As the final curtain fell on Paparazzi’s production of “Those Who Can’t, Teach” on Oct. 2, Tan Hui Er, 20, was beaming with pride. The thunderous applause from the full house of 220 people at the Esplanade Theatre Studio was an affirmative nod to the quality of the actors’ performances and her directorial debut.
The successful production of Haresh Sharma’s play about the daily struggles of teachers was the result of seven months of intensive rehearsals. Despite the long nights, Tan, a second-year undergraduate at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, says she is glad she stepped up to the directorial role.
The job has given her a holistic appreciation of staging a production and deepened her love for theatre.
“There’s something very special about a group of people who have never done theatre before, and they come together and want to put up a good show,” says Tan, who is always open to learning new things.
“School is a good place to make mistakes and try out my directorial style before going out into the professional industry,” she says.
“I watched it when I was 15. I really liked it and it has always been something I wanted to stage,” she recalls. The play's two-day run received an overwhelming response, with two of three shows selling out.
Tan is also a resident actress with KaizenT, a collective of performing artistes who specialise in multidisciplinary contemporary art. At KaizenT, she is trained in physical theatre, which uses the body as the main channel of communication during a show.
Despite seven years of acting experience in numerous school productions, and also taking drama as one of her GCSE ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels subjects, this opportunity exposed her to a new realm of responsibilities.
“By taking on this show, I got to see what goes on production-wise from day 0 — how they get funding, how they do publicity, everything all the way to the show,” Tan says.
As the director, she found herself involved in areas she had never put much thought into, such as costuming and set design.
“We were all not experienced with set design,” Tan says, recalling initial challenges of designing and storing the set. “These are things that I never thought about as an actor. It’s just there for me when I perform,” Tan says, adding that as an actress, “it’s just me and my script.”
Thankfully, her background in acting helped in her first attempt at directing, as she applied what she learnt from her physical theatre training to the play.
Similarly, her experience as a director will improve her acting, she says, as she has gone through the different steps needed to successfully stage a play. She also better understands how directors think and what they take into consideration.
“One immediate consequence I learnt from directing was like, don’t take things personally. When a director tells you to do this or that, just take it professionally,” she shares.
Although Tan does not think the show panned out exactly the way she wanted, she remains grateful for the experience.
“All the mistakes that I made or whatever happened, happened for a reason," she says.
"And I believe that through this, when I look back, it’s a very good experience for me. And I wouldn’t want to change anything."