Q&A with Tysha Khan

21 October 2019 | Journal

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Tysha is a Singapore-based actor and writer. Besides performing on stage, Tysha acts on screen, hosts, and has her own YouTube channel called Go Jerr. She is also a published poet, and has translated films and interviews.

As the first Malay-Muslim woman to graduate from ITI, Tysha hopes to create theatre that effectively captures the culture of her community. She also aims to keep making and performing work that explores different facets of identity and delves into societal issues.

Tysha is a recipient of the ITI Scholarship and a beneficiary of the Möbius Fund. She is also a recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award, a scholarship that is given to Malay/Muslim youths with the potential to be role models for the community.


What were you doing before coming to ITI?

For a good year, I was working at Viddsee as a Content Planner, where I watched and selected short films for the company to acquire. I also wrote for the company’s social media pages.

The last few months of 2016 were very eventful for me. In August, I was retrenched from my full-time job at Viddsee. I travelled around Australia for a couple of weeks in October and November, then began work on my YouTube channel GoJerr in December. 


Tell us how you came to know about ITI.

I feel like this school has always been in the background of my life, waiting to be found. In 2015, I watched the Final Year Individual Projects of [then-graduating students] Yazid, Matin, and Ting Wei at the Singapore Writers Festival. As soon as the first drum beat happened, I knew I had to go to this school. When I went to find out more about it, I found that I had unknowingly already liked the Facebook page. Upon reflection, I realised I had a secondary school senior who joined the school when it first reopened as ITI, and that was when I had liked their page.

Then, after doing even more research, I realised that ITI was formerly known as TTRP [ITI was formerly known as Theatre Training & Research Programme (TTRP) until 2011], and they had put on a show called The Beckett Project in 2006, which I had watched with my secondary school drama club. Footfalls performed by Felix Hung Chit Wah remains one of the most memorable pieces of theatre I have ever watched. I sometimes feel like this school has been patiently waiting for our paths to cross for the past 10 years.

Phillip Zarrilli conceptualised The Beckett Project, my first brush with ITI, and he is now directing me in my final graduation production in the same school. Funny how life works.


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

There was a lot of buzzing. There was the buzzing of students and teachers chit chatting, meeting for the first time. There was the buzzing excitement emanating from everyone, the new students, the old students, the visiting students.

I remember being so damn excited to finally be pursuing acting, to be starting the rigorous training I believed I needed to become a better actor. I was excited to get to know my classmates. Even just learning the rules of the school was exciting to me.

I took a selfie on the way to school, and I’m planning to take a selfie in the same spot on my last day here.


What is it like to train here at ITI?

It’s too much. It’s intense as hell. You’re literally in an enclosed space with very strong personalities, from 8am to 6pm every weekday, being worked to the bone. You’ll be exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally.

You will cry. You will scream. You will break out in pimples.

You will face sides of yourself you never wanted to see.

This pressure will shape and mould you whether you like it or not, and it will keep moulding you after you leave.

If you put in the work, you’ll become a fine-tuned and versatile actor. You’ll understand the different ways of performing. Your body will work in ways you didn’t imagine it could.

It’s crazy, it’s extreme, but now, at the end, I would say it was all worth it.


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

People are just made up of different values that they’ve learnt based on how they have been socialised. Sometimes those values clash — what I think is right may not be what my classmate thinks is right — and it’s up to us to navigate and respect each others values. This is what interculturality means to me.

I have also learnt that culture is not just your ethnic culture. Literally everything you identify as has its own culture. Women have a different culture to men. Singaporeans have a different culture to Filipinos. Deaf people have a different culture to hearing people. Everything you identify as has a culture that shapes your values.

Mixing with people from different cultures for a good part of 3 years has also left its imprint. I now raise my eyebrows when I mean to say "yes", thanks to the Filipinos, and sometimes I end my sentences with "no?" thanks to the Indians.


What's one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at ITI?

