young & W!LD: Goh Koon Hui

Over the past year, Goh Koon Hui has had plenty of opportunities to be young & W!LD in raucous, bold devised shows like Little Riots and Other Stories and Geylang. He chats with us about tackling the ultimate challenge: the role of lusty lover Demetrius in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Tell us about your upcoming showcase, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. How have you been preparing for the show?

We have gone through the script analysis and dissecting stage; the thing about Shakespeare is that you never really know what you are saying unless you actually figure the play out line by line. Nora Samosir, one of the industry’s most esteemed voice trainers, has also come in to work with us on our diction and enunciation (particularly on word stresses). We have also done some blocking while discovering the physicality of our characters along the way. This month, we’ll be ramping up to five rehearsals per week.

I speak in a very Singlish-Singaporean way, and the challenge for me in this production is to scrub out that part of myself and learn to speak English neutrally. Because of the way Shakespeare writes (especially his syntax), it is impossible to Singlishise the text without it sounding jarring. So, on my part, I’ve been working myself to the bone, reciting lines as I work out in the gym and reading advertisements on trains out loud. Yes, the other patrons on the train and in the gym do think that I’m crazy. But that’s what being an actor is about, no?

Tell us about how you were first bitten by the theatre bug.

My interest in the performing arts began while learning dance in secondary school. But I was truly bitten by the theatre bug only when I did my Theatre Studies major in NUS. Dr. K.K. Seet taught a module on Singapore English Language Theatre, which sealed the deal for me. I was amazed by our colourful theatrical history and the various theatrical landmarks we have, and I wanted to contribute to our burgeoning culture and industry.

How have you been involved in theatre over the years?

Since then, I’ve done some acting, writing and directing for NUS-related projects. I’ve also been auditioning for projects outside of NUS. As a freelance educator, I try to bring theatre to schools by involving myself in drama education.

You’re also an aspiring playwright. How have you honed your skills in this regard?

Well, besides watching more theatre, exposing yourself to more ideas and having a good listening ear, you just have to keep writing and rewriting. I think a lot of people (myself included) make the mistake of trying to write a perfect first draft. Then, when it comes to the editing phase, they just groan and drag their feet because it’s such a painful process. But much of the magic of your play actually comes from your rewrites: as you keep rewriting your script, you’ll start to realise that what you thought was a brilliant idea needed more tweaking; and what you thought was corny can actually be woven into your script in an amazing way. So, really, it’s all about the rewriting and developing the patience to do so.

Why young & W!LD?

Being bent on entering the theatre industry, I felt that I really needed training. Coincidentally, an audition notice for young & W!LD came along in April 2014, so I decided to go for it. Of course, I am going to be honest here: apart from the multi-faceted training I expected to get, having young & W!LD under my belt would look very good in my portfolio.

Koon Hui takes a trip to Geylang during rehearsals

You’ve been working with your programme directors and fellow participants in young & W!LD for over a year, on shows like Little Riots and Other Stories and Geylang. What has that process been like? What have you learnt from it?

Well… I would say there has been a lot of blood and sweat and tears. The learning curve for me is a little bit steep, especially when it comes to acting. Because we all come from many different backgrounds, with some of us having less experience than others, there are a couple of times when disagreements happen, and you just want to scream at each other. But there are many times when these differences in our backgrounds facilitate the learning process, because there are so many perspectives available.

I think one of the most important things I’ve learnt is to negotiate the differences and work with people. One thing that the directors like to do is to leave us to negotiate amongst ourselves if any differences arise. Sometimes, they would even refuse to make any directorial decisions until we figure things out on our own. This calls for all of us to come together and work together as an ensemble. I think this experience is very different from what you can get in conservatory-style drama schools, where everyone has had similar training. In such a setting, it would naturally be easier to negotiate the differences between actors. In young & W!LD, we don’t have that. I won’t say this is better, but it is certainly more exciting, because we have formed an ensemble with a very different kind of energy from what you’d get in training schools.

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