In The Wings: Katherine Khoo

Katherine Khoo – better known as Mama Kat to anyone who’s worked with W!LD RICE – recently celebrated her seven-year anniversary as the head of our administrative team. We hear from Mama Kat about how she makes the W!LD RICE family feel more at home everyday.

Tell us a little about your background – how did you get into the theatre industry?

I started my career in the publishing, advertising and telecommunication industries providing administration and secretarial support. The year 1999 was a turning point in my career. When I was retrenched from a telco during the Asian Economic Crisis, my friend recommended that I take over her job as the Office Manager for the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT). I was a bit apprehensive to work in the theatre/performing arts industry because I always had the impression that it would be very boring and monotonous – especially after having worked in the fast-paced advertising industry. I couldn’t imagine myself working in a literary, library-like environment. Nevertheless, after much thought, I took up the job and since then I have never regretted my decision. The exciting and colourful life in the theatre industry has kept me going show after show.

How did you come to work for W!LD RICE?

In 2006, I met Ivan and Tony through a recommendation from a mutual theatre friend, as W!LD RICE was looking to fill the position of Office Manager at the time. I had heard a lot about Ivan and the shows produced by W!LD RICE. My own growing interest in the development of local works matched W!LD RICE’s artistic vision very well. I was sure that I had found the right fit to further my adventures in the theatre industry.

What were the challenges for you in starting again in a new theatre company?

W!LD RICE had an all new administrative team in 2006, and we all got together to re-organise the administrative system and spring-clean the whole office. Amidst all the re-organisation, we had to launch the Singapore Theatre Festival, work on the annual R!CE BALL and the year-end pantomime Jack and the Bean-Sprout!, while exploring friendships with our fellow colleagues and finding the right rhythm in working with one another. That year was an extremely exhausting but fulfilling one though. The team camaraderie really kept me going.

Tell us a little bit about the day-to-day work of a theatre company office manager.

I’m the office mama! I ensure that every member of the W!LD RICE family is happy and their welfare is taken care of in the office. I oversee office maintenance, administration, HR, and I even provide IT support and computer maintenance. When necessary, I also offer help and guidance to colleagues who encounter obstacles in their work.

I also manage the secretariat for the annual R!CE Ball: arranging committee meetings, collating table sales and payments. During show time, I help manage Front of House (FOH), co-ordinate the gala premiere, send out invitations and handle the seating plan. It’s like planning a wedding 4-5 times a year, because every show has a gala opening!

Being a Charity IPC, we have to be thrifty with our expenses. As such, we prepare our own hospitality hampers for the cast and crew to thank them for their hard work – we don’t order from a hamper company because its expensive and the stuff isn’t always healthy or good-quality.

What happens when a show is going on?

We go full force on FOH – we bump in to the theatre, set up, sell merchandise, sell and track ticket sales, recruit and roster volunteers for duty, and help expand our W!LD RICE audience. At the end of the run, we pack up and bump out of the theatre.

It’s interesting that you had originally thought theatre work would be very boring…

Life would be less colourful now if I ever left the theatre industry – I’d be at a loss! Theatre isn’t just work, it also enriches your life because every show is a different experience.

Can you share with us some of your favourite memories about working with W!LD RICE?

Being part of the team that put together W!LD RICE’s inaugural Singapore Theatre Festival. After we pulled that first festival off, nothing else could compare in terms of difficulty!

What I love about theatre is the camaraderie. When things have to be done, everyone puts their heads together and we just do it. I enjoy my job very much. I don’t complain about the fatigue or stress, because all that disappears when you see the show open. All the hard work is worth it. To me, every show is a success when it opens and you get the good feedback from the audience. I have no regrets.

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