One Small Voice: Ruby Lim-Yang

Published on 23 June 2015

Three decades after establishing Children’s Theatre in Singapore, ACT 3 International’s Ruby Lim-Yang says we’re ready for the next step.

ACT 3 pioneered children’s theatre in Singapore in 1984, but I would say our country only started to embrace it as part of our culture in the last two decades. With infrastructure, hardware and funding put in place around the 1990s, new children’s theatre companies started springing up and an audience started to grow.

Today it’s quite popular to have, on the school calendar, a trip to the Esplanade or Drama Centre. It’s not necessary to knock on schools’ doors, asking to perform during assembly, something we did for 10-odd years! Arts education in schools has been a key turning point and has slowly but surely led to the growth of an arts-going culture among the young.

Looking back, the Singapore Youth Festival also played a wonderful role, creating interest in attracting young performers. To me, these are all milestones, early building blocks. With these in place, I think we’re now ready for the next step in our development.

When ACT 3 International was invited to do children’s programming for the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to introduce the Children-for-Children project, a platform for young performers to perform for young audiences, using content by Asian authors. Children’s Theatre is conventionally performed by adults for children. But with our current network in schools and our team of experienced drama teachers, we now have a resource base of young performers nurtured for Children’s Theatre.

In terms of content, there has been a dabbling in Asian stories but nothing formalised or sustained. The inclination has always been towards western stories, like fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. From a business point of view, popular titles sell. It’s a major risk to mount something with an unknown title. More so, an unknown Asian title because parents themselves are less aware of Asian stories.

But today, we have a growing pool of published works by Asian authors. With the AFCC partnership, we explored a whole range of books for dramatic possibilities, to see if conflicts in the narratives were substantial enough to go from page to stage. Alongside western content, there is a place for Asian content. In this inaugural Children-for-Children project, we focused on Singapore writers. But the Asian content world is so big — original stories from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Myanmar — and so rich! Now, our children can be nurtured on such Asian content.

Times have changed. Over the years, the level of sophistication of young audiences has gone up many notches. We can’t just do what we did 10 years ago for children today. They look for a variety of stimulation. Today, we incorporate visual arts and other genres to make a piece of theatre. But although our methods are different, I think we’ve kept to the core intention of why we do this: to engage a child through theatre.

Ruby Lim-Yang is the artistic director of ACT 3 International, Singapore’s foremost professional theatre company focused on the young. In 1994, the company established ACT 3 Drama Academy to provide drama enrichment classes for children, and Lim-Yang continues to be an active arts practitioner and advocate for the importance of arts education. She has sat on the Arts Resource Panel of the National Arts Council (NAC) and served as artistic director of KIDSFEST, which ACT 3 International co-presented with NAC as part of the then-Singapore Arts Festival (2004-2006). 

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