Singapore’s arts scene has been gradually growing over the past decade or so, with theater companies springing up over the island, meaning performing arts, specifically, have become more accessible. One such company is SING’THEATRE, founded in 2006 by Nathalie Ribette. From the grassroots of amateur dramatics, when she arrived in Singapore as a trailing spouse, to company producer and director, Nathalie speaks to Katie Baines about her passion for performance art.
How did you get into theater?
I arrived in Singapore in 1996 with my husband and our young twins. The twins were extremely sick at the time, so I wasn’t able to work, but I really wanted something for me. So, although I didn’t have much experience in drama, I went for an audition at the cultural organization, Alliance Française, who were organizing an amateur musical called Star Mania in June 1997. I wasn’t fantastic, but luckily there weren’t many other great people either, and I got the part! That’s when I fell in love with performing arts.
When did you go professional?
I joined a professional entertainment group called Tina and the Turners. Tina was a tribute act and she was looking for a few back up girls who could dance. We actually did a few things with the American Association and at The American Club for a few years. It was here that I began to learn a few stage skills.
From there I went to The Stage Club and spent a few years both backstage and on stage. It was an absolutely fantastic time! After that, I wanted to grow, so I took some acting lessons, went to more auditions and got a part in a professional play called The Expat Wife. I was then recruited by theater company, Wild Rice, where I met local stars, Selena Tan and Ivan Heng, who really helped me with their advice.
How did you make the move from actor to producer and director?
I approached Alliance Française to be a producer and director of a show that I wrote about Edith Piaf’s life and songs – far before the movie ever came to the screen. It worked very well and was a huge success, to the point of shows being sold out.
A few years later, Ivan Heng encouraged me create my own theatre company [SING’THEATRE], which I did in 2006. In the beginning, it was really to promote French culture in Singapore, and among the people of Singapore. After 10 years of shows, with two shows per year, however, I decided to drop the French element because it was limiting me too much, so now the program is more open.
What is your proudest achievement working in theater?
I have won awards and recognition – first of all from the American community! – but the program I developed to bring music to hospitals, called Music Fest, is probably what I’m most proud of. The idea was to hold a music festival from 9am to 9pm with stages everywhere; in the chemotherapy units, in the cafeterias, on the wards. There were a few hundred performers and 150 volunteers, so it was huge.
To be honest, I did this because a few years before a good friend of mine passed away. She was a performer and an inspiration and after she passed, I lost my drive. Another friend suggested that maybe if I did something for her, the drive would come back, which is exactly what happened. It turned out that the event we first held in June 2013 was something that would return every year.
What’s happening at SING’THEATRE?
The next production coming up is A Spoonful of Sherman, which is a musical review of songs by the Sherman brothers, who wrote the music for Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, the Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s nice, as adults, to be able to hear these songs again and introduce them to our kids. The show premiered in London two or three years ago and was received really well, and it’s now on tour in the United States and the UK.
What advice would you give people wanting to get into theater in Singapore?
My advice would be to join The Stage Club. Without The Stage Club, I would never be where I am. It’s the oldest theater company in Singapore – it’s been around since 1948 – and it has a lovely ambiance. You can, of course, help backstage since they’re always looking for help with set design or publicity, but if you want to get on stage, their auditions are open to anyone. They produce two to three shows a year, and you meet fantastic people who have the same passion as you.