Younger actors and newer names are up this year for the title of Best Actor at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.
Three out of five vie for this honour for the first time. Andrew Marko, 25, has been nominated for his theatrical debut. He played an autistic teen in Pangdemonium's staging of Falling, in between doing a double major in theatre and sociology at the National University of Singapore.
Joshua Lim, 32, has been nominated as part of an ensemble cast in previous years. This is his first solo nomination, thanks to a gritty, chilling performance as an idealistic police officer who takes on the attributes of the serial killer he should bring to justice.
Fido Ahdross, 34, is a familiar name from Malay-language film and television.
He won theatre critics over with his regal, yet human, portrayal of a crown prince who is also a hapless father seeking his daughter. He played Pengeran Agong in Nadiputra's re-imagining of the legend of a tormented princess, Raden Mas: An Epic Of A Princess, staged by Sri Mamanda Bangsawan.
Thomas Pang is only 27, but this is the second time he has been nominated for this top accolade. He played an unusual Hamlet in Cake Theatrical Productions' Ophelia, which is based on the Danish prince's love interest from the Shakespearean drama.
Rounding off the contenders is veteran thespian Lim Yu-Beng, 52, who won Best Actor in 2005, for The Lover And The Dumb Waiter by luna-id Theatre. He is nominated this year for ruling the stage from an armchair as the cutting, critical friend Marc in Singapore Repertory Theatre's staging of Art by French playwright Yasmina Reza.
Nominated for: Starring Hitler As Jekyll And Hyde (The Finger Players)
Previous nominations: Best Ensemble for October (The Necessary Stage, 2013) and Poor Thing (The Necessary Stage, 2015)
Previous wins: None
Joshua Lim is in the solo spotlight for the first time at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards and says he was "pleasantly surprised" by his nomination for Best Actor.
"I had already put out of my mind the works of the previous year. I feel glad that my work in this production has been noticed," he says.
Lim, 32, played Inspector Gabriel, a police officer on the trail of a serial killer, in The Finger Players' Starring Hitler As Jekyll And Hyde.
Over the course of the play, the idealist Gabriel turns into a psychotic, power-mad figure as bad as the murderer he wants to capture.
It was a tough act to pull off. To prepare, Lim listened to opera and classical music on his iPod before each show.
"I find music very helpful in getting myself into the proper psychological and emotional state," he says. "Overtures of pain, oppression and patriotism helped me for this production."
Lim, along with others, is also up for Best Ensemble for Cafe, a psychological drama staged by The Twenty- Something Theatre Festival.
He has delivered several strong performances in recent years, notably in two plays by The Necessary Stage: senior drama October and Poor Thing, a play about road rage and Singaporean woes.
He also played abuse survivor Eric in the Fundamentally Happy film directed by Tan Bee Thiam and Lei Yuan Bin. The movie adaptation of The Necessary Stage show was shown at sold-out screenings during the 2015 Southeast Asian Film Festival at the Singapore Art Museum.
He played one of the main characters, orphan Ah Tang, in Wild Rice's much-loved musical Monkey Goes West in 2014 and last year.
The light-hearted role of Ah Tang was a relief after the grotesque darkness of Starring Hitler As Jekyll And Hyde.
He says: "I think the hardest part was in letting the darkness of Gabriel take over me. Essentially, by the end of the play, Gabriel becomes the new Hitler. That's extremely dark - to be able to believe that what Hitler did was natural and right."
Fido Ahdross, 34
Nominated for: Raden Mas: An Epic Of A Princess (Sri Mamanda Bangsawan)
Previous nominations: None
Previous wins: None
Fido Ahdross has been an actor for only six years, though both his parents were show business stars.
He is the youngest child of actress Fauziah Zie and the late screen actor-singer Syed Ahdross Syed Ahmad, better known as S. Rosley.
Fido tried jobs such as wakeboarding instructor and site-safety manager for the reverse bungee jump at Clarke Quay before auditioning for his first television role on a whim.
In 2011, he clinched the part of the lead character's husband on Selamat Malam Maria (Goodnight Maria). After making it in TV and receiving film offers, plus cutting a single, Fido decided to try theatre. "People told me theatre was very different."
His mother suggested he meet Malay playwright Nadiputra, who cast Fido in the community musical Lorong Buangkok.
After four other plays, Fido was given a real challenge: playing crown prince Pengeran Agong in Nadiputra's play Raden Mas: An Epic Of A Princess. The re-imagining of the legend of the princess puts Pengeran's role as father to a missing daughter centre stage and won Fido his first nomination at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.
It was a difficult role on several levels, including the languages used, which ranged from old-fashioned Bahasa Indonesia to Malay.
To play a parent, Fido drew on his experience growing up with his father after his parents split up. His dad died in January this year and would have been thrilled by the award nomination, the actor says.
He says both parents were in tears after watching his performance. "My mother kissed my forehead and said, 'How did you learn these lines?'"
The recognition from his father was even sweeter because, Fido says, before that, "my father didn't really believe so much in theatre because it wasn't TV or film".
