Profile: Zizi Azah

Published on 3 August 2015

Playwright and director Zizi Azah can’t keep away from the stage

BY DAPHNE ONG

Mild-mannered and unassuming, Zizi Azah is the understated image of a rising Singapore-theatre powerhouse. The 2012 Young Artist Award recipient was artistic director of homegrown theatre company Teater Ekamatra for five years before moving to the United States with her family.

She began her theatre adventures as a 19 year-old crew member pushing a sampan on and off stage for the musical Chang & Eng before spending the next few years juggling a degree course in Philosophy and Sociology with freelance backstage and technical work. “Crew, lighting operator, props assistant… anything I could get my hands on, just so I could be in rehearsal rooms and in the theatre,” says Zizi of her early years.

When she started stage-managing for The Necessary Stage, she picked up the finer points of playwriting and directing. This, was in addition to the invaluable experience gained working with Teater Ekamatra veterans like Noor Effendy Ibrahim, Alin Mosbit and Fared Jainal.
Her first original full-length play, How Did the Cat Get So Fat?, set her on the path to playwriting and directing. She has numerous innovative works under her belt, including Nadirah, Charged, In Search of Wonderland and Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. The story of a city in chaos, Rhinoceros is one of the productions she is proudest of, being a new director at the time and a huge Ionesco fan.

With a career in full steam, moving to America was tough for her. “I love working in theatre and it’s impossible for me to do that in the US,” she says, explaining how, on the other side of the globe, she is a full-time stay-at-home mum caring for her young daughter while her husband pursues his postgraduate degree.

Zizi is currently back in Singapore to direct two projects. “When I was first asked to direct a play for Esplanade’s The Studios: Fifty, I literally wept because I miss being in the rehearsal room so much,” she shares. Her interpretation of Tan Tarn How’s The Lady of Soul and Her Ultimate “S” Machine was staged in May this year.

As part of the Esplanade’s Pesta Raya — Malay Festival of Arts, Zizi is currently directing Yusof, a play about the life and times of Singapore’s first President. “I was intrigued by how Yusof Ishak was one of three prominent politicians in his family… I wanted to find out what about this family made the brothers such fiery and impassioned politicians. The play is a biopic of sorts, looking at the high and low points of his life, but also at his family and how that influenced the man he became.

I feel it’s important to know about the man whose image is on our currency notes!”

Yusof plays 13-16 August at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets available from Sistic.

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