LIFE!-Affirming!

Sebastian Tan, Filomar Tariao, Alfian Sa'at and Bang Wenfu at a reading of the Monkey Goes West script

For the 15th ST Life! Theatre Awards, W!LD RICE was honoured with ten nominations for Monkey Goes West and The House of Bernarda Alba.

We congratulate all the nominees for their wonderful work, as well as everyone involved in these two ground-breaking shows.

“We don’t stage any of our shows for the sake of winning awards,” says Ivan Heng, Artistic Director of W!LD RICE. “But it’s such a thrill for us to have the tireless work and boundless creativity of our creative artists recognised in this way.”

We got quick responses from the nominees on receiving the news.

Production of the Year: Monkey Goes West

Alfian Sa’at (playwright): I think it’s a huge thrill for all of us involved that Monkey Goes West is nominated for Production of the Year. It’s the first time that a pantomime has been nominated for this category (we usually get nods in the design category), so I think it’s a recognition of a form that’s been evolving since 2003. I’ve written four of W!LD RICE’s original pantomimes, and as much as its roots are in children’s theatre, the pantomime has also been a wonderful canvas for satire, allegory and giving well-loved stories a spectacular Singaporean spin. It’s a very collaborative environment, and I always look back and vaguely recall how painstaking the process can be – a song doesn’t yet have a hook, the script sags in parts, the director isn’t sure how to do a transition – and how we go back and forth solving these problems. But, on opening night, we see the the joy on the faces in the audience, and I think it’s like seeing this massive jet you’ve been working on take flight.

Sebastian Tan with Ivan Heng and the cast and crew of Monkey Goes West!

Best Director: Sebastian Tan for Monkey Goes West

A lot of us don’t do what we do for awards, but the nominations are nevertheless such a great encouragement. I was a bit nervous about embarking on such a big production, and this reminds me that I should always have the courage to try new, different things and to challenge myself! Monkey Goes West was a journey of self-discovery for me, as I found out what kind of director I am. I’m an actor myself, so I had to refrain from trying to act for the actors, and let them come up with something that’s their own while still fulfilling my vision. I’m thrilled that the entire show came together in the way it did. Everything gelled, and I knew that – together with my wonderful team – we had created magic for the audience. I watched Monkey Goes West every single night after it opened, and listening to people react to the show was its own special reward.

[Head West with Sebastian in this interview about his work on Monkey Goes West!]

Sugie in full Monkey regalia, with vocal coach Irene Jansen

Best Actor: Sugie Phua in Monkey Goes West

Everything about performing in a pantomime was a challenge for me – from speaking and singing in an English musical, to learning martial arts and performing it for a crowd. Not to mention flying onstage for the first time! I was so worried that my lack of martial arts training would hinder my portrayal of Monkey.

This nomination means so much to me – it means that all the hard work and effort I put into crafting the character of Monkey was worth it, and has been appreciated by theatre-goers. I am extremely happy because this is the first acting nomination I’ve ever received in my life!

[Check out our interview with Sugie about his role in Monkey Goes West here!]

Jo as Poncia – a servant with her own decided opinions about her mistresses

Best Supporting Actress: Jo Kukathas in The House of Bernarda Alba

I’m really pleased with the nomination and I have Glen Goei to thank for that. I love tragedy! (I wish people would do more tragedy.) I’ve always wanted to do more of the classics, so the chance to do Lorca was a great opportunity to play differently and think differently. As much as I enjoy contemporary plays, there is another level of satisfaction and challenge to be had when you have to play with language that is heightened, tensions that are multiplied. It was also enriching to be a part of an ensemble piece, which Bernarda undoubtedly was.

[Read our interview with Jo about playing Poncia in The House of Bernarda Alba here!]

Siti in her dual roles as Guan Yin Ma and Sandy

Best Supporting Actress: Siti Khalijah in Monkey Goes West

I very much enjoyed working on this production. I’ve been in a few pantos and I love the whole experience – especially on Monkey Goes West, which was so unique. We weren’t just adapting a Western fairy tale. Everything came together so well: the script was so tight, the music beautiful, and we had a cast of such talented people. The nomination is really the icing on the cake, especially since I’m a Malay girl playing these iconic Chinese characters – like Guan Yin Ma! Sandy was my first drag role too, and it was a thrill to subvert expectations that way. To research my role, I watched so many Journey to the West videos on YouTube – my friends had to give me the links as they were all in Chinese!

