Charis Vera Ng On The Value of Mentorship As an Actor
Charis who played the leading role as ‘Lingual’ in the 13-episode TV series ‘What Do Men Want?’, talks about the value of mentorship as an actor and her training programmes in Singapore.
BM: How did you get started with acting?
CVN: Well, aside from the usual pre-school performances that involve being an angel or a sheep (sometimes both), my first audition for television was when I was six.
My mother was an actress and by that time had been involved in a full season of a locally-running soap opera. (At least I think we’d call them soap operas now.) Every so often I hung around on set before and after she started shooting. It was the time of shooting in a sound stage so I was very taken by the elaborate set ups and just how cool it was to be wandering inside someone’s fake house- the same one we saw on television!
So when my mom brought me back to the same building (It was TCS, then!) and told me that this time it was for me- I was stoked! I can’t say I nailed that audition though- I burst into peals of laughter when, right at the end of the take, they sprung out a “They Kiss.” on the prompt card. I feel really bad for the tiny boy beside me now. Haha.
But well, given how excited I seemed to be (about the situation in general, not the kissing), I got enrolled into acting classes when I was eight and I’ve just pretty much kept at it ever since!
BM: Were there things you learned in acting classes that have stuck with you? What are your challenges?
CVN: Wow. This is a big, big loaded question!
Yes, there’s quite a few things that have stuck with me- In traditional Indian Theatre they emphasized a lot on the Person, Actor and Character being completely separate. On days that are particular hard, that is sometimes part of what helps me leave my personal baggage at the door and I am grateful that I am able to do that.
I’ve also learnt not to second-guess myself so much; to just throw myself in and stop being such a thinker all the time.
Mostly, I’ve learnt that acting is actually really about honesty and being truthful in each and every moment. I think I’d say this is one of the biggest things I’ve learnt and what I love most, really.
BM: Who or what are your biggest influence?
CVN: I hope I’m not going to bore you with long answers but I’ve got a few major influences.
A lot of it is my mother- having the guts to go out and do stuff and just being completely unfazed by taken the less-trodden routes to get to where I want to be. Also, her raising my sister and I as a single mother has built in me this knowledge of how strong a person can be and how you don’t actually need to be dependent on anyone else, and that in fact, you shouldn’t.
My close friend, mentor and boss, Nora Crothers- Every time I watch her in classes or even outside, I am utterly wowed by her creativity, her ability to inspire and just, the person that she is.
As one who believes strongly in Drama in Education, I love how easy she makes it for non-actors to understand what they need to be doing on stage. I mean, a fifteen-year-old or a 60-year-old recovering from mental illness is not going to have any idea about Meisner or Stanisvlasky- and Nora effortlessly seems to find a way for them to have a more comprehensive understanding of their acting role, even in really small pieces.
As a director, I love watching her put things together; whether its conceptualising from scratch or drawing up sets or expanding on small moments she’s seen on stage; I constantly find myself trying to catch up and see all the things that she sees. I think she’s impossibly talented and getting to work for her and learn from her is something I will always be immensely grateful for.
My significant other- Determined, strong, on-task (which I hardly am), I think my partner teaches me a lot just by… well, being. Also one who teaches, albeit completely different subjects, I find that I learn more about teaching in itself and using what we love doing to reach out to very different sorts of people. There is also an infinite amount of respect for the attention to detail my partner gives in writing up programmes and making sure every base is covered before setting off on a task.
This in turn constantly challenges me to apply the same meticulousness in my own line of work, whether writing drama-based programs or working on something new.
BM: What are you working on at the moment?
CVN: A few things in tandem actually-
With my own Company, I’ve finally started on one of our first core programs- one that I’ve spent a really long time working on to get right. The first intake was back in December, and it will culminate in a performance come April 2015.
One of the groups of people I was looking at taking in were some of my ex-students who I’ve worked with since they were like thirteen or fourteen and now they’re wanting to go into acting school and it just… It’s really heartening and I’m thrilled at the possibility of teaching them again, but cooler than that though is this idea of it being more like “working with them” and not just teaching them.
I’ve also recently come back from Bangkok where I was on board Asa Gim Palomera’s Curious Lives of Shakespeare and Cervantes.
Having worked with her before, and loved it, I was excited at working on yet another one of her pieces. This same show is slated to be staged in Madrid soon too!
One of her other plays, Women Of Asia that was staged in June 2014 has also been invited to Georgetown Festival as well as the Philippines!
