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Emma Yong

A Singapore theatre practitioner who was highly regarded and well-loved for her acting and singing.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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I realised how vital theatre was to me. I knew that it was the only thing that could get me out of bed and eager to go to work. Nothing inspired the same enthusiasm.

100 Inspiring Rafflesians, 2007

Emma Yong was a Singapore theatre practitioner who was highly regarded and well-loved for her acting and singing. Best-known for a part of the Dim Sum Dollies musical cabaret trio, Emma devoted her life to the performing arts and rose to become a prominent theatre practitioner and personality in the arts in Singapore. The bilingual stage, television and film actress acted in lead roles in over 60 English and Chinese-language productions, and received the Best Supporting Actress award at the Life! Theatre Awards in 2006 for her performance in the Chinese-language musical Shanghai Blues.

Born in 1975 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Emma Yong grew up the youngest of three sisters in Singapore. Her elder sisters both became doctors, but Emma developed into one of Singapore's most prominent arts personalities known for her passion and talent for acting and singing.

A six-year-old Emma had her first encounter with the arts when she accompanied one of her sisters to ballet classes. She went on to study at Nanyang Primary School and then at Raffles Girls' School where she discovered her love for singing, joining the school choir and performing in the school's annual musicals. She got an early affirmation of her talent in the first year of her secondary education when she came in first in the solo section of her school’s Festival of Music.

Emma continued singing at Raffles Junior College, coming in second in a school Talentime in 1992. She also discovered her passion for film and literature, becoming the president of the Film Society while she studied in Raffles Junior College and eventually receiving the Angus Ross Prize for topping the A Level English examinations among 7,000 non-British international candidates. Emma seriously considered becoming a writer during this period but it was also then when she began pursuing her interest in theatre outside of school.

Her first experience of theatre was in the underground bunkers at Fort Canning, which was the venue of a production by theatre director Ong Keng Sen about the Japanese occupation. The 19-year-old then began going for auditions while studying for her A Level examinations, and got her first role in Michael Chiang's Heaven II. She also landed a role in the chorus and as the understudy to the lead in the musical Bugis Street. It was then that Emma realised her true calling as a stage performer. She next went on to act in theatre and film director Glen Goei's musical Kampung Amber, which was based on a book by the Catherine Lim and featured music and lyrics by Dick Lee.

In 1994, she started attending University College London in the UK. While she pursued her degree in English, Emma continued acting in productions back home in Singapore, frequently shuttling between the two countries—her precarious juggling between her studies and her passion meant that she once arrived back in the UK on the day of her examinations. During this period, Emma deferred her university studies for a year so that she could act in the musical Mortal Sins in Singapore.

Completing her university studies, Emma returned to Singapore and dove into acting wholeheartedly. In 2000, she returned to the UK for a year to improve her skills by pursuing postgraduate studies in musical theatre at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London. She returned to Singapore after that, foregoing a theatre career in London where she felt she would be typecast.

Over her two-decade-plus career in the arts, Emma performed lead roles in over 60 stage productions, proving herself to be a natural and versatile actress who excelled in both serious and comedic roles. She performed the lead role of Yenehara in Singapore Repertory Theatre's musical Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress. She also performed as Titania in Singapore Repertory Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Fort Canning, which was Emma's favourite Singapore historical spot. The bilingual actress also acted in Chinese-language productions such as Mad Phoenix by Toy Factory and Moving Gods by Theatre Practice. In 2005, Emma—by then well-known for her vocal prowess—held a solo concert From Bjork to Broadway in the Esplanade Recital Studio.

In 2006, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the Life! Theatre Awards for her performance in Singapore Repertory Theatre’s A Twist of Fate. Two years later, she received the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in the Chinese-language musical Shanghai Blues by Toy Factory.

Emma is perhaps best known and remembered for being part of the Dim Sum Dollies musical cabaret trio together with fellow theatre practitioners Selena Tan and Pam Oei. In her ten-year journey with the Dim Sum Dollies, they starred in five of their own productions and appeared in character in other Singapore productions as well. Outside of the regular theatre circuit, the Dim Sum Dollies also performed at the World AIDS Day concert in 2008 at Fort Canning Park and were also ambassadors for a Land Transport Authority campaign promoting graciousness on public transport.

Besides her theatre work, Emma also acted on television in programmes such as First Touch, Family Matters and the The Second Singapore Short Story Project. She also acted in the Chinese-language drama series S.N.A.G. She also starred as lead actress in W!ld Rice’s associate artistic director Glen Geoi’s 2009 film The Blue Mansion, which went on to be shown at film festivals in Pusan, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan.

In Jan 2011, Emma was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which caused her to withdraw from the production Closer and the musical 881. She underwent chemotherapy and the cancer was put into remission. She returned to the stage, appearing in the musical Into the Woods. However, she suffered a relapse in September the same year, forcing her to pull out of Dream Academy Production’s annual Christmas production Crazy Christmas.

