Isabelle, a graduate from School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA), sees herself as a dreamer and wants to bring joy and stories to people through theatre. Through her exposure to Speech and Drama in her younger years, Isabelle quickly realised how she loves listening, telling, creating and performing stories.
With the support of her family, teachers and prayer, she decided, at a fairly young age, to take the road less travelled and choose art studies over a solely academic track.
In 2016, Isabelle was involved in Pretty Little Things, an installation performance directed by Ruyi Wong, Teaq and Osh, which was part of Kult Kafé’s Prototype Thursday programme.
What pushed you to come to ITI?
I was in School in the Arts (SOTA), Singapore before ITI. In SOTA, I had all done all the regular subjects, and one of them was theatre. I came to ITI immediately after finishing my International Baccalaureate (IB) year.
In SOTA, I had a teacher who had trained in TTRP [what ITI was formerly known as]; I had watched him in performance once and I really felt like there was a quality in him that I really admired; and that stuck with me.
When I was coming to the end of my IB year, I couldn’t find a school that I wanted to train in. Coincidentally, my theatre teacher then told me that there were vacancies in ITI. I looked at the programme, and after two weeks of consideration, I really felt like the programme had the rigour that I needed to train my body and my skills to become a performer.
It’s the end of three years of training, but what was it like on your first day?
I was really excited to start a new adventure. Mainly, I was excited at the thought of doing theatre the whole day, as compared to splitting the time between all subjects and theatre, as I had in SOTA.
What has been the experience like, with day in and day out of theatre training?
Studying in ITI is like an ongoing experiment. We embrace all the conditions, be it traditional or contemporary forms, and track our own progress. As we explore new things, we also have to constantly monitor ourselves. We have to take our own initiative to make the most of our learning here. The teachers can point out things for us, even solve problems for us sometimes, but it is the experiments we have with ourselves that are the most challenging. When we do solve and overcome the challenges, that makes the process very rewarding. The consistency and rigour with which we challenge ourselves make the training truly rigorous.
“Studying in ITI is like an ongoing experiment … the teachers can point out things for us, even solve problems for us sometimes, but it is the experiments we have with ourselves that are the most challenging.”
The ITI programme would not be what it is without the intercultural mix in class; so how has that been like?
Listening is so important in class. It is easy to generalise and assume that it is hard to understand people from elsewhere, but listening is difficult regardless of country or accent. Working with the same people for 10 hours or so everyday, every week, it is so easy to just assume that we listen to each other, but once we get complacent, the listening stops; and that becomes problematic in ensemble work, because we rely on each other to a large extent.
What were some of your most memorable experiences here?
In a class with [voice teacher] Jane Gilmer, who taught us the Steiner integrated technique, we did an exercise where we had to create a sphere of presence and awareness around ourselves. I was given a moment to expand my presence. And when I did, that moment felt so good, as the classmates on either side of me stepped away. It seemed so surreal, that the body, mind and imagination worked on such a level! It was like the X-Men’s Jean Grey creating a force field, something out of comic books!
We also did a workshop with mask teacher Alicia Martinez, and we were to present the mask to the class. I was really nervous, but once I put the mask on, everything seemed right and the laughter began. I didn’t even think I was that funny, but there was certainly a sense of fun and adrenaline coursing through my veins. All I could think of was to make the audience laugh, and I found a love for the audience I don’t think I had ever felt before. There was a freedom behind the mask too that I felt so comforted by.
How have you grown as an actor here?
As an actor, I have grown more aware of the body and my mind, and I trust my body’s impulses more now. I feel more confident in taking risks. I think this confidence, trust and awareness in the body makes an actor more ready to be in a state of ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’, both of which are very important in the creative process.
How has your understanding of acting changed over your time at ITI?
I had thought of the actor as separate from the person himself or herself, which is true to a certain extent, but I think I’m beginning to understand that the craft of an actor is very much linked to how they live their life. There is no way to divorce the two; because what we learn in life is essentially how an actor learns in training. How we look at life is translated to how, as an actor, we create the craft. So, cultivating skills in the arts is one thing, but the other important thing is cultivating the person. That’s why I think the journey of the actor would always be endless.
That’s probably why artists are so connected to culture as well, because it’s part of us and we bring it wherever we go. But as artists, we also bear an awareness of how this culture affects others. So I’m now fully convinced that the actor has a cultural responsibility that they cannot shake off. Theatre becomes a kind of philosophy.
My initial expectation of actors and theatre has changed a lot in the past three years, and it is still constantly changing.
What are you looking forward to after graduation?
I will look forward to auditioning, auditioning and auditioning. I may also pursue further training … we’ll see!
For someone about to step into your place as a new student, you’d say…
Just be humble and learn. Always revisit why you decided to join ITI, it really helps put things in perspective.
Any special words of thanks?
I thank my family and friends for supporting me in pursuit of my dream. Thank you Ms Shelly Quick for encouraging me to “dream big” and never lower the bar just because of insecurities. I also thank my teachers at ITI; I’ve been very privileged to learn under your guidance. Special thanks to all my teachers, past and present, for guiding me in the right direction. And last but not least, I thank my God for everything.
Photos by Bernie Ng