Q&A with Peh Jun Kai

28 October 2022 | Journal

1 Peh Jun Kai QnA

Peh Jun Kai is a theatre-maker, actor and playwright from Singapore. His artistic journey began at 15 when he participated in an improvisational comedy workshop. Since then, he has been drawn to theatre as a means to connect with himself and society.

Jun Kai is actively involved in playback theatre, working with Long Time No See (好久不见) Playback Theatre and The Community Theatre (TCT), a youth group by Beyond Social Services. With TCT, he performed in The Block Party (M1 Peer Pleasure Festival 2019).

After graduation, Jun Kai plans to continue training, collaborating and creating impactful stories.

Jun Kai is a recipient of the Tan Chay Bing Education Fund Scholarship and a beneficiary of the Möbius Fund.


What were you doing before coming to ITI?

I was deepening my skills as an actor in theatre — doing playback theatre with Long Time No See, finishing a performance with The Community Theatre and some part-time work.


Tell us how you came to know of ITI. What made you choose to come here?

I first got a glimpse of ITI when some audience members were wearing the black ITI shirts at Drama Box’s SCENES: FORUM THEATRE in 2015. Then, I got to know the school better when I attended their Open Studio sessions in 2017 and 2019, and got a sense of the training here. I decided to apply after watching the graduation productions in 2019 and after a conversation with alumnus Desmond Soh. I made the decision to come here because I knew ITI would be a good fit for me and I could develop quickly as a young actor.


Think back to your first day here: what were some of your thoughts and emotions then?

I remember the fresh, bright-eyed faces and the moist smell of morning on 11 Upper Wilkie Road. The 'White House', the trees and the school office that felt old and new at the same time. My excitement to get to know my peers and get started. At the time, it was “Wow, I get to learn again” and “I'm not gonna hold back.”


What is it like to train here at ITI?

For the most part, training in ITI feels like an opportunity to live in an intercultural village and stage for 3 years. A lot of learning and unlearning happen in the studios — immersing in the different worlds of the various training and exchanging ideas through discourse on arts and the different forms. But a lot of it also happens outside of the studios — adapting and staying true to the group and to oneself, getting to know my peers personally, realising and accepting the differences in our opinions on matters true to our hearts and having this constant dialogue to coexist in the same space.

Training in ITI can feel all-consuming, demanding and overwhelming, but very satisfying and purposeful at the same time.


Share what you've learnt from working and interacting with your classmates from various countries.

I also remember reading the interview by alumna Nour el Houda Essafi (a.k.a. Yiseong) when I first started at ITI and a phrase that stood out to me was: “that within each individual resides a beautiful universe of their own''. I’m paraphrasing from my bad memory, but I remember it was very poetic and I really liked it.

’Exploring’ these 11 other universes that are so different and vast almost seven days a week is both an immense gift and privilege as well as a grand challenge in communication. Sometimes I get lost and sometimes I discover wonders. But working with them reveals so much of my own universe too.


Encountering the traditional forms is a gift and a precious opportunity to be transported to different play worlds, to explore and extend the actor’s body. I can’t exactly put into words how immersing myself in the forms has changed me as an actor, but I come away from each form a little transformed, a little more confident, and a little more brave to try new things.


What are the most memorable experiences you’ve had at ITI?

There are so many. Chilling with my peers and thinking to myself “How wonderful life is”, doing the Nava Rasa exercises in Kutiyattam, playing theatre games and dancing the ‘Death’ dance in Intercultural Exchange. Watching Jin Yi’s ‘Paper boat’ improvisation in Kutiyattam exploration, Marvin’s Throwing the Stone Etude in Biomechanics and seeing the boys’ attempting the ‘conveyor belt’ aerobic sequence in Beijing Opera.

The rest of it, I will keep in my heart.


How has what you’ve learnt here shaped or changed you as an actor?

I have a clearer understanding of what acting and theatre means to me, as well as the responsibilities of an actor and theatre-maker.

At work, I am clearer about my own values, expectations, strengths and limitations. I’m more aware of what kind of environment and work culture would be more of a good fit. At the same time, there’s always space to be flexible, to negotiate, to be open to criticism and to get the work done.

Encountering the traditional forms is a gift and a precious opportunity to be transported to different play worlds, to explore and extend the actor’s body. I can’t exactly put into words how immersing myself in the forms has changed me as an actor, but I come away from each form a little transformed, a little more confident, and a little more brave to try new things.


What are your plans for after graduation?

I plan to take a short break from acting, to process and reflect on the events and lessons of this rather epic three year journey. Then I hope to continue wandering in theatre to tell, craft or retell necessary stories.


What would you say to a new student or someone considering joining ITI?

If you are a young actor wanting regular systemic actor training drawing from diverse theatrical forms, wanting to meet and grow with people from different cultural backgrounds, ITI is a great place to be.

I did some of my best work when I came into class/rehearsal with the intention to learn, when I’m focused yet relaxed, when I’m not too bothered by the final result, when I have fun and when I have adequate physical and mental energy to commit and problem solve.

And when I can’t do that, just play on or ask for help. But roll with it, be gentle to yourself and others and things won’t be too bad either. This isn’t Hell’s Kitchen, it’s not do or die. This is ITI: People care.


Any special thanks? 

Firstly, I want to thank my parents — Chin Kiat and Seow Mei — for being such strong pillars in my life, making sure that I keep going. I also want to thank my sister and my brother for their support.

I want to thank my closest buddies — Xin Kai and Reuel — for always providing a listening ear when the going gets tough and for having my back.

I want to thank my playback theatre group Long Time No See for their continuous understanding and for always supporting ITI’s shows. Also, a shout out to The Community Theatre from whom I draw a lot of strength.

I want to thank all the teachers of the traditional forms I have encountered for their master expertise, dedication and generous sharing.

I want to thank Chin Huat for being always being ready to help and a sheer force of nature; Simon for exploring my voice with endless wit and humour; Wan Ching for helping me understand that discipline is the true sister of artistic freedom; Beto who first told me I could be a good actor; Shi Fu Pern Yiau for always imparting nuggets of wisdom; Karen for making weekly Taiji lessons wholesome, applicable and fun; Sasi for the endless debates about art, life and the human condition as well as to always think and imagine better about what could be in life and on stage; Li Xie for the principles of Biomechanics; Oliver for his astute directorial eye; Andy for letting me realise the importance of self acceptance; and Aarne for his endless patience, grace and belief.

To the school support, admin and marketing staff, thank you for always having our best interests at heart and taking such good care of us.

To the government, thank you for the generous financial support during my course of study.

To the Tan Chay Bing Education Fund, thank you for the generous financial support during my entire course of study. I am very thankful for that.

To my juniors and seniors, thank you for always making me feel welcome, painting my school life with such vibrant colours and being supportive, fun and alive.

Lastly, to the 12, you guys are some of the bravest, most passionate, generous and resilient people I have met in my life. I hope you all continue to discover the meaning of happiness.

3 Peh Jun Kai Presentation

4 Peh Jun Kai Asylum

2 Peh Jun Kai FYiP


Profile photo and ASYLUM production shot by Bernie Ng