10 cool facts about Siti Khalijah and How Did The Cat Get So Fat?

Published on 19 April 2018

A rising actress who embraces the traits that make her stand out, Siti Khalijah divulges that her new production is meant to resonate with people from all walks of life.

By: Andre Frois

The perceptive Siti Khalijah Zainal enjoys playing to the stereotypes in your head, and simultaneously breaking them. Nicknamed the ‘Theatre Minah’, she’s played a pretty convincing Filipino maid and was so persuasive as a Buddhist monk that even frequent theatregoers didn’t recognise her.

She’s pretty familiar with performing solo, but might be facing her toughest challenge yet, in the form of How Did The Cat Get So Fat?, her upcoming production that will be performed in Malay with English subtitles. As the show’s solo actor, she’ll be portraying eight different characters, from a haughty housewife to a domestic helper, and hopes that her learning journey as a thespian and a storyteller have adequately equipped her to win over the audience.

1 – This lead actress doesn’t mind you calling her a ‘theatre minah’.

“I don’t feel that minah is a derogatory term. To me, it just means “Malay female”. There are many smart minahs out there. I played a minah doing well for herself in Gemuk Girls (a past production by The Necessary Stage) too.”

2 – She embraces generalisations as much as she enjoys breaking out of them.

“The minah character is the closest character to my heart. It’s easy for me to slot myself into the character, but it also comes with a limited range of what I can do. When I take on roles like Fahai (an old bald monk in Mama White Snake by W!LD RICE), I get to explore different gestures and different speech patterns in order to convey that character, even before factoring in the script.”

3 – She’s not ashamed of her appearance and doesn’t want her audiences and fellow actors to be ashamed of theirs either.

“Female actors shouldn’t be afraid to portray ‘ugly’ characters. I played a maid in Model Citizen by Haresh Sharma, for example, whose costume was an oversized T-shirt, but I loved the role because it was relatable and meaty.”

4 – Growing up, Siti was the shyest kid.

“I grew up in a family of five: me, my mom and dad, and two elder sisters. Our weekend family activity was karaoke, but I always shied away from the mic. I would be the one singing along or clapping along at the side. I was shy to sing even around my immediate family members, so they were very surprised when I decided to become an actress.”

5 – School skits were what won Siti’s heart.

“Watching school productions during assembly period was what got me interested in performing. I was captivated by the live element of performance, even if the plays were about subjects like saving water or racial harmony, and by how actors had to get the attention of thousands of people sitting on the floor. How Did The Cat Get So Fat? is part of a series called Feed Your Imagination, which is dedicated to school children. Students from various schools will be coming to see one of its afternoon shows, which has been specially reserved for them.”

6 – Most Singaporeans know Siti best from TV, but she wants them to see her on stage too.

“I’ve grown a lot since many people last saw me on television. I am able to take on roles of characters much older than me now, and even personas that exist outside of my circle of family and friends, because I’ve deepened my knowledge of society and become more aware of my surroundings. Singaporeans know me from my comedy roles, but I’d like them to enjoy my work as an all-rounded actor.”

7 – She enjoys the challenge of solo performances and, to prepare for this one, had to dig especially deep.

“I don’t know why I always say yes to them! (laughs) I sometimes feel very lonely and that I have to shoulder all the stress, because I have no co-actors to bounce off lines with or balance out my own energy with. I have to keep monitoring myself! Fortunately, in How Did The Cat Get So Fat?, I’ve been able to give my full trust to director Tan Beng Tian and assistant director Daniel Sim. I play a 10-year-old girl in How Did The Cat Get So Fat?, who meets a whole array of characters, which are actually represented by deconstructed puppets, controlled by me.”

8 – This actually isn’t the first production of How Did The Cat Get So Fat, is it?

“We actually put on How Did The Cat Get So Fat? 12 years ago. It was Zizi (Zizi Azah Bte Abdul Majid)’s first theatre script, but it got nominated for best script and got me nominated for best actress. That opened many, many doors for me. This time, we’re doing everything very differently. For example, my co-actors will be abstract puppets also played by me!” 

9 – This play is dedicated to people from all walks of life.

“Theatre is not as scary as you think. Some people believe the notion that you must be very atas (upperclass) to go to the theatre, but it’s everyday people whom we want to perform for. We are just like our audiences. We share the same experiences and issues, which is why How Did The Cat Get So Fat? features characters like a theme park mascot, an old man, a taxi driver and a social media influencer—people representative of the National Pledge of Singapore and people whom even your uncle or auntie would be able to relate to.”

10 – To best enjoy this play, open your mind and your heart.

“I’m not a political leader and I might not be able to inspire huge change, but I would like my work to touch people’s hearts. I hope audiences open their minds to the words that I say. Sometimes these words can change their mind sets and introduce them to new points of view, which is why I enjoy what I do.”

How Did The Cat Get So Fat? runs at the Esplanade Studios from 19 – 22 April 2018 at 8pm. The performance on Friday, 20 April, includes a post-show talk.

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