Q&A with Regina Toon

5 November 2019 | Journal

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Much to her parents’ credit, Regina grew up with music, dance and literature. This naturally opened the door to theatre for her. Prior to her training in ITI, she trained at East 15 Acting School (UK), Natanakairali (India), Shanghai Theatre Academy (China) and the International Noh Institute (Japan). She also trained in classical ballet under the Royal Academy of Dance and vocally at the Lee Wei Song School of Music. Regina has also published a book of poetry titled Coordinates.

Regina is a recipient of the ITI-William Teo Scholarship, the Tan Chay Bing Education Fund Scholarship and the ITI Scholarship, and is a beneficiary of the Möbius Fund.


What were you doing before coming to ITI?

I was having quite a chaotic few years of expansion and putting myself out of my comfort zone. I wandered around the world, observing and experiencing different cultures and environments. I was also exploring different theatre/performance traditions and philosophies. All these allowed me to witness different facets of myself that could not or did not emerge before. 


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

I attended ITI’s open house in 2014. I was quite convinced that it was an institution with genuine theatre-makers and a strong training curriculum. However, I was in the midst of that outward-bound expansion that I mentioned before, and did not stay long in Singapore. In 2016, in the dead of winter in the Northern hemisphere, I was broke and lost and lonely and I decided to come back home. At that time, ITI offered me a scholarship. Being able to continue training without hefty costs was truly a saving grace for me, and at that time it was no question that I would enrol here.


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

I remember on the first day I came in my studio clothes, ready to begin training. But to my pleasant surprise, we began by gathering in a circle — everyone — students, teachers, staff. Sasi gave a speech (of course) and everyone was invited to share their thoughts and feelings. The circle was unpretentious, small enough to be cosy and warm. In that moment I thought, yes, this institution is powered by heart and humanity, and I was happy to be here.


What is it like to train at ITI?

Hahaha… I don’t know how anyone can express this in words. Maybe you can take a look at my body, my skin, my face, maybe even the look in my eyes — how they have changed and are still changing — that might be more telling. 


Share something you’ve learnt from working with your classmates.

I’ve learnt that there is a balancing point between compassion toward others and compassion toward myself. Working in a group of people with different cultural backgrounds, personalities, values and beliefs forces me to find that point. Perhaps it sounds really simple, but it has taken me the whole 3 years to find it, and I cannot yet say that I am able to constantly practise it. This, I feel, is one of the greatest takeaways I got from ITI, because it is a life lesson that will help me navigate this world as an independent woman. 


What was the most memorable experience you’ve had at ITI?

My most memorable experience was in my second year when the trees in the school compound received a massive “pruning”. I still remember the sound of the motorised saws ringing throughout the school, and the thuds of the trees falling to the ground. It was quite a nightmare for me, even more so because I didn’t expect myself to be so affected by it. 

I remember it was during clowning class and I was in my full costume, with a blonde wig and holding a rabbit plush in one hand (my clown was Alice in Wonderland). At that time, we were dreadfully afraid of our teacher, Guillermo, but I just ran out in the middle of class and confronted these poor workers who were cutting the trees. I don’t remember if I still had my red nose on, but yes, now in hindsight I can see this clown literally commanding these bewildered men, halfway up our jackfruit tree, to put down the saws and come down immediately. 

At that moment, everything felt like a tragedy, but now when this image comes to mind, I have to admit it’s quite funny. But anyway it was this incident that triggered the beginning of a big shift within me — one which significantly altered my perspective on life and living and consequently my approach towards theatre/art-making. 


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

When we were learning Wayang Wong, our teacher Besur gave each of us different animal masks to work with. I remember the first moment we unpacked the masks from the boxes, he pointed to an odd-looking one and said to me, “This one worm, you.” My heart fell. I watched everyone else getting beautiful masks of eagles, tigers, monkeys — even a chicken was better than a worm, right? I even tried negotiating with Besur, saying that maybe I’m a caterpillar and I’ll eventually turn into a butterfly. He just plainly stated, “No, you worm, inside the soil.” 

I think for me, my journey in ITI was about coming to understand, in body and mind, the significance of an earthworm — becoming aware of the beauty and profundity in simplicity. It’s been three years of stripping away excesses that I didn’t know I carried, unlearning instead of learning. After this ordeal (yes I am using that word), I now seek for less instead of more. 


My journey in ITI was about coming to understand, in body and mind, the significance of an earthworm - becoming aware of the beauty and profundity in simplicity. It’s been three years of stripping away excesses that I didn’t know I carried, unlearning instead of learning.


What are your plans for after graduation?

I guess I will go back to wandering around the world, because there are still so many cultures I have yet to encounter. But this time, I am seeking more quiet instead of adventure. Having lived most of my life in big cities, I think it’s also about time I depart from it and learn to live simply. 

Around me, the people I love are getting old and falling sick. Perhaps this has ignited the desire in me to find ways to soothe their suffering. In my training as an actor, I have found possibilities of immense healing. I wish to further look into the cultivation of an actor and how that can merge with modern or traditional healing modalities. 

On the other hand, or perhaps aligned with all that I’ve mentioned above, I have begun research on nature — about what is “natural” — in my time here at ITI, and I hope I will continue doing that for the next years. 


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

Please do not opt out of the medical insurance (like I did) — you will need it. 


Is there anyone you'd like to thank?

From the depth of my heart, thank you to all the teachers and staff at ITI, my fellow students, and everyone who I have encountered, one way or another, in this sacred space. You all have touched me in many ways, some known and others still unknown, and I am eternally grateful for that.



regina tptl


Photos by Bernie Ng