It’s difficult enough to face an audience night after night, as you’re standing under the spotlights of the stage. Now imagine having to do that, alongside pop star Kit Chan. That’s exactly what George Chan will be doing in the up-coming musical, December Rains.
Of course, he’s got more than enough experience to take it all in his stride – having worked overseas in the Netherlands for seven years, he performed in more than 2000 shows, including roles in the original cast of Bob Fosse’s Chicago, AIDA, Miss Saigon and Saturday Night Fever.
Now that he’s back, we caught up with George to find out a little more about the things the drive him.
A lot of people go abroad to get experience different things, so what was it like working in the Netherlands, and now here?
Well, the impulse to leave was about change and new challenges, so when I got there I stayed there for seven years. And if you think about it, seven years doing the same thing is a long time. So in the end it was the same inspiration that led me back to Singapore.
For theatre, when you sign a contract, you do one show for a year, eight shows a week. It got tiring to just do one show. So it felt good to come back and do different productions and try and do different things. And of course, to be with my friends and family again.
Netherlands is kind of an interesting choice, why there?
It all started when I went to London – I’d saved enough money to go there for three months. My plan was to just holiday and go for auditions at so I stayed and had a look around. , London is very gray, so when I found out they were running the same production in the Netherlands, I decided to go over and do it there.
You sing, you act and you dance, is there anything you can’t do but would love to be able to?
I wish I could develop the skill of painting. I think it’s a wonderful way of expressing yourself artistically, since I was young. I never really got into it, but maybe I had formal training I would do it.
You’ve already achieved quite a lot, what else will you be doing next?
I’m trying directing now, mostly cheor at the moment. More loose productions, I was SAF drama and for artistic director. I thought cheor and directing so closely related, I always had ideas how the show should be running while doing cheor. I’m directing the hossan leong show. So this year has been full of new things. All the stuff I’ve done this year is very different, challenge in different ways. I did full monty, and it was such a great constrast to December rain (which I started rehearsing) jumping in and out of character. Then I’m doing crazy Christmas show, all very different.
Being in theatre, you often have to work on more than one project on a time, do you find it very confusing?
I prefer not to overlap my projects. I find it hard to focus when there are so many different things happening. I took Full Monty because it was a light role and not physically demanding, so it was okay to do that with December Rains. The only time I overlapped was when I was working full-time and took up a role. That was too tough. It was basically: go to work, then go to rehearsal, and then repeat. I had no life and got no pleasure out of it. I was on-stage but so tired and but at the same time still had to push myself. So I decided that I can’t do both sides and go on one path. So I try to focus on just one job, instead of trying to balance because in the end you lose out on the experience.
Tell us more about December Rain.
It’s a production done after the first time 10 years ago, when it was the first Mandarin musical staged in Singapore, written by Liang Ren Fu. He started the trend for local musicals and Toy Factory, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary, wanted to use this show to celebrate.
The story spans across the 1950s to 1980s and includes a lot of historical background to Singapore – riots, and all that. When it moves to the 1980s, and you see the young people in love and their ideals and dreams and how things have changed. It’s interesting to play someone over a span of 30 years
How did you get involved?
I got involved when (director) Goh Boon Teck gave me a call, but I was still in at the (SAF) Music and Drama Company, so actually first said no. At that point I just didn’t want to do more than one project at a time. Eventually he called me again, and asked if I was still interested. At that point, I had already decided to move on from the Music and Drama Company, so I said yes. They had actually started casting more than a year ago for the roles.
The story is quite interesting, so tell us more about your character in the play.
I’m playing a character called in Yin Xiong, which quite literally means hero. The names give a hint about themselves, like Ming Li, who’s more composed and reasoned. It’s about his ideas and his youth and how he dreams about making changes, and how staying in Singapore as a poor Chinese student wouldn’t get him anywhere. He wants to go to China to rebuild a new China there. He’s a guy who’s lost his parents at a young age and is living with his uncle but isn’t treated well. It’s this background that makes him a much harder person. When he meets Li Qing, that’s Kit Chan’s character, it’s love at first sight. And then he has to decide whether he wants to stay with her and lead a more ordinary life or make changes and do what he dreams about. This decision will carry with him till 30 years later.
Now, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know about.
I speak Dutch? [We told him it wasn’t counted, since he lived in the country for seven years]. What else? I don’t eat fruits that are cooked. It’s weird! Like in French cuisine – I don’t know I just find it so unappetising. It’s just weird for fruits to be hot and cooked.
Read our interview with December Rains lead Kit Chan here.
December Rains is on from August 6 – 15 at the Esplanade Theatre. Click here for all the details.