In May 2012, Emma Yong passed away at the age of 37.

Shortly after her death, The Emma Yong Fund was set up by Emma's close friends, including fellow theatre practitioner Selena Tan. This was an initiative that was borne out of Emma's hope that there would be a way to help theatre practitioners in times of need, as she herself had to cope with large medical bills due to her lack of medical insurance. The Fund was set up in aid of theatre practitioners with critical illnesses, and also to build awareness among the Singapore theatre community on medical finance.

On June 15 2012, Emma's fellow theatre practitioners held the We Heart Emma memorial concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall in remembrance of their friend, with all proceeds from the concert going to The Emma Yong Fund. The concert raised $275,500 with a further $71,000 raised through an online donation portal at www.emmayongfund.org.

In a year since her death, the fund managed to raise more than $400,000, along the way helping one theatre practitioner who was diagnosed with cancer.

Known for her intensity and quest for perfection in every role she took on, Emma is remembered as a fiercely passionate bright spark who lit up the Singapore theatre stage with her talent and her charm, and as one of the most well-known and beloved theatre stars on the island.

Glen Goei said, "Her talent and commitment to her art were extraordinary. Her courage, in all her endeavours and in her final battle, is an inspiration for all of us. Emma was a bright shooting star that blazed across our lives. Her time with us was brief but oh, she gave a lovely light."

Profile images courtesy of Dream Academy Productions and Tan Ngiap Heng.

Timeline

20 Jan 1975

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Moved to Singapore with family shortly after.

1982 to 1987

Attended Nanyang Primary School.

1988 to 1991

Attended Raffles Girls' School.

1992 to 1993

Attended Raffles Junior College.

1994

Received Angus Ross Award, for best performing non-British candidate for A Level English Literature.

Actor, Bugis Street – The Musical, Toy Factory.

12 Apr 1994 to 24 Apr 1994

Actor, Heaven II in A Night Out with Michael Chiang, TheatreWorks, Drama Centre, Singapore.

May 1994

Actor, musical Kampong Amber, Singapore Festival of Arts, Kallang Theatre, Singapore.

18 Jul 1994 to 20 Jul 1994

Actor, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Drama Centre, Singapore.

22 Jul 1994 to 26 Jul 1994

Actor, The Durian Man & His Daughters, triple bill presentation of Desmond Sim's plays Drunken Prawns & Other Edible Delights, ACTION Theatre, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

12 Nov 1994 to 21 Nov 1994

Actor, Six Lonely Oysters, ACTION Theatre, DBS Auditorium, Singapore.

1994 to 1998

Attended University College London, UK. Deferred for a year in 1995 to act in Mortal Sins. Graduated with BA in English.

5 Nov 1995 to 12 Nov 1995

Actor, musical Mortal Sins, TheatreWorks, Kallang Theatre, Singapore.

Jan 1996

Actor, Playing Mothers, ACTION Theatre, Drama Centre, Singapore.

26 Apr 1996

Actor, Lizard In The Loo in Freshly Squeezed, a presentation of four winning plays from Hewlett Packard–ACTION Theatre 10-minute Playwriting Contest and two plays by David Henry Hwang and Anna Li, ACTION Theatre, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

10 Sep 1996 to 18 Sep 1996

Actor, Confessions of Three Unmarried Women, ACTION Theatre, Chijmes Hall, Singapore.

6 Nov 1996 to 17 Nov 1996

Actor, Ka-Ra-you-OK?, ACTION Theatre, Drama Centre, Singapore.

3 Jul 1997 to 12 Jul 1997

Actor, Mail Order Brides & Other Oriental Take-Aways, ACTION Theatre, Drama Centre, Singapore.

28 Aug 1997 to 31 Aug 1997

Actor, musical Hot Pants!, World Trade Centre Auditorium, Singapore.

16 Apr 1998 to 26 Apr 1998

Actor, Beauty World, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

21 Jul 1999 to 24 Jul 1999

Actor, The Crucible, Dramaplus Arts, SICEC Auditorium, Suntec City, Singapore.

6 Jul 1999 to 11 Jul 1999

Actor, Fiddler on the Roof, Singapore Lyric theatre, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

28 Aug 1999 to 31 Aug 1999

Actor, 《仲夏夜之夢A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Theatre Practice, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

Apr 1999

Actor, musical Guys & Dolls, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, DBS Auditorium, Singapore.

13 Sep 1999 to 17 Sep 1999

Actor, Lovepuke, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

Oct 1999

Actor, musical I Have a Date With Spring, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

11 Dec 1999 to 19 Dec 1999

Actor, Storm, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

1999

Actor, The Swimming Instructor, ACTION Theatre.

2000

Attended Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, London with postgraduate degree in Musical Theatre.

Jul 2000 to Aug 2000

Actor, Viva Viagra!, ACTION Theatre, Drama Centre, Singapore.

