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Theatre

Chandran K. Lingam

Pioneer Singapore English-language theatre director.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

Play-production is teamwork. When you get a group that works together regularly, then you get the team spirit going. People learn to trust each other, they learn to cooperate, they get to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses […] it is vital for the cast and the crew as a whole to know that they work as a single team.

– The Sunday Times, 26 Jul 1981.

Chandran K. Lingam is a theatre director who gained prominence for his work with the Experimental Theatre Club in the '70s and '80s. A full-time educator, he is a singular theatre practitioner known for his physically spare yet highly emotive productions based on traditionalist approaches that bring out exceptional performances from his cast.

Growing up, Chandran K. Lingam had his first encounter of the arts through his father who instilled in him a love for reading, music, dance and drama. The first-ever play he saw was a production of Peter Pan, and he was hooked after that.

His passion for theatre, especially Anglo-American drama, grew in secondary school as he portrayed Duke de la Trémouille in Saint Joan and Caesar in Androcles and the Lion. In his final year, Chandran made his directorial debut in a production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General. Directing his schoolmates, Chandran discovered his enthusiasm for acting was surpassed by a newfound passion for directing.

Chandran went on to attend the University of Singapore where he became a member of the Drama Society and the Literary Society. He spent all his spare time—even sacrificing valuable study time for rehearsals—involved in arts productions and events with the two societies ranging from poetry events, music performances, to avant-garde theatre. He also joined the Experimental Theatre Club around this period, beginning a significant career as a director with the Club.

With the University of Singapore Drama Society, he directed a number of plays, most significantly Peter Shaffer’s Equus starring a young Lim Kay Tong. The play contained utterances of the f-word—a first for Singapore theatre—resulting in a high amount of public interest and critical controversy that was rarely seen in the Singapore theatre scene. It was to be a signal of Chandran’s imminent prominence in Singapore theatre.

In 1974, Chandran graduated from the University of Singapore, and focused his artistic efforts on his directorial work with the Experimental Theatre Club. Working full-time as a lecturer at the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (now Institute of Technical Education), he put whatever spare time he had into his art, attending rehearsals after work every day till late into the night. With Chandran at the helm, the Club gained a reputation in the '70s and the '80s for spare and emotionally wrenching works presented through unwavering traditionalist approaches and with small casts, which saw Chandran working with actors such as Suresh Menon, Kim Ramakrishnan, Karan Nair and T. Sasitharan. Chandran’s reputation and significance as an enigmatic theatre director also grew with the Club, with him being described in the '80s by Max Le Blond as both "[Singapore] theatre's enfant terrible" and "the most talented director working in the Singapore theatre today". (The Straits Times, 19 Jul 1981).

His last play with the Experimental Theatre Club during this fruitful period was the acclaimed Hayavadana in 1990, which starred Neo Swee Lin, Gerald Chew and T. Sasitharan. After this, he—and the Experimental Theatre Club—went on an extended hiatus from the Singapore theatre scene.

In 2006, Chandran returned to the theatre scene with a restaging of Hayavadana, now titled Horseface, which was presented under the name of the Experimental Theatre Club. He then directed Cabaret Kurt Weill: An Homage to Wayward Women in 2010 at the invitation of singer Gabrille Maes and composer John Sharpley. Most recently, in 2012, Chandran served as artistic director of the OperaViva-presented Singapore opera FENCES, which featured music by John Sharpley and a libretto by Robert Yeo.

Currently a full-time teacher at St. Francis Methodist School, Chandran continues to read widely to expand his theatre vocabulary and broaden his artistic scope.

Timeline

1963 to 1969

Attended Victoria School.

1970 to 1974

Attended University of Singapore. Graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English.

1971

Director, Ghosts, University of Singapore Drama Society.

1972

Director, A Man for All Seasons, University of Singapore Drama Society.

1972 to 1978

Director, Experimental Theatre Club.

1973

Director, The Devils, University of Singapore Drama Society.

1974 to 1975

Director, Equus, University of Singapore Drama Society.

1979 to Present

Artistic director, Experimental Theatre Club.

1979

Director, Boesman and Lena, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, Hello and Goodbye, Experimental Theatre Club.

1980

Director, Marigolds, Experimental Theatre Club.

1981

Director, Endgame, Experimental Theatre Club.

1981 to 1991

Lecturer (English), Vocational and Industrial Training Board (now Institute of Technical Education), Singapore.

1982

Attended National Institute of Dramatic Arts, Sydney, Australia on scholarship from Singapore Cultural Foundation. Graduated with Post-Graduate Diploma in Dramatic Arts.

1983

Director, The Nuns, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, Play Strindberg, Experimental Theatre Club.

1984

Director, The Life and Times of Mr X, Experimental Theatre Club. Commissioned to commemorate 25 years of nation building in Singapore.

Director, Dorothy Parker’s The Sexes, Here We Are and You Were Perfectly Fine (One of You is Lying), Experimental Theatre Club.

1985

Director, Woza Albert!, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, The Zoo Story, Experimental Theatre Club, Drama Festival.

Director, Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!, Experimental Theatre Club.

1986

Director, Empty Frames & Confessional, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, Harry’s Christmas, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, The Lovers, Experimental Theatre Club.

Playworks: A Collection of Plays for Secondary Schools published. Co-selected with Doreen D’cruz.

1987

Director, Agnes of God, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, Carlos Fuentes’ Orchids in the Moonlight, Experimental Theatre Club.

1989

Director, Dog Accident, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, The Lady Aoi, Experimental Theatre Club.

Director, Elegy for a Lady, Experimental Theatre Club.

1990

Director, Hayavadana, Experimental Theatre Club.

1998 to 2000

Attended National University of Singapore. Graduated with Masters in English Studies.

2006

Director, Horseface (or Hayavadana), Experimental Theatre Club, DBS Arts Centre.

2010

Director, Cabaret Kurt Weill: An Homage to Wayward Women, Experimental Theatre Club, The Arts House.

2012

Artistic director, Fences, OperaViva, Lee Foundation Theatre, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Teacher, St. Francis Methodist School, Singapore.

Present

Teacher, Management Development Institute of Singapore.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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