Coming Out Story: First step of acceptance: Self
The blondest moment I had in NUS was when I rushed to the library before it closed after a casting, only to find I carried no stationary on me. I spent an hour taking down notes and reference numbers using an unsharpened eye line pencil.
When I was a kid I was not quite the girly girl Ã¢â‚¬” I associated make up and beauty with worthlessness and vanity, a judgment I’m not sure where I got from. It was also through my time as a student of sociology that I realised my career preference. While I enjoyed my NUS years, I often envied people who went to film, drama or art school. It was not so much film courses that deepened my love for acting but Sociology that made me feel like certain statements about the myriad of human identities are usually explored and expressed either in academics (which is exclusive to certain major) or told as stories through film. Though I found some meaning in that and the idea of filming or performing stories with a purpose, the weight of that made me not want to watch anything but B-grade chick flicks, American reality shows and South Park for laughs. The little film and theatre modules that I did attend intrigued me but performing felt like an unrewarding relationship.
Graduation then loomed near, and my peers started writing their resumes and getting their passport sized photo attachment ready. My dorm door was closed as I was picking a headshot for a different type of resume. I could not find a name for my job. With no performing arts education nor reality TV stardom under my belt, I couldn’t bring myself to put a name to the direction I handpicked. It was almost as if “passion” was an affliction and like an X-men I might have had to ask myself “have you tried not being an actor?”
To spare the sappy details, it was hard to say to my parents, my friends and worse of all myself, that “I am an actor.” I did not realise that the root of the blockage to my career might be my own coming to terms with that identity. There was also the baggage of mishandled feedback, critiques, suggestions and all the usual suspects that accompanied rejections. And like any early career starter, I cried over work though I am not sure that any early career starter cried as much over the words from family. Why should one have to feel guilt over an aspiration? It’s ridiculous. It is not their fault; I did not equip them with the understanding of my industry. Then again, I am just starting to understand this industry as it grows every day. How much financial planning would I be lacking, and what is the exact translation of corporate opportunity cost if I choose acting? What do I really need to start life out? The 10 year series bore no answers, so I decided to see what travelling, as suggested by my penpal, might do for me.
Vancouver was my first stop Ã¢â‚¬” I thought I might take a look at the industry there. I thought I might be inspired, but I had difficulties applying for a work permit. I left behind the habits of planning and organisation and left open and curious. Apart from my best friend, another person that inspires me a lot is my English penpal. She always tells me to love life and inspires me with postcards from different countries she has modelled in. She said that one never really knows where life could take you; surprises are round the corner.
I ran away from my family in Canada and travelled, ending up in Palm Desert, California, where a beautiful Israeli soldier asked, after a few private conversations, how one can be both pessimistic and idealistic at the same time. I am not sure that was an accurate assessment, but it made me realise that there was something in me that still believes and hangs on to my love for the work. The Israeli soldier had just finished serving in the army and was travelling before going home to enter university Ã¢â‚¬” I had just finished university and was travelling before going home to work. Posed with the question, ‘dare to love, dare to live?’ I took off on a reckless road trip without knowing what lies ahead.
On retrospect some things were probably stupid, like roaming the streets of San Francisco and East Vancouver at 4am, settling into a dingy 30 dollar motel off Palo Alto, talking to strangers and crashing couches (I hope my parents aren’t reading this). It was also then that I practiced answering “I am an actor” to new people who did not return with questioning eyebrows or awkward silences. Instead of the usual “Oh, what have you acted in?” or “Is it? I thought you studied something else”, there was a reception of nods and encouragement, best wishes and also sharing of strangers with occupations I was not familiar with, but who were making their lives work for them while pursuing their desires.
I was in a place with very diverse cultures and sub-cultures, and chatted with strange locals who were of many different ethnic, sexual and national identities. I even met a charming family who identified themselves as vampires. I met a liquor store owner across the road from my motel, a Jordan native who let us store our food in her freezers and never charged us taxes on purchases. We in turn, hang around while she locks up at 1am and walk her to her car. Another shop owner found out I was from Singapore and gave me the phone number of a Singaporean director in San Francisco who makes films about women and minorities. Too bad I was leaving San Francisco for Santa Barbara the next day.
