W!LD CHILD: Interview with Theo Chen

At the tender age of twelve, Theo Chen is a star in the making. Just over a week ago, he was one of the mini-emcees of the 2013 National Day Parade (NDP). He’s acted in two of W!LD RICE’s annual pantomimes. Earlier this year, Theo’s passionate YouTube appeal against bullying went viral. He talks to us about his experience as a W!LD Child, and how it transported him from the National Drama Centre to the Float @ Marina Bay.

How did you hear about W!LD RICE’s FIRST STAGE programme?

I went to see Beauty and the Beast in 2009 and I e-mailed Uncle Ivan* about being part of a pantomime in 2010. But, by then, Cinderella auditions were already over – so he copied my e-mail to his colleagues and I got sent the audition notice in 2011 for Aladdin. Much to my surprise, I got in for Aladdin and I had a really great time. It was my first panto and my first professional acting experience onstage. It was really, really fun.

I tried for Hansel & Gretel in 2012 and, again, I got in and it was just as much fun. The first time, you’re quite naive and asking, ‘What’s going on here?’. When I did it the second time in 2012, it was a lot more fun for me because I wasn’t as worried as before. It was just nice to be back with most of my friends doing the same thing that we did in Aladdin.

What training do you undergo in the run-up to the pantomime?

Once we get in, we have a three-day workshop in which we learn the basics of the pantomime – singing and dancing. After that, around the end of September to November, we start having rehearsals on weekends at Kerbau Road or at the Drama Centre. We start learning the songs, and then the dances. About a month or three weeks before we bump in, we have full dress rehearsals and get our costumes ready. Bump-in is the week before we start performing and we have two or three rehearsals on the stage with costume, make-up, hair and everything. Then it’s show-time!

Theo in the 2013 NDP, flanked by Siti Khalijah (Hansel & Gretel) and Gurmit Singh(Cinderel-LAH!)

You’ve gone from performing in the ensemble of W!LD RICE’s pantomime to hosting the NDP! What was that like?

It was really amazing – it was kind of like a pantomime, but with three times the rehearsal time and planning. This year, there were 7,000 people participating in NDP! It was, like, whoa – the scale of the effort put in to prepare for NDP is really amazing.

I was really glad to get that opportunity, which actually came from Hansel & Gretel!Auntie Pam* – the director – recommended a couple of kids to Auntie Selena*, who was creative director of this year’s NDP. I guess you have to start somewhere … and then it opens doors in terms of the things you can do!

What’s your favourite memory of working with W!LD RICE?

It’s definitely the friends that I’ve made – both the adults and the kids that I’ve worked with. When we did the first pantomime, we were all really close, and we got closer in the second. Every year, I see people like Ashley [Lim], who does our hair, and it’s just really nice to come back and see them again. I’ve found that you work really well with people that you know well.

Theo (second from left) with other W!LD Kids in Pavane Recording Studio
– all ready to rock the cast recording of Hansel & Gretel

What has your experience working with W!LD RICE been like?

It definitely gave me a taste of what theatre is like. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s also a lot of fun. If anything, it strengthened my desire to be a performer and to be in theatre!

W!LD RICE is one of my favourite theatre companies – not just because I’m biased or I’m in their shows. They put a Singaporean twist into everything and they make it family-friendly, all in a play that people want to watch. It’s such a joy working with W!LD RICE because they’re so accommodating in everything that they do.

Theo Chen’s videos can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/theochen9.

*Uncle Ivan Heng, Auntie Pam Oei, and Auntie Selena Tan … of course!

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