A chat with Ivan Heng

With Ivan Heng’s adventures in England and Wild Rice’s latest play coming up, we catch up with this artistic mind

What are your thoughts about how Monkey Goes West takes a different spin on a historical tale?

What Alfian Sa’at as the playwright has done in Monkey Goes West, as we do with all our pantomimes, is to cleverly locate this within a Singapore context.

So the starting point for our story is a Singaporean boy, Ah Tang, who has some issues at home with his adoptive parents. He runs away from home, only to find himself in a magical dreamscape in which he has to undertake his own Journey to the West.

Through this journey, he experiences self-discovery and enlightenment – which is one of the messages of (the original) Journey To The West. He learns about himself, his family’s love for him, and the meaning of home.

Apart from the story itself, this is a brand new musical with an original music score composed by Elaine Chan, and directed by Sebastian Tan. It’s got wushu, snazzy song and dance routines, and an amazing cast.  It’s a family show!

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To you, why is it important to discover young theatre talents?

It is important to invest in the performers and audiences of tomorrow. It is important to provide opportunities and a nurturing environment for them to grow and learn.

Truth be told, we don’t know how many of them will eventually become the Siti Khalijah, Chua Enlai or Sebastian Tan of the future. But the experience of making theatre also imparts important values; where young people learn the meaning of empathy, teamwork and expressing themselves.

Ivan (right) with his husband, Tony Trickett

Tell us about Wild Rice’s focus on honing young talents. How do you seek them out and nurture them?

Children enjoy watching children performing on stage; it’s fun and inspiring and they relate and identify with the story and themselves.

We hold public auditions every year, and young talents from the age of 5 – 11 are identified. They go through singing, dancing and acting classes and rehearsals. At some stage in the process, they begin to rehearse alongside professional actors, and finally perform in the same company with them.

What also makes the First Stage programme very different from the usual one-off school performances and concerts is that each child to perform at least 14 shows. Performing again and again before a live audience enables the young performer to grow and learn in leaps and bounds.

What advice do you have for kids and young adults who want to explore theatre acting and production?

Go for it. With all your heart. And have FUN!