29 Nov 2001 to 2 Dec 2001

Actor, Plunge, ACTION Theatre, Second 42 Theatre Festival, 42 Waterloo Street, Singapore.

12 Dec 2001 to 13 Dec 2001

Performer, Celebrate Christmas at Chijmes with Selena & Friends, Chijmes Hall, Singapore.

2002

Actor, Cabaret: A Single Woman, Dream Academy Productions, Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore. The first appearance of the musical cabaret trio that would come to be known as The Dim Sum Dollies.

6 Jun 2002 to 8 Jun 2002

Actor, The Morning People, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

25 Jan 2002 to 24 Feb 2002

Actor, Beautiful Thing, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Toy Factory Theatrette, Singapore.

23 Apr 2002 to 17 May 2002

Actor, musical Honk!, Singapore Repertory Theatre, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

1 Oct 2002 to 20 Oct 2002

Actor, Boeing Boeing, Wild Rice Theatre Company, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

11 Feb 2003 to 13 Feb 2003

Actor, 《南海十三郎)》Mad Phoenix, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts, Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore.

9 Jul 2003 to 12 Jul 2003

Actor, 《移神记》, The Theatre Practice, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

Nov 2003

Actor, Iron, ACTION Theatre, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

3 Dec 2003 to 28 Dec 2003

Actor, musical Cinderel-LAH!, Wild Rice Theatre Company, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

15 Jul 2003 to 9 Aug 2003

Actor, The Dim Sum Dollies in Steaming!, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

20 Aug 2003 to 7 Sep 2003

Actor, Balance: Space. Time. Movement., TheatreWorks, The Black Box, Fort Canning Centre, Singapore.

15 Apr 2004 to 23 Apr 2004

Actor, David Henry Hwang double-bill The Sound of a Voice & The House of Sleeping Beauties, DBS Arts Centre, Singapore.

28 Jan 2004 to 21 Feb 2004

Actor, The Odd Couple, Singapore Repertory Theatre, DBS Arts Centre, Singapore.

Aug 2004

Actor, The Revenge of The Dim Sum Dollies!, Dream Academy Productions, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

2 Dec 2004 to 9 Jan 2005

Actor, musical Aladdin!, Wild Rice Theatre Company, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

Jul 2005

Actor, musical The Admiral’s Odyssey, ACTION Theatre, Jubilee Hall, Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

5 Aug 2005 to 20 Aug 2005

Actor, Dim Sum Dollies!: Singapore’s Most Wanted, Dream Academy Productions, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

Aug 2005

Performer, Rice Ball 2003: Red, White and Wild, Wild Rice Theatre Company, Island Ballroom, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.

18 Nov 2005 to 4 Dec 2005

Actor, A Twist of Fate, Singapore Repertory Theatre, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

2 Mar 2006 to 11 Mar 2006

Actor, Army Daze, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Drama Centre, Singapore.

Jan 2006

Performer, solo concert From Bjork to Broadway, Eslanade Recital Studio, Singapore.

22 Jul 2006 to 30 Jul 2006

Actor, Cabaret, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

2 Nov 2006 to 18 Nov 2006

Actor, musical Little Shop of Horrors, Dream Academy Productions, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

May 2006

Actor, musical A Man of Letters, University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore.

5 Jul 2007 to 15 Jul 2007

Actor, Dim Sum Dollies: The History of Singapore, Dream Academy Productions, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

2007

Actress, Singapore Repertory Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare in the Park, Fort Canning, Singapore.

8 Feb 2008 to 9 Feb 2008

Actor, musical Shanghai Blues, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

2008

Fronted anti-trafficking campaign Women Make A Difference as part of The Dim Sum Dollies.

2009

Received Best Supporting Actress Award for Shanghai Blues, Life! Theatre Awards, Singapore.

Actor, film The Blue Mansion, directed by Glen Goei.

20 Aug 2009 to 29 Aug 2009

Actor, The Crab Flower Club, Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, Drama Centre, Singapore.

25 Nov 2009 to 19 Dec 2009

Actor, musical Beauty & The Beast, Wild Rice Theatre Company, Drama Centre, Singapore.

23 Jul 2009 to 8 Aug 2009

Actor, SING DOLLAR! The Musical Comedy About Money, Dream Academy Productions, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

15 Sep 2010 to 2 Oct 2010

Actor, Blackbird, Singapore Repertory Theatre, DBS Arts Centre, Singapore.

29 Jul 2011 to 7 Aug 2011

Actor, musical Into the Woods, Dream Academy Productions, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore.

2 May 2012

Passed away at age 37 in Singapore from stomach cancer.

Jun 2012

The Emma Yong Fund established to give aid to Singapore theatre practitioners suffering from critical illnesses.

15 Jun 2012

We Heart Emma memorial concert held at Esplanade Concert Hall. Proceeds from concert contributed to The Emma Yong Fund.


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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