"Pinch me, I'm dreaming," was what 12-year-old Chloe Choo said on hearing that she had been named Best Supporting Actress at the Life Theatre Awards 2018 for her performance in the musical Fun Home, staged here last year by Pangdemonium.
She is the youngest winner in that category, in the annual awards given out by The Straits Times Life since 2001 to celebrate the best of Singapore theatre.
Choo was up against experienced actresses Oon Shu An (nominated for playing an air hostess in Wild Rice's Boeing Boeing), Jo Tan (nominated for playing a warrant officer in Checkpoint Theatre's FRAGO) and Cheryl Tan (nominated for playing the young concubine in Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress staged by Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay).
The young actress says: "I could never have thought that I would ever be chosen for this because the rest are much more experienced than me. Thank you Pangdemonium for casting and mentoring me and for giving me the opportunity and thank you Straits Times for the recognition."
Pangdemonium productions won four awards this year, including Production of the Year, for Dragonflies, a play about climate change and refugees, staged at the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017.
Dragonflies also won Singaporean writer Stephanie Street, who is based in the United Kingdom, the award for Best Original Script and James Tan the award for Best Lighting.
The play will be re-staged from May 18 to June 3 at the Victoria Theatre.
Three first-time winners this year
Dragonflies' director Tracie Pang, joint artistic director of Pangdemonium, says: "We are so happy and grateful that on our first year of developing and writing new work, our play Dragonflies has won three awards and we have the chance to share this important story with more people this May.
"Dragonflies gave us the opportunity to investigate Singapore's position amid world issues and this win will spur us on to continue creating impactful theatre. We are also pleased to see our work with young actors being recognised - we are very happy for Chloe."
The palm for Best Director goes to Nelson Chia for Art Studio, an adaptation of an epic novel by Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon. The three-hour work, staged by Chia's troupe Nine Years Theatre, also took the prize for Best Ensemble.
Chia, 46, says: "Actually, I am more excited about it also winning the Best Ensemble category. I am very proud of the actors who have breathed life into this Singaporean tale."
He called Art Studio "a humbling experience". He and his ensemble took a novel of 240,000 words and condensed it into a stage experience for the arts festival last year.
Art Studio was in the running for Production of the Year, along with another arts festival production: Trojan Women, an adaptation of the Greek legend that featured Korean traditional songs, directed by then-festival director Ong Keng Sen.
Fourteen awards have been named in this edition of the Life Theatre Awards. The winners will receive certificates next week in a private ceremony.
The judging panel included assistant editor of Life Melissa Sim, arts correspondent Akshita Nanda, lifestyle correspondent Benson Ang and reporter Olivia Ho.
The editor of Life, Ms Tan Hsueh Yun, says: "Life started the awards to recognise the best of Singapore theatre and to recognise the hard work the community puts in every year. We have always been very clear about our objective: that Singapore theatre takes centre stage.
"The scene keeps flourishing, keeps getting better. They are fighting the good fight and long may that continue."
There are three first-time winners this year, including Choo.
Actor Thomas Pang, 28, took the award for Best Actor for his role as a disturbed puppeteer in Hand To God, staged by the Singapore Repertory Theatre. He has been acting here professionally since 2015 and has been nominated twice before.
The Best Actress winner this year is Dalifah Shahril, 39, for her role in Hayat Hayatie, a play about Singapore during and after World War II, staged by Teater Kami.
She debuted in local theatre in 1999, but received her first nomination and first win this year for playing the titular role of Hayatie.
This was a role she helped devise during the play's first staging in 2002 and one she would love to re-visit again, she says.
"It's one of those plays that have a special place in my heart because I went through it from scratch. We did a lot of research, went to places used by the Japanese during their occupation of Singapore - we did a master's programme in this performance."
This is the third year an award has been given out for Best Production for the Young. This category recognises Singapore companies that create outstanding performances for audiences aged 12 and younger, and is organised in partnership with the National Arts Council.
A panel of judges who are experts in children's theatre gave the prize to Mr Magnolia, staged by the Young People's Performing Arts Ensemble. They were arts educator Peggy Ferroa, Act 3 Theatrics founder R. Chandran, theatre-maker Jeffrey Tan, writer Chong Yuan Chien and Straits Times correspondent Venessa Lee.
Mr Magnolia was loosely based on the legend of woman warrior Mulan, but situated within a Chinese kingdom's preoccupation with war. It was scripted and performed by youth from the local ensemble as well as groups from China and the United States.
The ensemble was started in 1973 by the former Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. Artistic director Ma Gyap Sen took over in 1992.
Ma, 60, says: "We're celebrating our 45th anniversary this year, so this is really fantastic news for everyone."
Chong, one of the judges, praised the ensemble and the work of its artistic director. "She has worked so hard for so many years and is really deserving. The excellence of this play is proof of all her years of devotion to her work."
Best of last year's theatre
Production of the Year Dragonflies
by Pangdemonium and Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017
Best Production for the Young
Mr Magnolia by Young People's Performing Arts Ensemble
Nelson Chia for Art Studio by Nine Years Theatre and Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017
Best Original Script
Stephanie Street for Dragonflies by Pangdemonium and Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017
Thomas Pang for Hand To God by Singapore Repertory Theatre
Dalifah Shahril for Hayat Hayatie by Teater Kami
Best Supporting Actor
Benjamin Chow for Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress by Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay
Best Supporting Actress
Chloe Choo for Fun Home by Pangdemonium
Art Studio by Nine Years Theatre and Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017
James Tan for Dragonflies by Pangdemonium and Singapore International Festival of Arts 2017
Wong Chee Wai for Itsy: The Musical by The Finger Players
Darren Ng for The Spirits Play by The Finger Players
Frederick Lee for La Cage by Wild Rice
Kazuki Takakura for Sanctuary by The Necessary Stage and Hanchu-Yuei
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2018, with the headline 'Flying colours'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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