Josiah Tan may be only 10 years old, but he’s already a veteran of the Singapore stage.
At the tender age of seven, he made his stage debut in Jack & The Bean-Sprout!. The year after, he charmed audiences in Monkey Goes West. You may even remember him as the younger version of the titular monarch in last year’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.
During a break from dance lessons with our choreographer, Josiah explains why he loves being a part of W!LD RICE’s annual pantomimes.
“I like to sing and dance and be on stage,” he proclaims.
Performing with W!LD RICE has given Josiah the opportunity to hone his skills as a performer. His speech and drama classes came in handy when he auditioned for his first pantomime. He even played the violin in The Emperor’s New Clothes.
He’s also thrilled to return to the pantomime every year because of the friends he has made in each production.
“I really love to make new friends,” he says cheerfully.
Last year, he befriended Rizq Anaqi and Nadim Sazwan, who dazzled audiences with their incredible dance routine in The Emperor’s New Clothes.
“Sometimes, they’ll teach me some dance moves,” Josiah says. “Then I try to take what they taught me and create my own dance!”
He’s also looking forward to a reunion with “Auntie Siti” – a.k.a. the multi-talented Siti Khalijah, who plays Sandy in Monkey Goes West and has been a mainstay of the W!LD RICE pantomime for several years.
“I feel quite shy at first,” he responds when asked what it’s like to work with the ‘grown-ups’ in the cast. “Because they’re all big adults and I’m just a small primary-school kid. But, once I meet them, I try and overcome my fear!”
Over the years, Josiah has learnt many things in the course of working on W!LD RICE’s pantomimes.
“I’ve learnt different singing techniques from Auntie Irene,” he says of his training with vocal coach Irene Jansen. “And, this year, I’ve learnt many cool new dance moves, like the step-ball change” from choreographer Andy Benjamin Cai.
Josiah has even had the opportunity to work in a professional recording studio, where the soundtrack to each pantomime is painstakingly put together.
Most importantly, Josiah has learnt how to overcome stage fright – an affliction that affects even the most seasoned performers.
“I’m actually very nervous and excited backstage, when the curtains are closed,” he explains. “But, when I go on stage, I pretend that there’s no audience and I just go for it!”
One of the main goals of W!LD RICE’s FIRST STAGE! programme is to give children the opportunity to work with and learn from professional theatre-makers.
In this regard, Josiah has had the opportunity to see for himself how some of Singapore’s veteran actors handle on-stage mishaps. He recalls how, in The Emperor’s New Clothes, “Gor Gor” Benjamin Kheng helped Lim Kay Siu cover for a flubbed line.
The incident reminds Josiah of a wardrobe malfunction he experienced during the first run of Monkey Goes West. A pin in one of his costumes came free, jabbing into him and preventing him from lifting his arm without pain.
“But, if something goes wrong on stage, I just have to bear with it,” he says philosophically. “I still have to do what I did during rehearsals.”
You might think that Josiah would have quite enough of a show if he has to live and breathe it for weeks at a time. But it’s evident just how much he truly loves working on each pantomime.
He relates with joy how he began staging his own mini productions of Monkey Goes West at home.
“I found out that I could memorise the whole script,” he explains. Working with his little sister, he would set up a small stage and assign roles to their toys. He even recreated the show’s musical elements, using the soundtrack saved on his mother’s iPad.
That’s why he’s particularly thrilled to have the opportunity to revisit the show again this year.
“I love the story, music and costumes in Monkey Goes West,” he enthuses. “It will be so much fun going on stage again with all of my friends!”