COMPILED BY JOEL TAN
Published on 3 March 2015
KUO PAO KUN
Widely regarded as one of Singapore’s most significant theatre practitioners, the late Kuo Pao Kun was an actor, theatre director, playwright and drama educator. His plays, written in both English and Chinese, are frequently studied and performed today.
Born in China, Kuo moved to Singapore with his family at the age of 10. A student of a branch of Chung Cheng High School, his life in drama began as a broadcaster and part-time actor on local radio stations, including Rediffusion, where he joined the Mandarin Drama Group and started penning radio plays. In 1959, he moved to Australia to work as a translator and later pursued a diploma in production at the National Institute for Dramatic Art, Sydney.
On his return to Singapore, he and his dancer-choreographer wife Goh Lay Kuan opened the Performing Arts School, which benefited from Chinese plays written and directed by Kuo. He also co-founded The Practice Theatre Ensemble, later renamed The Theatre Practice, where he served as Artistic Director until his death in 2002. The 1980s saw him writing several well-received plays in both English and Chinese. His career took a turn with The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole, followed by such landmark works as Mama Looking for Her Cat and Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral, all of which responded critically to socio-political realities in Singapore.
The institutions he founded, including The Substation in 1990, were crucial to creative life in Singapore during the ’80s and ’90s. At his performing arts school and theatre company, he mentored several practitioners who have gone on to become major drivers of the scene: directors like TheatreWorks’ Ong Keng Sen, Action Theatre’s Ekachai Uekrongtham and The Necessary Stage’s Alvin Tan, to name a few.
In 1990, Kuo was awarded the Cultural Medallion.
Eric Khoo is a Singapore film-maker whose output in the 1990s is often credited as having re-energised the local film industry. Khoo classics like Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys have toured over 60 international film festivals and received international acclaim. 12 Storeys earned Khoo an invitation to participate at the 50th Cannes Film Festival, a first for a Singaporean film-maker. His films are still regularly programmed at Cannes. In his work, Khoo often focuses on unglamorous parts of Singapore life. Khoo is also involved in grooming a new generation of movie-makers in Singapore. His company, Zhao Wei Films, partnered with Infinite Studios to start Gorylah Pictures, which supports emerging film talent in Singapore and around the region. For his contributions to Singapore film, Khoo was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2007.
KRETA AYER PEOPLE’S THEATRE
The Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre is the main venue for traditional Chinese opera in Singapore. Starting out as a makeshift stage at the Kreta Ayer Community Centre in the 1960s, it established itself as a proper venue after several fundraising drives. In 1969, the theatre acquired a permanent premises at 30A Kreta Ayer Road, equipped with a stage and an open-air auditorium. Today, the hall seats more than 1,000 audience members and hosts Chinese community events and concerts on top of traditional Chinese opera classics.