As I introduced myself to others, I was introducing and embracing my identity within myself. One such conversation took place one morning at an expensive dockside restaurant in Santa Barbara, which then led to the owner of the restaurant offering us wandering kids breakfast with a VIP view of the sea. He heard “actor” and offered a waitressing job for 200 USD a day. I stared at the crab benedict on my plate, then turned left to the window and saw dolphins jumping out of the clear seawater in the distance Ã¢â‚¬” the idea of wearing corporate clothes and preparing for interviews in tall Shenton Way buildings seemed so far away.
A typical ‘needs’ expenditure went like this: Gas $17. Lunch $15. Dinner $20. Beer $1.50. Cheap Motel $50 = $103.50. Everything else is just extra.Ã‚ The questions I asked before became clear: dollars don’t always make sense. I was looking outwards, at planning and financial prestige to determine my path. That moment in Santa Barbara was albeit important Ã¢â‚¬” I tasted a contentment I’ve never tasted before, and with that brought a sense of peace. I’ve never felt so alive before, entertaining the idea of waiting tables and pursuing acting. I felt no sense of age or judgment, just love and kindness which brought hope. We would have been happy waiting tables there.
The trip was cut short as my grandmother’s condition called me back to Singapore and while I made it back in time, I also felt ripped from the things I found on my travels. After the funeral, normality sank in and it was heartwrenching, trying to figure out how life goes on. It took awhile (ok fine. it took months), but I snapped out of it and came out saying to myself that ‘actor’ is part of who I am. As I explore my path now, I just need to make sure I can become a working actor, and working I have been. I came back freelancing and resumed my bookings with the good people at Fly Entertainment as their talent.
For me, there is no fairy tale of stumbling into the industry. I guess the moral of this all is that for me, it was a journey of accepting my own choice as an actor. Thankfully, having spent time in the local entertainment and media industry and forming bonds and personal relationships with people in the community has indeed helped me to move from A to B. It just so happened that it could be hormones making me decide to write my introduction about my blog based on my internal acknowledgment to an external movement as an actor.
Along the way there’s dealing with that stench of years of rejection Ã¢â‚¬” humans in general react internally to rejection in all types of relationships, a job that puts you out there, vulnerable and naked as the work of your hands represent you, makes you more susceptible to that memory of rejection. I think the pessimist in me withdrew quickly and instinctively in the face of rejection but something else always make me stubbornly come out of my shell to try again. Maybe it’s because I never really took my eyes off the goal.
While I used to struggle with the concept of “luck”, I must say that I do feel extremely blessed by the events that lead to the current comfort I have in the pursuit of the arts, the performances, the creative and the craft. I do hate clichés, but it also has to be admitted that some pain from the past did make me stronger in the face of challenges, though I still wonder about where to draw the line between taking constructive criticism yet having faith and confidence.
Every performer, be it front or backstage, has his doubts, and I do think it is that belief or faith or passion or a culmination of these that keeps him still working and trying the next day. Strangely, my paternal grandparents were performers, and in recounting their history, they didn’t sound like they had a choice of vocation. This was a huge contrast to how I speak to myself of “passion”; they don’t seem to even have that in their vocabulary then. As a poorer student, on bad days I thought that the opportunity to perform was a luxury of the wealthy. In modern society, film, media and theatre are usually born out of a very conscious choice rather than a necessity, and the idealist in me saved the pessimist in me again, and today I’m glad I no longer find the industry out of reach and foreign. In fact, I am excited to be a part of this growing and changing industry here.
They say art imitates life. I would like to walk a path feeling a life and recreating stories in lives, evoking emotions and senses to tears of sorrow, joy, love or from sheer laughter. All fear did for me was rob (though some fear might have kept me safe), so I hope I always have the courage to love and live in acceptances of the desires of the heart. I send love to the people who have shared a relationship with me and listened about my work recently and from the past. Know that your words left a little imprint in my journey.
Perhaps that one graduation trip I took showed me that taking a risk and going with my heart can turn out okay. That’s love right? You never really know, but you give all or nothing, rather than looking back thinking “shoulda coulda woulda”.
I do love my job. Acting is where my heart is for now. Is it scary? Sure, but I am still glad I chose it! So I guess you will see me around!Ã‚ Writing this was therapeutic Ã¢â‚¬” though I am sure it is not the most accurate picture of the last few years of my working life Ã¢â‚¬” but it will have to do.