On my third day of school I watched my Taiji teacher flick a full grown man into the wall using 2 fingers. I thought I was hallucinating, until I checked with the rest of my classmates.


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

It will take time to absorb and digest everything I’ve learnt here, I think. My answer today will not be the same as the answer I will have upon graduation. That’s the gift I have received from this school. To have learnt and experienced so much — so many different styles of theatre, so many different approaches to acting — that I am constantly re-evaluating what my work is. I have to keep digging and asking myself, what is really the work of the actor?

This propensity for self-reflection, and having the tools to try different things and create more depth in my acting are some of the changes I have noticed in myself.

I have also learnt that there is no easy way to get to where you want to go. Nobody blinks their eyes and suddenly becomes an amazing actor. Everything is a process. Sometimes that process is painful and difficult, but that process is the point. Enjoy it.


It will take time to absorb and digest everything I’ve learnt here... That’s the gift I have received from this school. To have learnt and experienced so much — so many different styles of theatre, so many different approaches to acting — that I am constantly re-evaluating what my work is. I have to keep digging and asking myself, what is really the work of the actor?


How has your ITI experience been, compared to your initial expectations on Day 1 of Year 1?

It’s a very different thing to hear people tell you how tough it is and to actually go through it yourself. I don’t think I had the capacity to know what to expect on Day 1. Since then, I’ve felt chi running through my body, I’ve experienced moving in slow motion for 12 hours, I’ve made sounds I didn’t know I was capable of making. I’ve literally contributed blood, sweat, and tears, and I’ve grown in ways I didn’t know I needed to grow.


What are your plans for after graduation?

Rise to fame, make money.

I would love to audition and get cast in as many productions as possible. I came here to improve my acting, and I’d like to continue working on that by going out there and doing it. I think I missed the auditions for the big companies’ 2020 season though since I was in school, so we’ll see how that goes.

Besides acting, I enjoy performing with my voice, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence doing that with [voice teacher] Simon Stollery’s training, so I’m looking for ways to pursue singing.

I also plan to go back to writing, and would love to create theatre. Right now it seems like it’s an exciting time to be telling Malay stories to the wider Singapore society, with groups like Rupa Co.Lab and Main Tulis Group gaining traction.

I’m also interested in pursuing dramaturgy.


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

To those who are thinking of joining, Sasi himself says, “Don’t come. Unless you’re very sure.” There isn’t much more to say.

To the new students, “Congratulations. Try and stay for the whole ride.” And as cliche as it sounds, I want to remind them it really is about the journey, not the destination. God knows it took me way too long to learn that lesson.


Any special thanks or words for teachers, family, members of the arts community, supporters, etc?

To my parents, Sher and Juraidah, thank you so much for accepting that this is what I choose to do, and for giving me the willpower to keep going throughout my journey. 

Sasi, thank you for accepting me into ITI, for believing in me despite my endless crises, for always listening, and for keeping ITI as safe as you believe it should be. Thank you too for your guidance and pushing me to take myself seriously.

Chin Huat, thank you so much for whipping my body into shape and for giving me space to figure things out on my own.

Beto, thank you for the amazing foundation you laid out for us in Year 1, and for shaping such a rich and diverse curriculum.

Simon, thank you for giving me clarity and control over my voice, one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

To my classmates, thank you for all the work we have done, all the fights we have had, all the lessons you have taught me, and all the care you have shown me. You will always hold a special place in my heart.

To my partner, Mimi, thank you for being a pillar of support and comfort, and for keeping me grounded.

To Henrik Cheng, my senior from ITI who always helped me navigate the stormy seas of this training.

To Adib Kosnan, who first set me on this path.

And to my friends, Fadhil, Saiful, Jaryl, Yu Siang, Yu Sheng, Farah, Huda, Ember, Sufi, and Kay, for your endless support and love.

This graduation is for all of you, and would not have been possible otherwise.


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Photos by Bernie Ng