Singaporean Artists Abroad: An Interview with Damon Chua

In this series of interviews, Singaporean Artists Abroad, we talk to Singaporeans who have made the tenacious choice to further their craft overseas. We talk about their experiences, milestones and the challenges that they have faced in their artistic and academic careers. Following the growth of these unique individuals, the interviews hopes to inspire Singaporean artists to be brave and chase their dreams, and especially if that dream includes living overseas.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a New York-based playwright, poet and producer.

If you could write a play for any actor, who would it be? 
Juliette Binoche. Because of her supreme honesty, and because she makes such surprising choices.

Name three films you think every actor should see. 
Magnolia, because, well, it is Paul Thomas Anderson, and because of the amazing ensemble work. The Deer Hunter, another incredible ensemble. And, for something a little older, A Streetcar Named Desire, which had four actors nominated for Oscars.

What’s the hardest production that you’ve ever worked on? Why? 
It was production in Los Angeles a couple of years back. Mainly because of casting challenges and the director’s disconnect with the material. Still, we soldiered on and it turned out great.

What do you do to prepare for rehearsals? 
I read my play again, and think of all the questions an actor may have. Additionally, I set specific goals for myself – such as how a specific role should come across and how that could evolve over the course of the process.

How would you explain what you do and why you do it? 
I write because that is how I best express myself, in the deepest and most meaningful fashion.

We’re always hearing the term ‘making it’ with regards to artists. What level of success would you need to reach for you to be like “yeah, I’ve made it”?
I don’t think in terms of “making it.” All I think about is if my current play is the best play I can write right now.

What do you know now about playwriting and the industry that you wish you knew when you first started? 
It is important to meet the audience at least half way. People go to the theaters mainly to be entertained. So, go ahead and entertain them. Don’t think too hard.

What advice would you give to artists who want to live abroad? 
Just do it. If there is a visa issue, then find a MFA program somewhere, and beg for a scholarship. Work in restaurants if necessary, to pay the expenses. It can be done.

What do you hope to see for the future of playwriting in Singapore?
I hope to see more opportunities for emerging writers, to work with international artists, to make Singapore a world-class cultural city. I’m optimistic.

Born and raised in Singapore, Damon went to college in England and came to the United States to attend graduate school. He has been writing for as long as he can remember, and counts Constance Congdon, Sarah Kane, and Federico Garcia Lorca as his favorite playwrights.

Damon received an Ovation Award (Best World Premiere Play) for his full-length work FILM CHINOIS, a noir mystery set in 1947 China. This play is published by Samuel French. His short play STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES was picked as one of the Best 10-Minute Plays of 2009 and published by Smith & Kraus. A Durfee Foundation grant recipient, Damon has been invited to several theatre conferences including the Last Frontier Theatre Conference and the Cultural Conversations Theatre Festival. His pieces have been presented in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Alaska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, London and Singapore.

Damon also writes poetry and short stories, and is the process of completing a non-fiction book. When not writing, he can be found at his day job producing feature films. One of his movies, Perth, was invited to the Cannes Film Festival. Damon is also the recipient of a filmmaking travel grant from UNESCO and an INSPIRE grant from the Singapore Film Commission. His alma maters include Stanford University and Oxford University.

Damon Chua is also a festival artist at the Something to Write Home About festival in Singapore.

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