One Small Voice: Nelson Chia

Published on 26 April 2016

More than just benefiting the individual, training brings a community together, says Nine Years Theatre artistic director Nelson Chia.

INTERVIEW BY DAPHNE ONG

The greatest challenge for actors is that the environment is not conducive to training. All actors believe in and support training, but the reality is that they need to keep working to earn a living. With Nine Years Theatre (NYT), we not only have the structure and content for training within our own artistic work, we also extend and share this training with the larger community of actors. This builds community, which is mutually beneficial.

Why does NYT have this training focus? The training ensures consistency in how the world is presented on stage, and upholds a standard in our productions. Secondly, NYT’s work is grounded in the actor’s craft rather than other things like set or directorial concepts. Lastly, it is integral in the sense that the actor cultivates a sensibility in every aspect of the production.

Within our classes — namely Suzuki method, Viewpoints, directing, and Mandarin speech — there is transference of knowledge, but after that, how can you continue the practice of that knowledge? How can we create a platform for practice?

I believe that with these methods, particularly Suzuki and Viewpoints (which we have borrowed to become the core training methods in NYT), you can only see the benefits after a certain period of training. During classes, there is only time for the mind to learn these methods, but long-term practice is required for the body to learn to a certain depth.

Training gives us the chance to return to zero, to relook at everything afresh. Suzuki is repetitive; there is form and structure, and you keep practising and get better at it. Viewpoints give us a chance to relook at things. We spend less time making judgements and more time adjusting ourselves.

The physical aspect of the training makes us stronger, more able, and hence more creative. Mentally, it gives us more xiu yang, which is to cultivate and train the self. What kind of self do you want to be on stage? How much of your self do you bring into the production?

The feedback we have received tells us the jam sessions have made an impact. It has made people consider and reconsider the notion of training. I think that training gives you space to be with yourself, to nurse your creativity without the pressure of having to produce and create all the time.

There is training, and there’s training together. It is important for the community to come together to train, hence challenging ourselves to share space, among actors, designers and audience. This extends to how we live our lives. In building a society, the first thing we learn is to share physical and cultural space as well as mind space. Is my mind broad enough for me to share a space with you, and to share a part of my mind with you?

NELSON CHIA is an actor, director and theatre educator known for adapting and directing classic and contemporary Western works for Mandarin theatre audiences. He has chalked up two Best Actor and two Best Director wins at the Life Theatre Awards. Chia, who co-founded Nine Years Theatre (NYT) in 2012, has not only revived interest in the classics among Mandarin theatre audiences, he has also raised awareness of training programmes among the acting community. In 2013, he created the NYT Ensemble Project (NYTEP) with an aim to establish a company of ensemble actors who train in a systematic way and create together over an extended period of time.

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