Chee Wai meticulously hand-painting the Peranakan tiles in Bernarda’s house

Best Set Design: Wong Chee Wai for The House of Bernarda Alba

The look of the set – its distinctly Peranakan feel – was something Glen Goei wanted from the very beginning. The challenge came in refining the set: even in simple things like ensuring that the big, heavy door was stable and safe for the actors to use. Setting up the mechanisms to create and collect rain midway through the show was also a challenge, as was the selection of the various shades of grey that were used on the set. I am very happy with the outcome, and the nomination!

[Find out how Chee Wai built a House with no walls here!]

Yu-beng making magic out of light and shadow in the Drama Centre Theatre

Best Lighting Design: Lim Yu-Beng for The House of Bernarda Alba

I’m a very old-school designer: I was trained back in the days before computers and automated lighting instruments, which are very much a part of today’s lighting. The set in The House of Bernarda Alba was beautiful, but it was built in such a way that I couldn’t hang any conventional lighting over it. So I was almost totally reliant on automated lights, which I usually hardly use. This forced me to work outside of my comfort zone. I was also brought onto the show very late, as an emergency replacement, so I had to cram months of preparation into the week before tech week! I’m just grateful for the opportunity to serve the work – to shed light on it (figuratively and literally), with the other magicians who put together every performance of the play. The nomination is very much appreciated, but the joy is in the moment of execution: the moment when the play is served and the audience is transported.

[Read more about how Yu-beng’s efforts to conjure walls and windows out of light here!]

Elaine & Wenfu: our composing and musical direction team!

Best Sound Design or Original Score: Elaine Chan and Bang Wenfu for Monkey Goes West

Elaine: I’m so glad people enjoyed the music for Monkey Goes West. It was great fun crafting the score for this pantomime. Sebastian and I were on the same page about having the music be a fusion of East and West. So there’s that Eastern flavour to many of the songs, even though there’s plenty of variety to the score too – like a flamenco number. The theme song came to me almost instantly as a sound image: I could practically see it in my mind! It’s so catchy. I wanted the tune to pop up throughout the show as part of the characters’ emotional journey.

Wenfu: I feel very honoured to be recognised alongside our dear Elaine, but even more so I feel happy for the entire team that we got nominated. A show can only succeed because of teamwork, and the glory belongs to everyone. This production was a new work, which meant everything had to be done from scratch. It was very challenging, and I feel I pushed the boundaries of arrangement styles in a pantomime with Monkey Goes West. I’m really pleased with the results.

Ivan and Theresa checking out black lace for the show’s many exquisite kebayas

Best Costume Design: Ivan Heng for The House of Bernarda Alba

Designing outfits for a cast of forty women of all shapes, sizes and ages might sound like a stressful nightmare to most people, and yet, for me, it was a dream! I really enjoyed my first venture into designing costumes for the theatre, as it gave me the opportunity to find another way to tell stories and shed light on the characters and themes in a play. It was hard work, looking for the perfect materials and refining each piece with incredible attention to detail. But the final results were just how I envisioned them. I could not have done this without the guidance and advice of my dear friend, Laichan, and our wardrobe team, led by Theresa Chan.

[Read all about Ivan’s foray into the realm of costume design here!]

Saksit Pisalasupongs and Phisit Jongnarangsin helping Lim Kay Siu
try on his King Bull armour (with Sebastian cheering them on!)

Best Costume Design: Tube Gallery for Monkey Goes West

Saksit Pisalasupongs: We are delighted to have been nominated for this production. We had never worked so much with kids before, and it was challenging in many ways. But, in the end, we simply fell in love with these little monkeys and demons! We are very happy with the way the entire production came together, including the costumes. We had so much fun working with Sebastian Tan, Ivan Heng and the entire Monkey Goes West team. The nomination is a delightful bonus!

[Explore the Tube Gallery’s inspirations for Monkey Goes West here!]

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