From SG to the US

Successful Singaporeans abroad: Taking risks is part of the process to Playwright Damon Chua

Mr Damon Chua at the Public Theatre in New York. The Singaporean says living in the US has made him realise that a person does not have "to measure success in traditional terms".
Mr Damon Chua at the Public Theatre in New York. The Singaporean says living in the US has made him realise that a person does not have "to measure success in traditional terms".ST PHOTO: MELISSA SIM

The image of bankers, lawyers and accountants working in multinationals is what normally comes to mind when most people think about the Singaporean community in the United States. Yet, of late, more Singaporeans are taking the path less travelled. From selling ayam goreng and writing plays to crafting pots, Singaporeans are finding novel ways to make it in America. The Straits Times US Correspondent Melissa Sim talks to five of them about how they got started and the challenges they faced in their chosen fields.

Fresh from the success of his off-Broadway play Film Chinois, playwright Damon Chua is already on to his next project. 

As part of the Public Theatre's emerging writers group, he has written a new play called Optimism, about an Asian-American growing up in the 1960s and working on Wall Street in the 1980s. 

"These are periods of American history that fascinate me. I get to capture the civil rights movement from the context of an Asian- American and the '80s with Reagan rising," said the Singaporean who worked on Wall Street as an analyst for 11/2 years, and was a film executive before becoming a playwright. 

 
 
 
 

His projects are lined up all the way to 2018, he said.

He has been commissioned to work on an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale, which will be set in Qing Dynasty China.

MOMENTS IN TIME

I get to capture the civil rights movement from the context of an Asian- American and the '80s with Reagan rising.

PLAYWRIGHT DAMON CHUA, on periods of American history that fascinate him

Also, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, which staged his film noir-inspired play Film Chinois, is commissioning him to write a prequel, which will likely be staged in 2017 or 2018.

Mr Chua, 49 and single, plays down his success in New York.

"Once I give up all my other jobs, then it is a success," he said. 

He works as an education consultant, but dedicates most of his time to his writing.  

"It's all about the craft. The more you write, the better you become," Mr Chua said.

As with a lot of people, Mr Chua took a master's degree in business administration to change careers, but instead of getting a more corporate job, he decided to move in the direction of something more creative - the film industry. 

He quit his job as a film executive in 2007 to focus on writing. 

"Writing was always in me. Through school, junior college and national service, I continued to write," he said. 

Being in the United States, where he has lived for 18 years, showed him there were "various routes you can take to fulfil your passion", and he realised that a person "didn't have to measure success in traditional terms".

Although his works mainly cater to an American audience, Mr Chua is not worried about who his audience is or if his work is commercially viable. 

Instead, he writes on topics and themes he cares about. 

"I write for myself... I don't second guess who my audience is," said Mr Chua.

"I may take risks and they may not pay off, but that is part of the process," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline ''Taking risks is part of the process''. Print Edition | Subscribe