Don't leave it to ‘Singapore Idol’ or ‘Star Search’ to show you that Singapore's got talent. We put the spotlight on some fresh, fervent faces with skills in everything from performance poetry, to pole dance, quirky art, stand-up comedy and more, so you can catch them strutting their stuff before these shooting stars disappear into the stratosphere.
Deborah Emmanuel / Poet
Deborah Emmanuel is one of Singapore's still-scarce performance poets, using piercing, rhythmic prose to turn speech itself into pure powerful performance – no need for pyrotechnics. This pretty girl has a gritty mind and she's not afraid to say what she thinks in her deceptively sweet voice – whether about God, or what's wrong with Singapore.
Claim to fame: She's been invited to perform at Causeway Exchange Festival KL, and has mouthed off at Singapore Art Salon, ContraDiction and TEDx Singapore.
She says: “The spoken word has lots of energy; it just has a lot fewer frills. In essence, all forms of performance are the same...we tell stories. The spoken word just is a bit more personal because you often perform your own story.”
Catch if you can: Emmanuel co-organises a monthly spoken-word performance open-mic night at Home Club called SPEAK, every third Monday of the month, 8pm. She's always at the poetry slam ($5 cash cover) on at Blu Jaz Café, 8pm every last Thursday of the month too, either hosting or participating. Read new poems still sizzling from her keyboard at her website.
Tay Weiliang / Dancer
A mesmerising dancer with a seemingly liquid body, Tay Weiliang has barely turned 25 but looks about 18. He's also danced in everything from operas to musicals to arts festivals, from Singapore to India, China, Korea and Japan. He's adding another feather to his cap by taking up pole dance and becoming one of the few male pole dancers in Singapore.
Claim to Fame: He was the choreographic mastermind, as well as a dancer and actor, for Singapore's spectacular in the prestigious World Expo 2012, staged in Yeosu, Korea. Tay is also the unofficial resident mover/choreographer at experimental theatre company Cake Theatrical Productions, where you might have caught his feats in ‘Flower Nymphs’, ‘Spring Surprise’, the Decimal Points series, and the recent ‘One Day In This Place’.
He says: “When I started off my first choreography stint with CAKE Theatrical Productions, I was intimidated working with seasoned artistes twice my age. Now, we workshop together and are actually learning from one another.”
Catch if you can: Tay will mainly be in overseas performances this year, but if you'd like to see one of Singapore's few emerging male pole dancers in action, head to the pole trials and showcases at Acro Polates (Address: #02-29 Waterloo Centre, 261 Waterloo Street | Tel: 63342382). The next pole trial is on 31 July. Register here
Padma Krishnan / Stage Actor
While showbiz has its share of sexy starlets, there are lots of fine, feisty roles for people other than sweet young things. Padma Krishnan is a 62 year-old fresh face who's been filling those roles with pizzazz. Beginning drama studies at the tender age of 50-plus, she has gone on to perform on the professional stage and television, even starting her own seniors’ theatre group.
Claim to fame: If you were one of the lucky ones who managed to get a ticket to the completely sold-out run of ‘October’ by The Necessary Stage last year, she played one of the indomitable elderly residents. Audiences may remember her character's sassy exchange with a fellow resident who was less than thrilled with the smell of her curry.
You might have also seen her on various heartland stages in skits for public education campaigns, watched her on local TV on ‘Incredible Tales’ or ‘Letters to Heaven’, read her ‘Cookbook for South Indian Cuisine’, or seen her performing at events in the National Library or The Esplanade.
She says: “There is no limit to what a senior citizen can do. It's all in the mind. Don't let your age or your personality deter you from living your dream. Dare to dream and make each day count.”
Rishi Budhrani and Sharul Channa / Stand-up Comedians
It's lonely at the top, so it's nice that two of the local leading young stand-up comedians have found each other. Rishi Budhrani and Sharul Channa are a comedian couple tickling audiences both individually and together, and both on our shores as well as on other continents.
Even non-comedy club regulars might have seen Budharani at sold-out events like the ‘Sons of Singapore’ at Beerfest Asia, or at the Singapore Theatre Festival 2012. As for Channa, she holds a title nobody can take away: she's Singapore's first ever Indian female stand-up comic, with numerous live shows and web videos under her belt.
Claim to Fame: With Budharani now the first Singaporean to have won the Hong Kong Annual Comedy Competition, New York City is next: part of the prize for the competition is that Budharani will perform at top comedy clubs there in October.
They say: “Doing stand-up comedy is like bungee jumping naked: You put your self-esteem in the hands of the audience completely, with no safety net.”
Catch if you can: They perform most Tuesday to Thursday nights at Home Club or Blu Jaz café. Channa performs her sets at Kumar's shows on Thursdays at Home Club and Saturdays at Still Bar.
Magdalene Koh / Dancer
For someone only beginning serious dance classes at the relatively late age of 17, this twenty-something hasn't been doing too badly for herself. Talent spotted by directors for her fervidly passionate moves, this jazz/hiphop/contemporary dancer began choreographing major productions at 24, such as ‘December Rains’ starring Kit Chan in 2010 and the sensational ‘Equus’ in 2011.
Claim to Fame: She recently joined Singapore Dance Delight, the local Asian arm of one of the biggest international street dance competitions Japan Dance Delight, attracting thousands of audiences and contestants. You might also have seen Koh in extravagant costumes in mega-musicals such as ‘December Rains’ and ‘881’.
She says: “I hope that younger dancers will find courage to step out their comfort zones and venture into other styles. Don't be afraid! If we keep doing what we're most comfortable or best at, we will never be able to grow. But when things are hard, that’s when we learn.”