I love what I do and I also love traveling, so getting to do both at the same time is really something I am incredibly grateful for.
On the music front, I’ve been on board as a Featuring Artist with a band called Chocolate Island.
It’s a completely new genre that I never thought I’d hear myself sing, let alone write.
Where I’ve always written very acoustic, easy-listening, slightly jazzy pieces, here we’re looking at songs that lean towards EDM, dance and just more pop stuff- songs you’d hear in a club really! It’s been a very eye-opening experience thus far, and I’m learning so much, which always excites me.
This first collaboration, Miles Away was released February 14th 2015- That’s right! Valentine’s Day!
It is currently available for download on iTunes, Spotify and Soundcloud.
I am looking into releasing this same song as a solo artist featuring Chocolate Island and am also currently exploring the option of a music video as well. I enjoy making music that people like and appreciate. I’d like to think Miles Away is one of those songs!
BM: That’s a mouthful of accomplishments! It must be really heartening to know that you made an impact on your students. Tell us more about your acting programs.
CVN: My acting programs… Well I believe very strongly in the process of drama/ theatre-making and what it can do for its participants. So I’ve opened up a four-month actor-production program that includes actor-training, movement classes (We’ve got an incredibly good yoga instructor on board for this!), vocals and the works! And then we will work towards a production, where participants embark on the process of bring their ideas from page to stage.
I’m very big on putting people in touch and learning from those who have gone before us, so I’ve also got people in place as mentors for different parts of the production-making process so that participants will get to help outside of class and rehearsals too!
What is very special about my program is that we’re the only theatre program in Asia thaaaaat *drumroll* includes a devising workshop involving horses!
We’ve got a very special collaboration happening with the National Equestrian Centre and the participants of my program will embark on devising a script based off their experience in the workshop with the horses.
Our current intake is now in the middle of rehearsals and our show, entitled I’m All Left Turns (and I don’t know which way is right) will open in less than a month!
We’ve got two shows-
April 18th (Saturday) and April 19th (Sunday)
8pm at The Arts House, Playden
I’m All Left Turns explores the journey that some parents have embarked on to get to where they are today. As we pick through and try to put together the pieces that make up our parents, we also try to find the words for all the things we feel we haven’t been able to say to them.
Here, we look at the often untold stories that make up each person. We look at the struggles of parenting, the struggles of trying to be a good child, and how everything can feel like a stab in the dark. We look at all the left turns we take, just to get to a place with each other that feels right.
BM: Could you talk about the value of having a mentor and what they stand to gain from the program?
CVN: There’s a lot that we can learn from workshops and classes, and also many skills we pick up when we’re thrown right into the actual doing of it. To me, a mentor works as a guide, serving as a sounding board off whom to bounce ideas, but very importantly, pushing us to explore our own limits and make our own mistakes as opposed to just telling one what to do.
Besides basic actor-training that participants will go through, there’ll be a lot of hands-on experience in the process of production. For instance, they’re heavily involved in the scriptwriting, the set design, the sound design and even administrative stuff like budgeting for props, set and costume.
Those who choose to have a hand in the marketing and promotion side will also be working closely with our Marketing Manager to create promotional material for our upcoming show.
BM: How do you think your work has changed since you first started in acting?
CVN: Oooh, so many ways!
The people I do my work for, for one- while parts of my job still involves performing for an audience, Drama Education/ Applied Drama is also a huge part of my portfolio. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE performing. I always have, and still enjoy creating and being part of work that audiences can relate to and/or feel for. I love being able to reach people with the work I do in the performing arts.
But I am also very keen on using the process of drama to reach people too; That can be in Education or using drama AS therapy.
I’ve written programs and worked with Special Needs children as well as people recovering from mental illnesses. It’s really quite amazing to watch participants develop and grow over the course of the program. I’ve had selectively mute kids who get to a point where they can say lines during their performance, or had participants open up to talk about, and use, traumatic memories when they’re devising or scriptwriting. In instances like the latter, this guided process turns out to be cathartic for them, and as a result, their being part of the production allows them to heal.
Being part of experiences like this, and being able to have been part of the process is what makes this part of my job so incredibly fulfilling.
Charis Vera Ng played as Lingual in ‘What Do Men Want?’, a lead role in the 13-episode drama TV series. It premiered on Toggle.sg and was broadcasted on MediaCorp’s Channel 5 in October 2014.