ACTOR’S CALLING: On The Challenges In Theatre

We’re into the 4th month of the year and HCAC is shaping up to be a hive of activity. We hosted an actors-directors roundtable with the filmmakers from NTU ADM. The event was attended by almost 40 participants who shared ideas and thoughts on how directors and actors can work better together. The roundtable also led to 6 of our actors being cast in several student films. Kudos to Assoc Prof Sebastian Grobler and the students at NTU ADM, and to our six actors Karen Bee Lin Tan, Kristina Pakhomova, Ranice Tay, Aurore Boullier, Marilyn White and Yann Leost.

NTU Roundtable (Photo Credits: Judith Tong)

Photo: NTU Roundtable (Photo credits: Judith Tong)

On a personal note, over two weeks ago, I agreed to step up from mentor to director of a play that will be staged at HCAC throughout the month of May. This is what I’m going to talk about for this month’s Actor’s Calling edition.

The play is Leaves by Lucy Caldwell. The story follows a family of five in Ireland as they deal with the fall out of an attempted suicide by the eldest daughter. This is the inaugural production by Passerby Projects, a group started by three HCAC alumni, Ranice Tay, Gracia Ting and Xie Shangbin. Many of my previous posts have mentioned how it is empowering for artists to be in charge of their own careers. Leaves is an embodiment of that very ethos. The production itself has not been without its challenges, but the cast and production team have stepped up to overcome the hiccups and bumps admirably. I have no doubt that everyone involved with walk away with major lessons on producing and acting in a full-fledged production.


As the director of the production and the head of the school, this production presents many interesting thoughts and challenges which I shall list below in no particular order.

  • Arts venue rental rates in Singapore are frankly astronomical, unless the theatre company is one of the major ‘commercial powerhouses’ (e.g. SRT, Pangdemonium) that regularly pack houses, or if the theatre company is one with its own in-built venue (e.g. Necessary Stage). How can theatre companies be commercially viable or financially sustainable if a day’s rental in a small blackbox space is already about $1500 to $2000 a day? After all, many theatrical productions are limited to short runs, sometimes even as short as a weekend.
  • Given the short duration of most theatrical productions, how does it justify several weeks or months of rehearsals? Furthermore, how can actors hope to hone the actual practice of their craft if they are in a rehearsal room for weeks on end and only get to work in front of a live, paying audience for a few days on average? By the time the performance begins to take root in the actors during the run and the actors finally feel like they own their characters, the run of the play has come to an end.
  • How can we leave an impact on our audiences? By the time the reviews come out in the papers or words spreads through social media, it may be too late as the show’s run might have ended. Audience members will not be able to critically engage their communities in post-show discussions because their friends were not able to watch the same show.
  • Unless theatre companies have benefactors or arts grants, how can artists and emerging theatre practitioners even produce work they care about? What sort of society are we creating where the artist is perpetually stuck in the “struggling artist” mindset, not because of a lack of ideas, but because of a lack of financial resources? There are only so many benefactors. There are only a finite number of grants.
  • How do we nurture the arts as a necessary and essential avenue for expression and national conversation if we are limited to only a few voices? Of course, more voices may potentially mean there is a lower barrier of entry and therefore a lower quality of work on display, but I say, why not? Failure is the cornerstone of creativity and success. Practitioners will learn, adapt and evolve, or fall away. Audiences will learn to develop a critical eye for what they want to see.
  • Do we even have enough of a critical audience mass to sustain long runs of productions? How do we engage the masses to make theatre a viable entertainment option amidst the growing number of new media options?

These are just some of my thoughts as I prepare my cast for a 7 show run over 3 weeks. Perhaps you may want to share your thoughts or opinions on the questions when I see you at the show! Tickets are available here: http://tinyurl.com/lucycaldwellleaves

Till then,

With Hope Towards The Future,

Kamil Haque

Actor’s Calling is a series of articles written personally by Kamil Haque, founder of the Haque Centre for Acting & Creativity. In this series, Kamil hopes to share his personal journey. He explores his vision for the school, growth as an actor and experiences as a teacher. The series also seeks to dispel some of the common misunderstandings about Actors and Method Acting.

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