One Small Voice: Jeremiah Choy

Published on 19 January 2016

In an era when the arts were not seen as viable career options, how did today’s pioneering generation of practitioners start out? Former lawyer Jeremiah Choy shares his journey.

INTERVIEW BY DAPHNE ONG

It has been a huge circle for me. I now consider myself a full-time freelance art-maker, more of a creative director, curator and producer.

I had always been interested in drama and the arts, even when I was in school. While in university, I was a dancer, choreographer and choir member before I was involved in Singaporean director Ong Keng Sen’s Oedipus Rex in 1987. It was in 1988 that I was invited to join Beauty World, my first association with TheatreWorks, and the rest — as they say — is history.

From 1988 onwards, I was very involved in TheatreWorks and William Teo’s Asia In Theatre Research Circus. It was like holding two jobs, being a lawyer in the day and rushing off to rehearsals in the evenings.

Theatre did not pay well at all at that time. It did not matter then, as the notion of a ‘full-time’ theatre practitioner was alien. We all had our day jobs. Then, in the mid-1990s, things began to change. There were more and more brave souls who decided that they should venture out and make theatre a full-time job, and theatre companies were flourishing.

It was in 1997, when I was asked to participate in a six-country collaboration of Lear which was going to tour Asia and Europe, that I decided to take two years off work as a lawyer. But the two years became 18 years!

More and more of us felt that it was no longer viable for us to hold two jobs. For me, it was easy: I love law, but I felt that I could always come back to it later in my life. But as an art practitioner, I had to let the moment seize me.

In 1997, I started my events and production company Orangedot to take on jobs and projects to supplement my income as an actor. It was my commercial way of bringing my artistic visions to life.
I had deliberately chosen not to start a theatre company but, instead, used my company to do theatre in a corporate way.

The theatre scene has definitely changed, and for the better. While practitioners still complain that they are not being paid enough (which is true), it is now possible to be a full-time freelance arts practitioner.

However, we still have to change mindsets — as practitioners, we must educate our clients and let them know that we matter, and that we should be paid reasonably. We need to have courage to walk away from projects that don’t pay. We need to create jobs for ourselves rather than complain that there is not enough work. We need to be more entrepreneurial in nature. We need more value than volume, quality than quantity in our mindset.

Jeremiah Choy is a freelance, full-time creative director, curator and producer. In 2015, he was the creative director of several productions and events including Spotlight Singapore in Mexico City, Singapore Day in Shanghai,  The Studios Fifty: Gender and Sexuality, the May Day Rally, Sing50, ChildAid 2015 — Be the Light, and Suntec City Countdown 2016. He is a founding member and president of the Association of Singapore Actors, and a recipient of the inaugural Outstanding Kent Ridge Hall Alumni Award.
PHOTO
Eddie Sung

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