Friday, August 27, 2010

Adopt Hansel! PLUS Adventures in Obscure Chinese Traditions

Hansel Tan, who is playing Lum in our production of PAPER ANGELS got an intro to kuaiban yesterday from Mr. Zhao - it was a very exciting rehearsal, which you can catch a glimpse of on the youtube video below. We're 3 days away from the end of our Kickstarter campaign and we have 29 lovely backers, but there's still $2,700 to go. It would really be such a shame to lose the support we have accrued. Anyone out there who can match our Kickstarter pledges? Or how about adopt Hansel for $1,200?! You'll put us a stone throw away from meeting our goal AND receive a journal of his experiences with some lovely photographs. Pledge $1,200 now to adopt Hansel on our Kickstarter campaign!

Where do you come from?
I'm originally from Singapore. People come up to me and ask if I'm "Chinese," and I always find that a strange idea. My sisters and I are second generation Singaporeans, so we've never associated ourselves with the cultural landscape of China. I've never even visited China! On the other hand, I've never considered Singapore to be a point of origin either, so I like to think of myself as a cultural nomad, free to adopt any place as a temporary locus of existence. I came to the US in 2006 for college, and, since graduating a few months ago, found myself in the thick of New York's scintillating theater scene.

How did you get into acting and how would you describe where you are in your career? 
I never wanted to be an actor, but as a child, I always aspired towards the lowest ranks of career choices, so I think becoming an actor was prefigured in my infantile taste (I wanted to be, God forbid, a professional magician). During the first few months of High School (known as Junior College in Singapore), I had to be dragged kicking and screaming after the choir audition to the drama audition by my overly-eager friends. Lo and behold, I got cast as bread-and-poetry lover Raganeau in the Spring production of Cyrano de Bergerac. As they say, the acting bug stuck, and burrowed its sting too deep in my flesh to ever retrieve! During National Service (compulsory conscription), I even moonlighted in several productions and bribed my superiors with free tickets in exchange for "off days." I was cast in my first professional production at the age of 21 as Patrick Koh, the youngest member of the Koh family in Alfian Sa'at's play Homesick, which was slated to open the first Singapore Theater Festival. It was a harrowing experience. I was onstage with legendary local actors I had seen growing up, and was convinced that if I screwed up, I would be hated for life. To boot, the director - the formidable Jonathan Lim - was incredibly tough on a young actor, but that single production remains one of the best experiences of my theatrical career to date. The story has a happy ending: I remain close friends with all of my cast mates from that production, even though I realize how awful a performance I must have given way back then! A career has no beginning, no middle, no end. I feel I'm on an endless task to plasticize this muscle we call "acting," and am counting my blessings. Bring it on!

What excites you the most about theater? What kind of theater do you want to be part of?

Secretly, I do theater so I can watch people's expressions when I tell them I'm an actor. Besides, my sisters think it's really cool to have a brother strutting the stage. Theater excites me because it's both barometer and forecaster. More importantly, theater embraces life in a shared space: where else can you experiment with its limits, its nooks, its crannies, its foldings and unfoldings? Playing with theater is playing with livewire. It's play, yes, but you play with your life through every moment. It's dangerous too, and that gets me going. Given the effusive (not to mention overwhelming) repetition of "disaster" discourse in culture today, it's easy to "televise" life in order to establish a psychologically safe distance from the terrifying distractions of the "real." I like theater that disrupts that distance, brings us back to the core of instability and unknowability, the core of the paradoxes of being human. And, hopefully, bring us through to the audacious insistence on being human. That's the kind of theater I'd love to nourish - humanizing theater, in its multiple - even traumatic - manifestations.

Have you ever been involved in any humanitarian or community activities?

In 2007, an antiquarian Victorian law 377A which criminalizes consensual sex between males was tabled to be repealed in Singapore. What followed that announcement was no less than an impassioned battle of ideas which polarized the nation, in many ways anticipatory of the angry Proposition 8 arguments which ensued a year or so later. In response to the arguments, theater company W!LDRICE decided to stage a new work by Alfian Sa'at racily entitled Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol. 3, the conclusion to a trilogy of "gay plays" he had been working on years before. I played two characters in that production, which was directed by Ivan Heng, and very quickly we realized the importance of the play and its role in facilitating the debates on 377A. This was theater at its most "humanitarian" or "community" inspired; after the play ended, panel discussions were held in the lobby of the theater, facilitated by important movers and shakers with diverse views. Spectators arrived heavily divided in opinion, but left unified as an audience, sensitive to the complications of black-and-white answers. I remember listening to audience members speak their minds during our Friday feedback sessions, and watching pro-377A parties and anti-377A parties struggle with each other through the play's heavy themes. Total strangers ignited into conversations which carried out the theater hall, through the lobby, and set the streets aflame with ideas. What better way to forge a community?

How do you make ends meet? What have you done in the past for money and what do you do now?

Currently, I teach on the faculty of Sweet Soul Movement - a downtown arts establishment for children aged 2-10 years old. I'm not rich enough to afford an apartment in Manhattan, but I'm certainly rich with blessings. A dumpy day is easily cured by a child's laughter. In the past, I lived off the bank of mom and dad, so that's a no-brainer. Now, I pay rent, taxes, and get nightmares about being jobless, in addition to the usual exam nightmares. I have never done anything odd or humiliating for money. I'm an extremely decent fellow.

What other activities do you enjoy besides theater?
What don't I enjoy? There's too much life to be had and too little time! I love my private moments at the gym, or jogging - it clears the head and leaves just enough of an endorphin-high to get me through the next activity. In a perfect world, I'd fly to Europe without a map and get lost just for a day: the best way to discover a city. But if you adopt me, I'd happily get lost in San Francisco! Oh, there's one thing I don't enjoy. Karaoke. It drives me crazy. Out-of-tune singing makes me do things I severely regret.

Adopt Hansel and help us get this show on the road! Three more days for the end of our Kickstarter campaign and the beginning of rehearsals. 


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