All The World’s A Stage: Oon Shu An

Chances are you’ve seen Oon Shu An light up the screen, in films or on Netflix and YouTube. Where did her love affair with the arts begin? What keeps her coming back to the theatre? Find out here!

I first started performing in speech and drama class as a kid. Ironically, my parents sent me to those classes because I was very shy and wasn’t talking! Thereafter, I remained firmly involved in the arts – I was in the primary school choir, did Buds Youth Theatre through secondary school, joined the drama club in JC and was part of the second batch of students graduating from LASALLE College of the Arts’ Acting BA programme. I was also one of the founding members of TheatreStrays, a physical theatre group.

I was hopeless at learning things out of textbooks. I’ve found that, to really learn or understand something, I need context. Give me a history textbook and ask me to memorise facts or dates, and I won’t get it. But I would if you gave me a script or a documentary – something that explains how people at the time felt, the struggle they were undergoing.

Drama was one of the things that came most naturally to me. It was easy for me to work on it and make it better. At school, I quickly discovered that I truly enjoyed myself the most was when I was working on a show. Every time you do a show, you create a world – which you can see, feel and almost smell, sometimes. That world makes sense. I could never get that from a textbook! Which is a real pity because I love learning. I think that’s why I loved drama so much, too. Because I could learn about the world, and faster.

My favourite part of theatre-making is the rehearsal process. I love all the hours we can spend on discussing the script, and trying to figure out how a scene runs or how to make a moment happen. It’s like working out a puzzle with like-minded people.

Performing live on stage is a new challenge every single time. You have to work really hard at being alive and listening to your fellow actors and the audiences, which change from night to night. That’s exciting, and a different kind of puzzle. I still get stage fright, though! I manage it better now, but I definitely prefer the rehearsal process. Give me a shorter run any day!!!

Shu An having a #UnicornMoment in the Victoria Theatre!

When it comes to my career, I feel like I’ve been very lucky. I stumbled into a lot of things, almost by accident. I didn’t even think I was going to be a full-time actor. For a time, I thought that I perhaps wanted to be a psychologist – although I decided that wasn’t for me when I realised that it required a grasp of statistics! Some people think of me as a beauty blogger and a social media person, but I really kind of fell into that too. I went for the Tried & Tested audition, and walked out thinking I would never get the job because my beauty knowledge, at the time, was rather rudimentary.

I’m very, very grateful to the people who have believed in me, such that I have been lucky enough to get all these opportunities. I’m especially thankful that I get to be in this line full-time, because, at the end of the day, it’s still the thing I enjoy most – working with people to tell stories. Whether it’s theatre, television or film, there’s a real sense of camaraderie and community when people come together to create art. It really does take a village to make any show happen, and I’m really glad to have had the chance to be a part of so many villages!

I have a phobia of musicals. I can handle a tune, but I’m not a singer. A few years back, I was hired to be in a musical. They told me it would be fine – they would work around my limitations, and make the music work for me. In the end, they didn’t change a single note. Not that they should do that, either, since the music tells the story. Soooo… if I can’t help it do that, then what’s the point hor? Moral of the story: if I’m not right for a role, please do everyone a big favour and don’t cast me!!

Theatre is home. It really, really is. I love being able to focus on one thing for such a long time. For screen work, you finish shooting the scene, and you move on. In the theatre, there’s something comforting about coming to work every day and being able to really dig into the same story, with the same people.

For me, the arts is about connection. The world can be a bit of a lonely place, and I feel that it can be very difficult to connect with other people. But there’s an instant connection in the arts, even if you’re strangers. You can be in a theatre, watching a play or a film, and have other people laughing or crying with you. You may not be friends, but that shared experience – the sense of a common humanity – I love that. I think that feeling will never go away.

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