Catch if you can: She teaches hip-hop at Jitterbugs Swingapore. Alternatively, catch her in showgirl mode dancing in magic extravaganza ‘Vision’ this September.
Ethel Yap / Stage Actor & Singer
Proving that nice girls can finish first is sweet-faced, petite Ethel Yap. Freshly back and wide-eyed from her musical theatre studies in London last year, this earnest young singer-songwriter/actress has risen meteorically to performing with the Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan, and landing the leading female role in W!ld Rice's annual end-of-year pantomime. Such roles have previously been filled by popstar Sylvia Ratonel and late theatre great, Emma Yong.
Claim to Fame: Yap starred in the two-person musical ‘The Last Five Years’; and although it was an unpaid production with a community theatre group, she gave her all. Her lovely lilting voice won her good reviews and standing ovations, leading to awesome offers.
You might also have seen Yap playing the melodic Miss Teo on Okto's TV ‘Musical After School’, or performing both jazz classics and her folk/acoustic-pop originals with regional musicians at the recent event Jazz Up.
She says: “Being a 'starting, starving artist' in Singapore has really taken me on a very unexpected journey – starting small isn't always a bad thing. You never know where or when you will be blessed with the most valuable life experiences, so being humble and open-minded can go a long way!”
Catch if you can: Catch her on ‘Jack & The Beansprout’ by W!ld Rice at the end of 2013.
Samuel Chen / Artist
Art can be intimidating or it can be fun, and while Samuel Chen has a difficult-to-define style, he seems to subscribe decidedly to the latter. For example, he's created neatly packaged parcels you can open to discover random and bizarre objects, for his project ‘Inconvenience Store’ – as opposed to Convenience store, get it?
Claim to Fame: Oddly enough, there's a highly publicised artwork named after Chen that's not, or at least not completely, by him. 'The Bag of Samuel Chen', a collaboration between himself and established art collective Vertical Submarine, references Chen as an art student harbouring a vehement disagreement with abstract paintings, who wants to set off a bomb at an art show opening to spew all the works there with paint.
Other cool creations include paintings made painstakingly and convincingly like self-portraits of old masters (but really by Chen) at Art Stage 2013, and lush epicurean oil paintings of foods such as prata.
He says: “If I could stop, I would. But that impulse to sketch, to make drawings and sometimes to paint... I find these hard to put down.”
Catch if you can: ‘The Goodman Bunker’, a deliberately obsolete concrete bunker Chen created with art collective the Black Baroque Committee, as a reaction to modern warfare. Discover fresh sketches which might develop into full scale works here.
Eden Ang / Multi-disciplinary artist
People who can act, sing and dance are labelled triple-threats, but there's no label we know of for someone like Eden Ang – except maybe awesome. An actor, singer and prize-winning B-Boy who plays the piano, clarinet, saxophone, guitar and drums, as well as being a New Zealand Karate Champion, this twenty-something has a super CV indeed.
Claim to Fame: You might have seen Eden as the endearingly awkward Moritz in 2012 hit musical ‘Spring Awakening’ (he's the one in the poster doing a mid-air split), or just executing backflips and other terrifyingly awesome B-Boy stunts as one of the Rockafella Streetboys at Universal Studios Singapore.
He says: “I love B-boying because it inspires, and I love acting as a form of entertainment that pulls people into a fantasy world and saves them from everyday life. I want to spread the gospel that way too.”
Catch if you can: On TV as the too-cool-for-school Matt in Okto's ‘Dream School’ seasons 1 and 2, or as the judge of several dance competitions. If not, go see his bombastic B-Boying at Universal Studios Singapore.
Edric Hsu/ Artist
Edric Hsu used to be a well-paid architect, but left his job designing new buildings in favour of making sure the good old things aren't forgotten. He now sketches pictures of buildings with interesting histories, often not long before they are slated for demolition or redevelopment. As part of his nod to the past, he has also been dabbling in traditional Chinese puppetry.
Claim to Fame: This artist is pretty easy on the eye himself, so you might also recognise him from advertisements for KFC, Starhub, and an almost interminable list of high profile clients, and onstage most recently as an actor/shadow puppeteer in ‘Lao Jiu the Musical’.
Art-wise, Edric is a member of international artist collective Urban Sketchers, and has had his work exhibited at URA Gallery and ION Gallery, and published in the ‘Urban Sketchers Singapore Volume 1’ and ‘We <3 Tiong Bahru’ compilation books.
He says: “People often asked me why I decided to quit my high-paying architecture job (to draw them) a decade ago. One reason is, I love our old buildings too much, yet cannot save them.”
Catch if you can: ‘Romance of Mistakes’ by Paper Monkey Theatre, a Mandarin musical featuring traditional puppetry. Also look out for compilations of his charming sketches due on bookshelves this year, including a series of works sketched on used parking coupons.
Windson Liong / Opera Singer
Singapore doesn't quite have its answer to classical singing boy-band Il Divo, but it just recently got back Windson Liong, the boyish lead of ambitious, youth-targeted new musical/opera by the Singapore Lyric Opera, ‘Pursuant’. This radical new work is set in a future Singapore where dreaming is banned, and where a teenage boy must find The Old Man whose dream inspired the nation into being.
Claim to Fame: Liong is freshly returned from a collaboration with the legendary American-Chinese actor BD Wong, workshopping a new play under Wong's direction. Before that, he worked in London, performing in everything from Off-Broadway performances and one-man cabarets, to experimental theatre collaborations with Romanian playwrights.
He says: “In my opinion, performance feeds the soul. People have at least a favourite song that holds special memories and significance – it makes them cry or laugh or be pensive. Such is the power of music, performance and art! We would all just be productive robots without them.”