Monday, February 18, 2013

Don't cry for me, Sergeant Tina

One day, I ran off to join the circus and when I came back, part of the circus came back with me. Back then, I was young, energetic and didn't know what I wanted; but I knew what I didn't want: to live according to the usual cycle of drudgery that everyone else seemed destined to live.

What I had to offer was mime. Learning the discipline as a church activity, occasionally taking it out onto the streets (it helped me establish some common ground with my more hellfire-and-brimstone bent brethren), and later honing the craft in an undergrad elective course, it became a crucial aspect in getting my early life back on track again. Through mime, I learned that I didn't have to be good at everything -- I just had to be good in one thing, and then everything else will fall into place around that thing. That thing for me just happened to be mime.

So when I joined the circus, you could have called me a practiced hand already. I joined on a whim, because I knew someone who knew someone who was holding free after-hours classes. I needed the exercise and an excuse to maintain my muscle memory and because working the arts scene was... a different life, here in S'pore almost two decades ago.

Where there is a circus, there is a ringmaster. Tina held centre-ring for us in Mime Unlimited. Beyond the exercises and skills training which she led us in, she encouraged all of us to train each other with what we ourselves had learned from whatever our backgrounds were. We threw in a little yoga, Pilates, Alexander, and later on some of us learned ever more exotic techniques of movement theatre and passed them on to our pool of performers.

Our pool comprised many, like myself who had full-time jobs by day but found time to train, rehearse and perform whenever we could; while many others joined the local professional theatre scene in one capacity or another in time. You could say that Tina clearly had a personal hand in shaping theatre in S'pore with so many current professionals having either trained under her or worked with her at some point in their careers.

So although I joined her merry little band of itinerant mimes with some skillz, Tina opened my eyes to the production aspect of theatre. Working with her on a number of productions showed me that the magic of theatre rested on the hard work of every crew, every talent, every hand working together, coordinated, organized and tick-tock, and yet being prepared for the unexpected because every show is not like any other. Some of us would give 110% to the production, which was great, but Tina could also find a use for those who could only give 20% as long as they gave 100% of their 20%. That kind of welcome valued every contribution and made everyone involved proud to be in the production.

Apart from working on the 'now' of producing shows, she was also very interested in preparing for the future. She played a big part in Drama Education. In the early days, we took shows into the schools. Later we started training school-based drama CCAs and helping them produce their own productions... and that's about the time I left the circus and brought it with me to my current place of employment where I'm doing all I can to carry on what Tina started in building into a new generation a love for theatre, whether as audience members or as contributors in one way or another... or at the very least, to give kids who might never have an opportunity to have a taste of what magic theatre has to offer once, even if they never go back to it again.

And now with Tina's sudden passing, the whole of our country's theatre and arts industry is going to feel the enormity of the vacuum she's left behind. We'll go into a period of shock and sadness for a while. But if Tina's done her job like I know she has, she's already trained a fantastic group of people and influenced many others in such a positive way that we're going to pick up the torch she's been holding up for us all this time and continue running in her place because it's now really our torch to carry.

I'd say this little island owes much more the this crazy American lady (who became as S'porean as any of us) that many of its inhabitants will ever know. Director, teacher, mentor, friend... and in many ways the indirect influence behind many things that have gone right in my life whether she knows it or not, at least this little islander does.

Till we meet again, peace out, Tina!

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