#HelloTFP: Chong Tze Chien

by fingerplayers

#HelloTFP is a series of anecdotes where we introduce and share more about the members of the TFP family; from core team members to office interns. In this latest #HelloTFP feature, we speak with one of the Core Team members, Chong Tze Chien, to learn more about his start in theatre, his involvement with The Finger Players in the early years, and his favourite aspect of theatre-making.

“My first introduction to theatre was through literature, thanks to my literature teacher in secondary school. I remember in our first class, she asked for our definitions of literature, and wrote them all down on the board. She then circled all the different responses and wrote “equals to Literature” beside it. That for me was a mind-blowing moment. I developed a mini crush on her, and when I found out that she was also the school’s drama teacher in-charge, I joined the english drama group. I also participated in the school’s inter-class drama competition because she was organising it, and acted and directed even though I knew nothing about directing.

2014 – Tze Chien directing the cast members of Turn By Turn We Turn

Upon graduation from NUS Theatre Studies programme, I was roped into a Finger Players production in my first year of freelancing, thanks to Kok Heng Leun, whom I knew when he was with The Necessary Stage; he needed actors for a TFP production (Sang Nila) he was directing. I got a call from him saying, “Hey, I’ve got this production and it’s travelling to Vienna.” I remember thinking, “Is there a Vienna Street in Singapore?” (Little did I know he was really talking about Austria, Vienna). It was such a perfect gig for a freelancer, to be involved in a production and also earn a chance to travel. For that production, I got to dabble in puppetry design – Heng Leun got us to design the faces of the puppets using plasticine to model our sketches, and I also learned some basic puppet manipulation under Beng Tian and Benjamin. After that production, I joined The Necessary Stage. At the same time, Beng Tian invited me to be on the company’s Board just as The Finger Players was gaining independence from The Theatre Practice.

Tze Chien directing the graduating students of NAFA Diploma in Theatre, in Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.

Four years later, Beng Tian asked me if I would like to write the script for Furthest North, Deepest South, a collaboration with our neighbour at the Cairnhill premises, Mime Unlimited, helmed by Christina Sergeant. Around that time, the members – Kian Sin, Wan Shi, Beng Tian and Benjamin – felt they were being pigeon-holed as a children’s troupe, by audiences and presenters/producers, and wanted to break out of that mold. When Beng Tian found out I had already left The Necessary Stage by then, she asked me to join TFP to expand their repertory, as they were thinking about changing the artistic direction of the company.

Tze Chien directing the graduating students of NAFA Diploma in Theatre, in Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.

Of the many aspects of theatre-making, I would say writing is the one I derive the most satisfaction from. It’s also the most tedious, because you start from a blank page and nothing else – even before you have the words, you have to think about an image or a story. The process of giving birth to a story or conceiving an idea is tedious. It’s like going through labour. But there’s a satisfaction derived from that process of conceiving, nurturing and developing something that, oftentimes, grew out of a very simple idea.”

Tze Chien is a core member of The Finger Players and an award winning playwright/director. For his contributions to Singapore Theatre, he was awarded the Young Artist Award by Singapore’s National Arts Council in 2006.

He is currently directing a restaging of an early Finger Players production, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, as part of The Present/Future Season 2020, presented by TFP in collaboration with NAFA.

Performed by the graduating students of NAFA Diploma in Theatre (English Drama) 2020, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea will be streamed LIVE this Friday 6 November, 8pm, with a continued broadcast till Sunday 8 November 2020, 2359 via SISTIC Live. Click here to find out more.