Best Supporting Actress

The Life Theatre Awards Best Supporting Actress nominees

Best Supporting Actress nominees: (Clockwise from top left) Oon Shu An, Jo Tan, Cheryl Tan and Chloe Choo.
Best Supporting Actress nominees: (Clockwise from top left) Oon Shu An, Jo Tan, Cheryl Tan and Chloe Choo.PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE, KHAI BAHAR

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress at the Life Theatre Awards faced unusual challenges in their roles, from doing push-ups for three straight minutes to keeping a straight face on stage.

Oon Shu An, 32


Nominated for: Boeing Boeing (Wild Rice) Previous nominations: Best Actress for the 2015 production Chinglish by Pangdemonium, Best Original Script for #UnicornMoment (2014) by Checkpoint Theatre and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay

Oon is nominated for her comic turn as an SIA girl in Boeing Boeing by Wild Rice. Her character Jeanette is one of three girlfriends juggled by a playboy, but who eventually turns the table on him.

"She's so shrewd, I love it," says Oon. "She's so unsentimental and I'm very sentimental."

Much of her work nowadays is made for online streaming on Toggle, including the Mandarin army series Yes Mdm and reality show You Deserve A Break, which surprises deserving people with a holiday.

Returning to theatre was a fun change for Oon, but also challenging. Comedy is harder than people think it is, she says. "Timing needs to be on point. If the timing goes off, you lose the laughs."

When everything goes well and there is terrific comic chemistry among the cast, a new challenge arises. "The hardest thing for me was not laughing during the show," she says of Boeing Boeing. "It's so important, isn't it?"

Jo Tan, 36


Nominated for: Frago (Checkpoint Theatre) Previous nominations: Best Ensemble for the 2015 production It Won't Be Too Long (The Cemetery: Dusk) by Drama Box

Previous wins: Best Ensemble for the 2012 production of Lao Jiu: The Musical (The Theatre Practice)

While playing a warrant officer in the armed forces in Frago, Tan did at least 10 minutes of non-stop calisthenics, including about 60 tricep push-ups, in front of the audience.

It was not too tiring, but it was hard to maintain good form, she says. "It was great because now I have pretty defined arms," she adds, laughing.

Tan played an officer who realises that she has hit the limit for career advancement. She tried to prepare by going to an open house organised by the Singapore Armed Forces, but found more confessions through Google.

"There's so much of a glass ceiling for women regardless of profession," she says. "I think it's true for any woman in a male-dominated environment."

Soon after Frago, she played a social media influencer in Army Daze 2, a light-hearted role poles apart from the character she is nominated for. "People valued Frago because it was so real," she says. "My character is anybody who is fighting things that are senseless."

Cheryl Tan, 29

Cheryl Tan, 29. PHOTO: KHAI BAHAR

Nominated for: Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress (Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)

Previous nominations: None Tan had to do core exercises and stretches to recover from the weight of her head-dress in Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress.

The Malaysian actress is nominated for her portrayal of Yehenara, a naive concubine who learns a swift lesson in court politics to become the de facto ruler of China.

She says she was often scolded for waiting until the last moment to don the ornate headgear. She explains: "The thing is skewered to your head. Cable ties are involved. It is not pretty. At one of the tech rehearsals, I cried a bit because it was so painful."

She read Jung Chang's bestseller, Empress Dowager Cixi, to prepare for her role. "It paints her as this politically savvy bada** rather than an innocent victim of circumstance," says Tan. "I'd like her to be remembered as someone who didn't accept her circumstances. The world hands you this deal, are you going to lie down and take it? Or are you going to fight?"

The actress has been in several local productions, including children's play Rapunzel in 2014 and Romeo And Juliet in 2016, both presented by the Singapore Repertory Theatre. This is her first nomination at the Life Theatre Awards.

"I was jumping around when I found out. I feel like one of the cool kids," she says. "I'm super sad about having no ceremony though, I'd already picked a designer and everything."

Chloe Choo, 12


Nominated for: Fun Home (Pangdemonium) Previous nominations: None Chloe is still too young to be allowed into the musical that she is nominated for. Fun Home was rated R18 for homosexual content. It is based on a memoir by best-selling graphic novelist Alison Bechdel and centres Bechdel's complex relationship with her father and her lesbian identity.

Chloe alternated the role with Elly Gaskell and wanted to watch her friend one night. At the door, the usher tried to stop her. "She said, 'Being a cast member is one thing, being in the audience is another," recalls the young actress, who eventually got in thanks to her cast pass.

She is in Primary 6 at CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity, but has already been on stage multiple times, including playing a Von Trapp daughter twice in The Sound Of Music at the Mastercard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands in 2014 and last year. She was also in the cast of Annie in 2012 and in Wild Rice's pantomimes The Emperor's New Clothes (2015) and Monkey Goes West (2016).

Fun Home has been her most challenging role, in more ways than one. Her parents were questioned by family friends for letting their daughter play a gay character. In the end, they left the decision to Chloe. "I didn't see any problem with that. In the end, we're all only human," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2018, with the headline 'Going against type'. Subscribe