Tan Kheng Hua Produces a Theatre Variety Show Inspired by the Singapore Girl

Beautiful, elegant… and stereotypically subservient? What is your perception of the Singapore Girl? More than just a flight stewardess, she is a national icon that’s globally recognised, having earned a spot in Madame Tussaud’s museum in London alongside Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton. Clearly, the Singapore Girl represents something much bigger than herself.

Putting this well-loved icon under the microscope, The Substation’s Singapore Girl, Or Heritage Deployed (an on-going, year-long programme) features a smorgasbord of events, the latest of which takes the form of a theatre variety show. Organised by local actress Tan Kheng Hua of Phua Chu Kang and Crazy Rich Asians, “She’s A Great Way To Fly” runs from October 26 to November 4.

Expect a diverse series of acts packed into one night, including a yoga sequence in an SQ kebaya (which was originally designed by French fashion icon Pierre Balmain in 1968), a performance lecture exploring the uniform as a text, and a short film, play, musical and dance pieces inspired by this singular subject.

We speak to the woman behind this unorthodox pastiche of a production to find out more about her collaboration with The Substation, as well as the importance of unpacking cultural portraits, such as the Singapore Girl, that we’ve embraced for such a long time.

Popspoken: How did the collaboration with Substation come about?

Kheng Hua: I am good friends with and have great respect for Alan Oei, who is the creative director of The Substation. He shared with me the themes of what Substation was working on for “Singapore Girl, Or Heritage Deployed” and I was sold.

PS: Where did the idea for a variety show come from?

KH: I immediately felt like curating different types of expressions and perspectives of the theme on different artistic platforms, and that’s why I asked this motley crew on board. I also have known and loved the works and attitudes of this gang for some time now and wanted to see their craft and to also be with them because they are really good and inspiring company!

PS: How did you put together these acts?

KH: In my job and lifestyle, I have the pleasure and privilege of being in contact with and seeing what many different artistes are doing in Singapore. I always know what I like and these artistes were part of my immediate likes and have stayed on my wish list of people I would like to work with. Once I appointed them, I pretty much left them to their own devices and only polished slightly because they are all so good at what they do. My only real work is to bring them all together into one cohesive show.

PS: What was your perception of the SQ Girl before embarking on this project?

KH: I have to say that until today, I do feel a great sense of comfort flying SQ. I do feel though that the real life Singapore Girls are not really like the SQ Girl brand we have been presented with all these years on the ads for SIA. That said, real life Singapore Girls are undeniable and they will find their way to present their real selves to you if you are really interested in them!

PS: Why is it important to explore and unpack this subject at this juncture?

KH: Why not? It is always good to remind people they have the option to question what has been fed to them as national icons. You can reject national icons if you want! Or you can love and support them too, if you want. People need to be reminded they have a choice.

She’s A Great Way To Fly

Date: Oct 26-28, and Nov 2-4
Venue: The Substation
Time: 8pm to 11pm
Admission: From $15 (Concessions available. Get your tickets here.)

Photographs courtesy of The Substation


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