stems from our cultures. I don’t just mean the broad view of one’s culture being where they’re from, but every little experience and history that makes a person in each moment. Working interculturally is extremely complex when you get to the marrow: it moves beyond mere tolerance into trying to understand one another; which, I believe, requires one to first understand one’s self. It’s a confronting process, and it doesn’t always mean it’ll end in agreement. More often than not, my own limitations and flaws are reflected back at me in these moments of conflict. But as painfully revealing as it can be for everyone, it’s also quite comforting when you reach a point of understanding and simply see each other as human, alongside our differences. If anything, I think this is an important message the theatre needs to send today.
I realised what working interculturally truly means - it’s about seeking understanding through the difficulties difference poses.
It was frustrating, but a worthy frustration.
This was my biggest revelation in ITI.
What has been your most memorable experience in the ITI studios?
So many. But one that really sticks wasn’t in a class per se, but was during a rehearsal for Angel’s Dinner in my first year (Angel’s Dinner is an annual dinner ITI hosts to thank our Angels.) All the students were trying to put together a song in Spanish that had been taught to us by our teacher Beto and an alumnus, Pedro, early in the year, which most of us couldn’t remember so accurately. There were no teachers instructing us whatsoever, just us students left to make the decisions. And so everyone had their own opinion on how we should stand, enter, position ourselves on stage … it was babel! It was a slow process - there was no clear leader, and collectively we were all trying to achieve the same goal but could not find our way onto the same track. During this, my senior Uma and I found ourselves arguing over which note we should sing on, based on our own ways of understanding music. We kept disagreeing on which note was the correct one, but could not agree, until eventually we realised that we had been arguing about the same note the entire time! We simply could not understand each other because we were speaking in different musical languages. It was then that I realised what working interculturally truly means - it’s about seeking understanding through the difficulties difference poses. It was frustrating, but a worthy frustration. This was my biggest revelation in ITI.
How have you changed as an actor since day 1 in school?
I think the training has really pushed me off-balance. I’ve learnt so many things about myself, people, the world, and the education system that’s shaped me, and I’m constantly having to re-calibrate myself and my beliefs. And the more I learn the more I realise how much I don’t know. I have so many more questions now than I did before, and they never seem to stop growing. But I’m also more solid in certain beliefs now than I was before.
Everyone is warned during their audition that it won’t be easy, but it’s a lot more painful than I expected. Though if it were easy, it probably wouldn’t be any fun. Plus, I’ve met such wonderful people who’ve taught me so much, and the love you find here is really quite unique.
What do you dream of post-graduation?
To create work, no matter what it is. To be constantly involved in creation and all kinds of creation - be it with others or alone. I hope to further my studies at some point, but there’s no hurry. I’ve witnessed the greatest generosity and commitment to humanity and their craft in every artist and teacher I’ve had the privilege to work with, and I hope to pass this on to future generations.
My dream is to eventually be able to distill all the training and experience I’ve had in performing, till I find that I have something useful that I can pass on. ITI gifts us with such a variety of different forms and systems, and I’d like to find yet another one of many paths into a way of working. It’s a long process to reach that, so I’m collecting experiences and knowledge as much as I can from as many places possible.
Who have been your greatest cheerleaders so far?
Greatest thanks to my family who support me quietly everyday, even if you don’t always understand what I do and why I do it; [ITI teachers] Sasi, Beto, and Chin Huat for being our pillars of support, along with all the other teachers who came and went - for your belief in us and the future of theatre; Raka Maitra and Chowk for welcoming me so warmly into the world of Odissi; my dear teachers before, and outside of ITI who have each left something precious in me; my 3 inimitable classmates for your humour and kindness; our lovely seniors, juniors, and friends from WAAPA for all that you’ve shared; our most hardworking admin team without whom we wouldn’t function; our generous donors and sponsors who help fund our cause along with those who support ITI in small ways, and finally the late Kuo Pao Kun whom I’ve never met but who has given all this to us: infinite thanks to you all!