Seen in Checkpoint Theatre‘s recent production of Eat Duck among many other stage productions in Singapore this year, one can readily say that Victoria Chen is on her way to becoming a familiar face in the industry. A School of the Arts (SOTA) alumnus who recently graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with the Principal’s Award for All-Round Excellence in the School of Drama, Dance, Production and Screen, she is definitely more than her academic achievements and experiences.
Armed with an amazing sense of humour and humility, Victoria is here to act, direct and make her own theatrical works about issues she stands for. 2020 will be the year of her directorial debut with Three Little Girls, a multidisciplinary experience that highlights the intersection of empowerment, religion and technology specifically in the Southeast Asian female sex industry.
Popspoken: Share with us when you decided that you are going to be an all-round artiste in the local theatre industry.
Victoria Chen: I wouldn’t say I’m an all-around artiste, but the decision to truly pursue an arts-related career came after I was accepted into drama school. Before that I’d been rather unsure. I had graduated from SOTA with decent academic results and so it was strongly encouraged that I pursue a career that stretched my potential, and at that time I had a strong interest in serving community and helping people. But somehow nothing felt right. Then, when the drama school I eventually attended offered me a scholarship as well—despite only having ever seen a video audition—I realised that there were professionals who believed that I could make a career out of this, and so I did too. Now, I get to serve communities as well through various creative means, and that’s what I love so much about the work I do.
Popspoken: Do you think your education overseas gave you a new perspective of what theatre and performance can be locally?
Victoria Chen: Definitely! There’s something to learn from every city and community. My first experience of that was in 2009 when I trained with Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre in Brisbane via SOTA’s overseas immersion program. There were 9 of us who went, and the rest of the class went to Chicago. When we returned, you could see a stark difference in the attitudes and approaches between students who’d gone to Brisbane and Chicago. We’d all expected to resume the semester as if nothing had changed, but we were clearly affected by our overseas experiences. Through a vulnerable reflection and sharing process, we combined the best of both experiences and developed a stronger identity as a class.
Since then, I’d been yearning for more international experiences and I’ve been so fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, where the hard work I put in results in more opportunities to work and train in different cities. Having returned to Singapore, I feel that while our cultural landscape is very young, we are starting to develop distinct and unique voices, and as long as we continue to honour our roots and trust in the performance makers here, our homegrown works are indeed worthy of international recognition. I think SOTA’s since formed partnerships with various local arts groups to provide learning opportunities for their students, and I find that bridging of worlds essential to growing the arts scene here.
Popspoken: How do you define success for yourself, with the work that you are doing or hope to do?
Victoria Chen: I love the work I do tremendously and I’m so thankful for it everyday. The definition of success has changed for me as I acquire more experience. Right now, I believe success is when I can choose the work I do, do it well and do it constantly. It’s not something I can achieve on my own; I’ll need support from institutions and funding bodies, collaborators who believe in the work I do, communities that trust me with their voices and narratives, and audiences who value live experiences enough to return to the theatre.
Popspoken: Why do you think representation is important?
Victoria Chen: Why wouldn’t it be? There are so many voices and stories that are untold, or untold from an authentic perspective. When an experience one has is presented onstage, in a way that one understands it, it validates one’s experience of the world, and teaches something new to those who may not share that experience. It’s crucial to present a diversity of voices and ideas onstage because it shapes our worldview and understanding of what more exists beyond the bubble we live in. When authentic stories are shared, we grow closer as a community and build more bridges, and doesn’t that make life a lot more interesting?
Popspoken: Tell us more about your directorial debut with Three Little Girls.
Victoria Chen: The idea for Three Little Girls was conceived in 2016, and I am absolutely thrilled that it’s happening!! In summation, Three Little Girls is a multidisciplinary live experience that examines the intersection between female sex work, religion and technology in the Southeast Asian region in the 21st Century. Bhumi Collective is producing this piece and we’re still working out the details so I can’t say anything certain at this point, but the creatives we have on board and are hoping to work with are talented, driven, enthusiastic—and women. We’re going to have an all-women team!!! It is overwhelming to be surrounded with such great energy from everyone who believe in the work and want to be a part of it. I cannot wait to see what happens when we get down to business!
Popspoken: Anything else we should know about you?
Victoria Chen: I’m developing a new project under Bhumi Collective’s Mekar Program in early 2020 and it will be my first time creating something with an ensemble in mind. There’ll be a public sharing with more details announced in October, so if anyone’s interested, keep your eyes peeled for news!
Photographs courtesy of SOTA back when Victoria was a student