Eyes on Broadway
Article from the Sun daily by Denissa Goh (posted on 19 January 2017)
WHEN Cheryl Tan was seven, she spent most of her time alone at school. She was drawn to books and they were often her best companion. “In school, I was that strange Cheryl who lied about doing her homework and was socially awkward,” she reminisced.
Her parents, who are musical theatre enthusiasts, thought it was a good idea to enrol her into speech and drama classes at Helen O’Grady Academy. The classes turned out to be a breath of fresh air, adding colours to her life and a sense of belonging. Hence, it didn’t take too long for the arts to ignite a fiery passion within Tan.
She got more involved in the arts after enrolling into Sekolah Sri Cempaka, one of the few schools in Malaysia to pioneer a curriculum that integrated the performing arts. Apart from starring in the school’s annual musical productions, Tan also participated in the local theatre scene by joining The Young KL Singers at the age of 14 under the guidance of its founder and established choral conductor, Susanna Saw. She made her professional debut at 15 years old in Gardner & Wife’s Little Violet and the Angel.
For her tertiary education, Tan pursued double majors in music and theatre at Wesleyan University, a leading private liberal arts college in Connecticut.
Being proactive in the arts industry has peppered her portfolio with local and international gigs alike, and paved the way for this 27-year-old to venture into Singapore’s television scene.
You recently played Juliet in Shakespeare In The Park at the Singapore Repertory Theatre. What was it like to play such an iconic character?
It was the most difficult yet the most amazing role I’ve ever played. My co-stars, Thomas Pang and Jo Kukathas took it upon themselves to train me from the ground up. I was training for two to three hours every morning, and rehearsing for eight hours every afternoon.
Of course I had instincts and my own personality, but there are a lot of technicalities to master for a role like that. Plus, the show was done outdoors before an audience of 2,000 every night. And it’s also the most famous play in the world.
Did you struggle with the character because it clashed with your personality?
Initially I thought, ‘These kids are so stupid and unstable. Don’t kill yourself for love.’ But when I got more and more into the character, I thought she’s incredibly smart and brave. You have to try your best to understand them. I’m still in a stage where most characters I play are basically versions of myself – you see the same mind and mannerisms in most of them in varying degrees. Juliet is probably braver than I am, maybe a bit more impulsive and wilful, like an extreme teenage me.
Tell us about the television series you’re starring in.
It’s an English long-form drama series in Singapore called The Faculty. It’s my first TV gig and I’m playing the lead, so I’m quite stoked. I’m trying really hard to move into the commercial side of things just because the prospects are so much better and it would help me further my dreams of starting a theatre company or arts school in KL.
Do you think digital trends are killing off the traditional form of performing arts?
Technology always kills things! Live art will never enjoy the numbers it used to, but it will never completely go away. Live art is like church; it’s about real-time human connection and we need it, whether it’s Coldplay, Beckett, or belly dancing.
What qualities does a performer need to have in order to survive the industry? Any advice for the aspiring artiste?
Resilience. My advice is to keep your standards as high as you possibly can, and a hunger to learn about the craft, yourself, and the world. If your objective is to constantly learn and not to succeed, it makes your life much more peaceful and often, successful.
Now playing: The Socialites by Dirty Projectors.
Pet peeve: Your vs. you’re.
Comfort food: Medium rare steak, red wine, and chilled whisky.
Instagram profile: @thecheryltan