Andrew Marko, 25
Nominated for: Falling (Pangdemonium)
Previous nominations: None
Previous wins: None
Andrew Marko is nominated for a role he did not plan to audition for.
He went to Pangdemonium for a part in the musical Rent. Director Tracie Pang asked him to read the part of Josh, an 18-year-old with autism. The strain of caring for Josh's special needs is the heart of Falling, written by American playwright Deanna Jent.
"I read the description and I was like: 'Wow, that's heavy,'" says the actor, who turns 25 this year.
To research, he went on YouTube and looked up videos on autism.
His performance netted him a Best Actor nomination at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards. Falling has received multiple other nods and is in the running for Production Of The Year.
He also got that part in Rent last year. The entire cast of the musical is in the running for Best Ensemble.
Marko says it was surprisingly easy to play Josh. This was partly due to Pang's direction. Also, he says: "I've always felt alienated from people. Growing up, I was the most abused in class. No one would be my friend."
He puts that down to his size. He is less heavy now, more active - often cycling to rehearsals - and happier.
Drama helped boost his confidence. He joined theatre as a school co-curricular activity, did the Singapore Repertory Theatre's The Young Company training programme and works with theatre interest group Yellow Chair Productions.
All this goes on while he does a double major in theatre studies and sociology at the National University of Singapore. After graduating this year, he plans to try being a veterinary assistant.
His parents will support their only child no matter what he does. His mother is the chief executive of non-profit association HomeTeamNS and his father is in insurance.
"They've always said, 'It doesn't matter what you do, but find what you love to do and do it really well and to the best of your abilities,'" the actor says.
Lim Yu-Beng, 52
Nominated for: Art (Singapore Repertory Theatre)
Previous nominations: Best Supporting Actor for Mee Pok Man - The Play (Fiction Farm, 2001); Best Lighting Design for Liao Zhai Rocks! (The Theatre Practice, 2011) and The House Of Bernarda Alba (Wild Rice, 2015); and Best Actor for Members Only (Sing'Theatre, 2010)
Previous wins: Honourable Mention for Best Lighting Design for Fireface (Toy Factory Productions, 2003); Best Supporting Actor for Bent (Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, 2004) and Best Actor for The Lover And The Dumb Waiter (luna-id Theatre, 2005)
Known for his love of motorcycle- riding and skill at physical theatre, it is no wonder that Lim Yu-Beng comes for this photo shoot sporting sports injuries.
But at this year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards, he is nominated for a role that mainly involved sitting and sparring with words in French playwright Yasmina Reza's Art, staged by the Singapore Repertory Theatre. Lim played the snooty Marc, whose disdain for his friend Serge's expensive art purchase nearly destroys their relationship.
Lim, who turns 52 this year, sees little difference between sparring with words and blows on stage. "You are cutting, thrusting, parrying and caressing with your words. If you're not going to go out and affect your partner, then what's the point? It's got to affect somebody."
He knows how to stage a scene. Apart from multiple nods to his acting skills in his 30-year career, he is also the go-to guy when theatre companies need a fight choreographer or lighting designer.
He is married to fellow performer Tan Kheng Hua, 54, who is nominated this year for Best Actress for Falling by Pangdemonium. Their teenage daughter also acts.
Lim enjoyed playing Marc, but says he related more to the hapless character played by Remesh Panicker, who is caught in the war of words between Marc and Serge (played by Gerald Chew).
"In real life, I have the misfortune of being the only guy in the room who can see everybody's point of view," he says.
To prepare for his role as Hamlet in Cake Theatrical Productions' Ophelia, Thomas Pang swam for at least 20 minutes a day. "I would swim 800m every day in the sun, tanning to make sure I looked as sun-kissed and bronzed as possible."
Showing off Hamlet's abs and pool prowess was among the many ways in which director Natalie Hennedige tweaked the Shakespearean tale of the Danish prince and his lady love.
In the original tale, Ophelia drowns. In this play, Hamlet directs her towards her death, constantly dominating Ophelia as if she is an actress and Hamlet a megalomaniac theatre director.
Pang, who turns 27 this year, hopes to move towards directing as well. After Ophelia, he wrote and performed a one-man show about social media in Kuala Lumpur.
The Malaysian was brought up in the United States. He has a diploma from the San Francisco School of the Arts and moved to Singapore in 2012 to study theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts.
Hennedige directed him in school shows here and also offered him a version of Hamlet in Running With Strippers, the 10th-anniversary celebration of Cake Theatrical Productions in 2015.
Pang blew theatre critics away that same year with his professional debut here as a deaf boy, Billy, in the family drama Tribes staged by Pangdemonium.
It got him a nomination for Best Actor at last year's M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards. The award eventually went to Adrian Pang for playing Lee Kuan Yew in The LKY Musical by Metropolitan Productions.
Thomas Pang is not certain he will win this year either. "There's the rule of three," he says. In other words, he is gearing up for a hat-trick of nominations in 2018.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Young blood, new faces'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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