Saturday, 12 January 2013 08:15

Judee Tan: Zen and Zany

The theatre thespian talks about fame, big dreams, and her new challenge as a choreographer in an upcoming musical theatre production called Glass Anatomy

Text: Joanna Goh
Photos: Louis Teo & Joanna Goh
Video: Teng Siew Eng

Judee Tan

From her comical getups and cheeky impersonations on television and on stage, we were half-expecting plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and witty banter during our interview with Judee Tan. But minimal laughs were all we got in return. That, and a renewed impression of the funny lady who caught us off-guard with her candour and grounded personality.

Yes, beneath Judee's satirical jokes and zany persona lies a very principled and unassuming woman who lives by - what we would like to call - a "Zen-like" mantra (her mentality).

For one, she's so focused and aware of her surroundings that nothing fazes her - not fame (or the lack thereof), new challenges or obstacles in life. And then we remarked at how "Zen", or rather, blasé she is, Judee wondered a-loud, "Is that Zen? Or is that the Ah Lian-ness in me coming out? (Chuckles) I don't know," and then she goes on to talk about confronting obstacles in life...

Her journey to mainstream fame and salad days as a budding theatre artiste might explain for Judee's sensible self today. These personal experiences, which the funny girl aptly summarised as "all my misfortunes and mishaps", are the main influencers to the kind of work she does today.

Take for example her character 'Teochew Mui' in The Hossan Leong Show.

Judee Tan and the cast of Glass Anatomy

The cast of Glass Anatomy at the press conference for the upcoming musical production

"TCM is a very real part of me. A real part caricatured or dramatised for theatre. She really came out of my own desperation - so do you see how it all came about now?" said Judee at her interview in the Tower Club.

"It's important for me and it has to come from me so that I keep it real between myself and the audience."

And keeping it real will be exactly what she intends to do for her latest role as Shen Ni, a villainess in upcoming musical theatre production 'Glass Anatomy'. To put it crudely: Judee will unleash her "inner bitch" for the role.

"I'm sure in all our minds we have all sorts of funny and bitchy thoughts when you're in the queue or on the phone. So it's not difficult for me to imagine that," she said with a grin.

Judee Tan

When we broached the topic of her recent brush with stardom brought on by TV appearances on Ch5's The Noose, the grateful actress explained that she sees it as something "people have generated for me" as opposed to something "I created".

"If you think about it, I have been doing the same work for a long time, but it was the publicity from The Noose that made it [fame] happen. I try to keep myself aware of such things all the time so that I can keep myself grounded in such an industry."

Zen-ed yet? Here's 5 take-home quotes we picked up from our interview with the funny chick. Watch her interview clip below for more!

On obstacles in life:
"Sometimes when you're faced with a wall, I'm the kind of person who prefers to go 'hey, let's see what I do with it' as opposed to running away from it."

On her first try at choreography for Glass Anatomy:
"Freaks the hell out of me but from all that, I think we can draw something from it. No matter what kind of emotions, it's a life force, it's energy - be it anxiety of joy - it is energy. And when there's energy, there's gonna be something. "

"As artistes we are on stage and we have all the chance to say: get out of your box, your comfort zone, dream big, do this - but where does it all stop? It doesn't just stop at the ability to perform, to sing well or whatever. It starts or it stops right at the point of your personal challenge, I think. It's great for us to do this [Glass Anatomy], get out of our comfort zones and say 'let's give it a shot'.

On life in general:
"I feel like in this world we are surrounded by all these tall buildings we have lost the sense of touch and the sense of feel. I have to reeducate myself because I don't want to live my life not knowing how it feels like to feel pain or to feel joy."

"I have friends or family members who have moved on and I see how people just carry on with life [after their passing]. I ask myself: 'how do I carry on?' Then I realised that laughing or smiling through it is the way. We have to give ourselves a balance. It's all about the balance - laugh at yourself; don't take it so seriously.

Catch Glass Anatomy at The Esplanade Theatre when it opens on May 3. Tickets priced at S$69, S$89, S$109 and S$129 are available at all SISTIC outlets now. Glass Anatomy is presented by Toy Factory Productions and co-stars Mandopop queen Della Ding, Judee Tan, Julius Foo, Audrey Luo, Sugie Phua, Rayve Tay and Jeffrey Low.


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