Cracker-Jack!

After eleven years acting professionally, studying and teaching musical theatre in America, Caleb Goh has returned to the Singapore stage in a big way. He talks to us about starring in Jack & The Bean-Sprout!, and explains how local theatre makes him proud to call Singapore his home.

Tell us about Jack.

Jack is fifteen years old, he keeps being retained in Secondary One and soon it will be his third repeat year. He keeps claiming he’s not very smart, because his mother tells him that all the time. There’s even a running bet in school on how many times he’ll be retained in Sec One. But he’s actually a very hopeful kid who’s just a little misunderstood by the education system in Singapore, and people in general.

Have you ever been in a pantomime before?

This is my first pantomime! It’s actually very exciting, but it’s also quite stressful. There’s a lot of pressure because a lot of the show rests on my shoulders, as the protagonist, but it’s been a lot of fun as well.

What’s it like working with the kids in the cast?

It’s been great actually. We always have to cater to their needs in picking up choreography and music and stuff like that. There’s a Cast A and a Cast B, so we have to swop: whatever we do, once we perfect it, we have to flip to the other cast. As the adult cast, we do it twice the number of times the kids do.

But they’ve been doing really wonderfully. They’re very responsive and we treat them like adults, like they’re our peers and fellow performers. Because of that, the goals we set for them are met very fast. They are forced to step up to the plate. We have a ton of fun working with them!

Are you looking forward to interacting with the kids in the audience?

Yes! I recently did a musical for SRT called Tale Of The Frog Prince. You do ask the kids questions and you get direct responses from them. It’s fantastic! I love it because I love improv.

You’ve performed in a lot of musicals. What’s different about working on a pantomime?

The sensibilities of the pantomime are almost, from top to tail, tongue-in-cheek. So every actor must know how to play that to the audience throughout the whole show. Whether you’re a straight-laced or comedic character, it’s the same concept. That’s the biggest challenge and difference – you’re breaking the fourth wall.

Jack is pretty much the straight man in this show. What do you think of playing one of the quirkier characters in future pantomimes?

Sure! A lot of the time, I’m given very sweet, boy-next-door type of roles. But, when people really get to know me, they’ll realise I’m a bit insane and really quite ‘drama’! I would love to be able to do things that are outside of what is stereotypically expected of me as a performer. I’m waiting for Ivan to cast me as the dame in a future pantomime!

In the show, your love interest is played by Ethel Yap, who happens to be your first cousin…

We have a very tender moment that is interrupted by the giant. If the giant so chooses not to interrupt us at that point, it gets even more intimate, let’s put it that way. I will be very professional but I’m hoping the giant does interrupt us every night!

What do you hope audiences take home with them after watching Jack?

This particular pantomime is all about family, tradition and love. I would love for audiences to walk out realising that home is where the heart is. Family is so important and, no matter what people have done, your family will always be there for you. I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s about celebrating the closeness of the people who are near and dear to you. Having it so close to the Christmas season – it’s a time to celebrate that, and to reaffirm who you are, and who your family is, and what they are to you.

You’ve been away from Singapore for quite a while. What do you think has changed about the theatre industry here since you left?

The one major thing is that you can absolutely have a full-time career as a performer if you want to. Now, the NAC is a little more supportive of theatre companies which are, in turn, starting to really strongly advocate for equitable salaries for performers. On top of that, there are tons more theatre companies and shows going on, so you can literally go from show to show. I’m not a full-time performer, but I love that I can pick and choose from amongst the plethora of different companies and different types of shows we have now.

What are your thoughts on the local arts scene?

The quality is great and it’s very diverse, which is what I like. You have stuff that’s dark, stuff that celebrates realism, stuff that’s camp to the hilt, stuff that has such a political or social agenda. All of it comes together to form this tapestry of such rich culture. It makes me so proud to be Singaporean. I still am Singaporean, and it’s so exciting to be able to see such diversity. To anyone who says Singapore does not have a theatre culture, I will be the first person to defend us. As someone who’s returned here and embraced the theatre industry again, I wake up and celebrate it everyday.

You’ve performed entirely in musicals while overseas. What does it mean to you to be performing in such a local piece?

I love it – it’s good to come back to the accent that is naturally mine! I’m an ACS boy, so I don’t naturally have a kampong accent, so to speak. But it’s very nice to be able to embrace what I grew up with in my teenage years. My childhood years were in Washington DC and I’ve actually spent more time outside of Singapore than in, but I do still call this place home.

In all the professional theatre productions I’ve done in America, I’ve done a Brooklyn accent, German accent, Chinese accent, Dublin accent – I’ve done so many other accents but never Singaporean. So it’s always nice to revisit something that’s so near and dear to me.

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