Spurred on by her harshest critique

Chio Su-Ping knew she wanted to be an actor after performing at Victoria Theatre when she was in Secondary 1.
Chio Su-Ping knew she wanted to be an actor after performing at Victoria Theatre when she was in Secondary 1.PHOTO: MARK BENEDICT CHEONG

Actress and drama educator Chio Su-Ping, 41, will play the iron-fisted matriarch Tan Neo in an upcoming production of Family, by playwright Leow Puay Tin.

The epic play, which features 34 characters across four generations, depicts the lives of Singaporean Chinese from the early 1900s to modern times. It will be staged by The Second Breakfast Company, a new theatre company founded by five young theatre practitioners, all under the age of 25.

Chio is married to a teacher.

What was your first performance like?

I first performed in a theatre in Secondary 1. I think it was Victoria Theatre. I'd done skits in primary school, but it was different being in a theatre. There was something magical about it.

The teacher, who directed the show, helped me understand that even though my part was small, I could still contribute if I worked hard at fleshing out the character.

When we opened, my performance got a positive response from the audience. It was the first time I'd made so many people laugh and I felt powerful, safe and happy. When we did the curtain call on opening night, I knew then that I wanted to be an actor.

How do you prepare yourself for a performance?

Through rehearsals, I try to find the character, logic and coherence in the lines and circumstances. I learn about the other characters and what their objectives and tactics are and I also understand how my scene partners work.

By the time the performance rolls around, the pieces are in place and everything is prepared. It's just a matter of calming myself down and then I just get out there and see what happens.

I don't have any rituals except going to the toilet before the show starts and making sure that my dressing table is tidy. The tidiness calms me down and gets my head organised.

What do you do when you make a mistake on stage?

Just carry on and pretend that nothing happened - on the outside. On the inside, I try to figure out if the mistake will have any repercussions later on and how to fix things.

What is the funniest or most memorable thing that has happened to you on stage?

There was a show where I had to do a dance sequence and the zipper on my pants would not stay up. Throughout the dance, I kept looking for moments to zip my pants. I tried to do it while my back was turned to the audience so no one would see, but I'm sure they did.

What is the harshest criticism or review you have received? How did you deal with it?

The harshest criticism I've received - and it was articulated in the kindest possible way - is that someone didn't believe my character.

I was young at the time and the critique came from a fellow actor whom I respected - I knew he said that to make me think more deeply about the character.

I was grateful for the critique - he didn't let bad work slide by without trying to fix it. To this day, I still think about what he said and, when I'm not fully immersed in a scene, I hear him in my head. That gives me the push I need to get my act together and dig deeper.

What is the strangest character you have ever played?

The strangest character I've had to play was this woman who... I can't even figure out what she was.

I never understood the play and I don't think my fellow cast members did either. All I know is that my character is married and that everyone in the play is depressed and, at one point, they come together for a very awkward dinner. And there is compost on the floor.

To get into the mood, I just reminded myself that I would be walking through compost the entire evening. That got me suitably depressed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline 'Spurred on by her harshest critique'. Print Edition | Subscribe