Three independent producers

(From left) Actress Tan Kheng Hua, Cui Yin Mok and Imran Manaff.
(From left) Actress Tan Kheng Hua, Cui Yin Mok and Imran Manaff. PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Tan Kheng Hua

Actress Tan Kheng Hua started producing in the 2000s. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Actress Tan Kheng Hua is no stranger to stage and television audiences. She has appeared in countless productions, including television sitcoms such as Phua Chu Kang and theatre company Pangdemonium's recent family drama Falling.

But her love of producing is one not many know about.

"I am passionate about it - as much as I love acting," she says. "I have a strong compulsion to put together something in my own way. I'm energised by the possibilities."

Tan, 53, is married to fellow theatre practitioner Lim Yu-Beng, 50, and they have an 18-year-old daughter, Shi-An. She was speaking to The Straits Times in her home in Joo Chiat, which doubles as a meeting space for her and her collaborators.

She identifies with being a creative producer - that is, someone who comes up with a creative idea and builds a team to help realise it.

Coming up next for Tan-theproducer is Tropicana The Musical, an original production set in the 1960s that will premiere in April. It is written by playwright Haresh Sharma.

Her recent producing projects have been a hit with audiences.

The Twenty-Something Theatre Festival, which presented plays written by playwrights in their 20s, ran in June with sold-out shows and positive reviews.

But the producer's cap is not a new one for Tan. In fact, she started back in the 2000s.

One of the earliest theatre productions she initiated and produced - as well as directed - was Do Not Disturb, which was staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio in 2008.

She acknowledges that her experience and visibility as an actress help people trust her as a producer. However, she still has to work hard to get funding for her projects and often tweaks her project budget according to the grants she gets.

For Tropicana, she admits that she is "digging into my own pocket" to help fund the show and will depend on ticket sales to earn a profit.

She says: "That's the journey of the independent producer and that's what it requires."

In the thick of production for Tropicana - her roles include sourcing for sponsors, putting together the team, working with venue, budgeting and planning media strategy - she still has time to cook for her team during production meetings, where they gather around the counter in her open kitchen.

She says: "You must enjoy building a family. I cook, people eat, we work."

Cui Yin Mok

Cui Yin Mok became interested in exploring arts management after picking up a discarded brochure. PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Independent arts producer Cui Yin Mok does not have a name card.

Up until last month, the 28-year-old worked from home, jokingly calling herself a "bedroom producer". She now shares a co-working space in Jalan Pisang.

The trappings of full-time employment have never enticed her. Save for a one-year stint in a bookshop in London, she has always been a freelancer. And work has been keeping her on her toes.

Her last project was producing the play, Cafe, by playwright Joel Tan for The Twenty-Something Theatre Festival in June.

Last year, she was the creative producer for Singapore: Inside Out, a showcase of local creative talents. The showcase travelled to New York, Beijing and London before showing in Singapore at the end of last year.

The producing bug bit her early. She became interested in exploring arts management after picking up a discarded brochure about it on the street.

It was actually a prospectus from Lasalle College of the Arts, which then had its campus in Goodman Road, where Goodman Arts Centre now stands. Mok attended Chung Cheng High School nearby.

"I thought it sounded interesting. I didn't know what it was, but I thought, 'Maybe I want to do that,'" she says.

She started stage managing musicals for the YMCA while in junior college. While doing a degree in social anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, she started stage managing, directing and producing for London-based Singaporean amateur theatre group, Singapore Playhouse London.

"I realised I enjoy the work of making something happen and decided to focus on producing."

Under the then-22-year-old Mok's leadership, the group evolved into independent, nonprofit arts company Platform 65, to create theatre, literary and visual arts projects, especially in connection with Singapore.

She was then pursuing her master's degree in arts administration and cultural policy at Goldsmiths College.

Mok, who is single, avoids being typecast as a producer for any arts genre, preferring instead to work on projects which are multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted.

For example, last year she worked on Unseen: Shift Lab, an arts project with Singapore artist Alecia Neo which involved participants with visual disabilities. It explored the themes of identity and relationships through sound, performance, movement, narrative and photography.

She says: "I enjoy looking at how art can be made and experienced in more meaningful and equitable terms that can reach out to different audiences."

Imran Manaff

Imran Manaff, company manager of Maya Dance Theatre, is producing a work independently this year. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Imran Manaff, 42, is the company manager of Maya Dance Theatre. But this year, he is striking out for the first time to produce a work independently.

He first saw 34-year-old independent dancer Jereh Leung's The Cold That Creeps In With A Thousand Cuts as a 10-minute showcase last year, as part of Maya Dance Theatre's CReations platform. It was also shown at last year's M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival.

"It didn't fit with Maya Dance Theatre - our works often have an Asian element. Rather than fit a square peg into a round hole, I felt it was best to separate them."

He adds with a laugh: "If you can't be an artist, you can support an artist."

The 50-minute work is choreographed by Leung, who is performing with dancer-choreographer Thai-Norwegian Phitthaya Phaefuang. It explores the concepts of emotional and physical intimacy with oneself.

It will debut in Singapore on Friday and Saturday at Singai Tamil Sangam at 2 Kampong Kapor Road.

It will travel to Dusseldorf, Germany, next month as part of Tanzmesse, the largest professional international gathering for contemporary dance.

It will also show at the 24th Quinzena de Danca de Almada - International Dance Festival in Portugal in October.

Imran is still working full time at Maya Dance Theatre and Leung has the benefit of using Maya's company premises to rehearse. Its artistic director Kavitha Krishnan is the work's associate artistic director. Imran is married to Kavitha, 44, and they have no children.

Imran is anxious that people might not be able to see him as an independent producer because of his Maya connection.

He says: "I don't want people to get confused."

But he is certain in his role. "Small works need support. I want to see new, good work being created. If there are no producers, no work will be created."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'Three independent producers'. Subscribe