Profile: Monique Wilson

Published on 26 August 2017

While Filipino actress and activist Monique Wilson plays a mother in two major Singaporean theatre productions this year, she hopes to be a nurturing influence on more than just her stage daughters.

By Jo Tan

With a respectable theatrical career that includes a much-applauded stint in Miss Saigon on London’s West End and and numerous awards, it’s no wonder Monique Wilson’s friends have long begged her to return to showbiz. Instead, she’s spent the past few years focusing on activism, primarily as the director of One Billion Rising, a campaign to end violence against women.

Which explains why she has long been unable to justify taking time off to return to the stage. Until, that is, this year, when she spends over four months in Singapore, to perform in The Great Wall — One Woman’s Journey (which just ended its run) and Fun Home, back to back. “Although I haven’t done a musical in at least five years, I couldn’t say no to these,” she says. “I am 47, and I have been doing theatre since I was nine. But I just wasn’t finding many shows created by women with really strong empowered women characters.”

Written by playwright Jean Tay and produced by Grace Low, the original Singaporean musical The Great Wall is about Chinese legendary heroine Meng Jiang Nu, who takes a lone journey across China to find her husband and face-off against a tyrannical emperor. The award-winning Broadway musical Fun Home, meanwhile, is adapted by two female creatives from comic artist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name, and makes its Singapore premiere under director Tracie Pang. It tells of a girl in a small American town who struggles to reconcile her sexuality with social mores, especially when her father commits suicide after spending decades grappling with his own sexual identity.

The two shows are very different, says Wilson, “but they tell the same fundamental truths about people being confined in an artificial gender binary that dictates how we behave, how vulnerable men should be, how independent women should be. The mothers I play are also different. In The Great Wall, she is a nurturing example to her daughter, while in Fun Home, she inhibits her own freedom to ensure that her daughter has a chance to escape from her own paradigm. But both use their own ways to make sure that the younger generation of women don’t go through the struggles they had to.”

The fact that there are different ways to further a cause is what persuaded Wilson to finally end her performing hiatus. “The 2018 theme for One Billion Rising is ‘Revolution’, and it’s up to us determine what revolution is. Every day at rehearsals, I think, this is part of the revolution. While I can’t attend any rallies or protests in the Philippines while working in Singapore, I know how influential a good show can be in changing people’s minds. Activists rally people, but artists can also sing songs, write poetry, create music. We can take things to a different level and touch people’s hearts.”

Catch Wilson in the musical Fun Home (29 Sep-15 Oct) at the Drama Centre Theatre.

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