Kindred spirits

Two theatre companies formed by husband-and-wife duos dominated the 14th Life! Theatre Awards

Fourteen years after it started, the annual Life! Theatre Awards ceremony on Monday afternoon was a warm and fuzzy family affair.

The 13 award winners filled their acceptance speeches with moving mentions of their own families, either back home or present in the audience. At the event held at The St. Regis Singapore, they also thanked their theatre families, practitioners with whom they had slogged to create the best of last year's productions.

Two theatre companies, founded over the last few years by husband-and-wife duos, dominated the honour roll. One was four-year-old Pangdemonium, helmed by Tracie and Adrian Pang. It won the coveted Production of the Year and Production of the Year (Reader's Choice) awards for the musical Next To Normal.

The other was Nine Years Theatre, formed just two years ago and led by director Nelson Chia and actress-producer Mia Chee.

Chia, 41, who won Best Director for the critically acclaimed courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, acknowledged his visibly moved wife in his acceptance speech: "Thank you also to the producer, Mia, who is also my beloved wife - who not only took care of the production but also our kids. Which is very important."

Laughing sheepishly, Chee, 35, told Life! after the event: "I think I am normally very embarrassed by this sort of thing. The last time he mentioned it, I felt so paiseh I wanted to just disappear.

"But yesterday I just thought, I'll take it in my stride. I deserve it!" Paiseh is Hokkien for embarrassed.

Chia last paid tribute to her at the awards when he scored Best Actor in 2011.

The couple's twin daughters were not in the audience but another family showed up in full force: that of performance group spell#7's co-founders Paul Rae and Kaylene Tan.

Their two daughters, Summer and Lola Rae, both in primary school, took a day off from school to attend. And keeping an extra eye out for the two excited girls was Tan's mother Eleanor Song, 67, who is also an actress.

All five of them were nominees for Best Ensemble for the whimsical and personal show, Family Duet, which documented snatches of their family life.

When asked if she was pleased to be skipping school for the awards ceremony, Lola broke out a huge grin and declared: "Yes, of course!"

The cosy luncheon, attended by 120 invited guests from the theatre community, was brimming with tributes to kith and kin.

Playwright Alfian Sa'at, 36, who landed his third Best Original Script win with the farcical satire Kakak Kau Punya Laki (Your Sister's Husband), dedicated the trophy to his mother in his speech.

He later told Life! that his elderly mother, who fell seriously ill, had been hospitalised while he was writing the play, and it came to a point where he was not sure if he could go on.

He had several meetings with director Fared Jainal and Best Actor nominee Najib Soiman in the Singapore General Hospital, before deciding to complete his script. Writing the comedy became "therapeutic", he told Life!, and the play was eventually staged last December.

Best Actress winner Edith Podesta, in her 30s, thanked the "Cake family" - Cake Theatrical Productions presented the experimental, boundary-pushing Illogic, in which she starred.

In her brief speech, she admitted to feeling "quite naked without Noorlinah next to me on stage", acknowledging the other half of the two-woman show, actress Noorlinah Mohamed. Also nominated for Best Actress, Noorlinah was absent due to preparations for theatre company Wild Rice's show The House Of Bernarda Alba, which opens today.

But the brightest lights and loudest whoops were reserved for theatre veterans the Pangs, the biggest winners of the day.

The duo exchanged affectionate pecks before they each went up to receive their triple whammy of awards. Apart from the two Production of the Year awards - one decided by a judging panel and the other voted by readers - Adrian, 48, also received his third Best Actor trophy for his role as a grieving father in the play Rabbit Hole. He had won the award in 2007 and 2010.

The actor carved out a tender moment for his wife of nearly 20 years in his speech: "I want to give a big shout-out to my wife and my boss, Tracie Pang.

"She really is the boss of me on and off stage, so I owe you everything and love you very much."

But he couldn't resist sneaking in a quip about his teenage sons later on: "Rabbit Hole was a story about a family going through all sorts of adversity and pulling through no matter what. So, I just want to give a shout-out to my own family, apart from Tracie, my two wonderful boys Zach and Xander - I hope you're in school right now." His sons are studying at the School of the Arts.

When Tracie, 45, went on stage to receive the trophy for Production of the Year, she put her husband in the spotlight: "I dragged Adrian up here because he's also a producer, not only an actor."

She added: "To my wonderful boys, who have had to spend a lot of time being not just motherless but also parentless, while we are in rehearsals or at the show, and they go on and do their thing - I'm so proud of them.

"Boys, I hope you're proud of us too, now."

corriet@sph.com.sg