Regina’s love for the theatre was seeded at a young age when she attended Chinese Speech & Drama classes at the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Arts & Cultural Troupe (SHHK) as part of her parents’ efforts to encourage her to speak Mandarin.
While pursuing her marketing degree at Singapore Management University, she continued producing and directing theatrical works with her childhood friends from SHHK and began to teach speech and drama to young children.
In 2014, after a stint at Paper Monkey Theatre under the guidance of Benjamin Ho, she was given the opportunity to be a co-puppeteer for The Wind Came Home as part of Both Sides Now – An Immersive Arts Experience about Death presented by Arts Wok & Drama Box under the tutelage of Tan Beng Tian.
Through this opportunity, Regina came to experience the power of theatre as a shared space where people can share stories to find strength, courage and hope to live, as life pulls us in many directions.
What was your life like before ITI?
I was working in the corporate world, doing corporate marketing, public relations, advertising and media buying. At the same time, I was moonlighting in theatre-making with my childhood friends in the Hokkien Huay Kuan Arts & Cultural Troupe, creating contemporary works in Mandarin (not Hokkien opera!).
The opportunity to join my two worlds of business and theatre finally came when Benjamin Ho - my teacher, friend, boss and mentor - offered me a position in his theatre company, Paper Monkey Theatre.
What drew you to ITI?
After working in theatre marketing and management for a while, I really wanted to be involved in creating theatre, so I spent a year doing freelance theatre work and realised how handicapped I was in my abilities. In that year, I attended Cloud Messenger, performed by ITI’s graduating class of 2014 (woohoo, seniors, you rock!). The piece spoke about their experience in ITI, and there was a line spoken by Grace Kalaiselvi that struck a chord with me: “To gain is to give, to give is to gain.” That was the moment for me.
What did you expect the training to be like?
I thought working in the industry for a while had given me the confidence to know what I was going to deal with. I thought I knew how things worked and that I just needed to learn the mechanics behind it. At the time, my only concerns were my physical stamina and the huge size of my cohort. Would it dilute my learning experience? Would it take away opportunities and slow down my personal growth?
What is it like to study at ITI?
There is no place, no way, no time to hide, to escape from the lies you tell yourself in order to cope with the unknown. You are here the whole day with the same group of people, eating, napping and working in the same space.
There are a lot of confrontations within the self, between others, between authorities. You have to deal with the pleasures and discomforts these confrontations bring, and simply be alright with them even if it does not come to a resolution immediately. You have to have faith that it will eventually all come to make sense.
What’s something you’ve learned from working with an international group of classmates?
Although English is our shared language, I started to question its effectiveness when I had to communicate complex thoughts to my classmates from different countries and cultural backgrounds, who may have learnt the same language in a different way. Thankfully, we have limbs, so certain emotions can be acted out instead of being put into words. I guess this is the beauty of theatre, to express and have exchanges beyond words.
How has the training here changed your perspective towards creating work?
Instead of thinking big idealistic thoughts about creating a work, the process of getting there is more important for me now. I’ve realised that being an actor is not just about natural talent, because talent can be cultivated with dedication. What’s more important is how I can focus my energy, thoughts, and resources. When the time is right, the quality of the work will reveal itself. So what if the work sucks? As long as death is kind enough to give me a little more time, this work is just part of a process of a larger work, life.
So I suppose my attitude towards failure has shifted. Failure is not a judgement of me as a person, but an indicator of what I can work on to create an adventure.
What about your purpose as an actor - how has that shifted over your time here?
On the first day of school, Sasi asked us to introduce ourselves and to say why we were here. In Year 1, I said, “because I love children’s theatre and I feel this and that” - like I was a general on a mission or something. In Year 3, I said, “to enjoy a fulfilling life” - just five words.
Three years back, I thought I wanted to be the change the industry needed, I wanted to prove my worth - but in reality it was the other way round. I needed theatre, and it is the generosity of theatre, like a prism, that has helped me see that a single white light is actually made up of a spectrum of colours to enjoy.
What are your plans after graduation?
Honestly, I dread graduating, because studying in school is such a safe haven from the outside world and I’m afraid that reality will erode the new-found ‘magic’ in me.
In Year 1, my friends and family asked me what I would do after graduating, and I would always reply, “Not sure… maybe the same thing? Teach speech and drama to young children, create works for children.” I’m not going to graduate to do something totally different or more grandiose. The difference lies in the way I will do it - with more attentiveness, confidence, faith and sense of adventure.
I’m not going to graduate to do something totally different or more grandiose. The difference lies in the way I will do it - with more attentiveness, confidence, faith and sense of adventure.
What would you say to a new student or someone thinking of joining ITI?
Be ready to empty yourself and unlearn. Sometimes you may need the courage to shatter your own logic and rebuild it. Continue to work on that ability to break and rebuild, even after graduation, as life continues to give us lessons.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
It was one man’s vision to start this school, but this haven could not possibly continue to exist without the dedication and faith of the teachers, the staff and board of directors of ITI, especially Josephine Tan, Goh Su Lin and T. Sasitharan. Thank you.
Thank you mummy, daddy for letting me do what I do, and thank you to the Foo and Chan family for your love and laughter. I love you.