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Acting in Singapore: Daniel Jenkins on working in drama here

By: Jade McLean

Daniel Jenkins is a hard man to pin down. In the mornings he teaches for his own company, The Drama Playhouse; in the afternoons he rehearses for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park; on Saturday mornings he teaches for the SRT’s The Young Company and on Sundays he hides out in his walk-up apartment in Portsdown – also home to his wife, Jules, their two kids, Dylan (10) and Lily (6), and some quite unsavoury wildlife. “We were making the bed and a cobra fell out of the pillowcase,” he tells me. I think I’ll make this a quick interview!

Daniel, Jules, Dylan and Lily. Hi, all! 

How long have you been in Singapore?
Sixteen years. It’s funny, isn’t it, because the intention was never to stay that long – we came on a two-year contract. We both graduated from the Guildford School of Acting in 1990, and we moved here in 1997 from Brixton in London – not the most glamorous place in the world – at the recommendation of two friends.

As far as acting was concerned, we decided we weren’t really giving up massive careers, so we came for two years and it’s rolled on and on. It’s strange for Dylan and Lily because we thought the plan would be to go back eventually. We sometimes wonder what the kids will think; the only connection they have with the UK is that their parents are from there.

Can you make a living as an actor in Singapore?
When we first got here, it was quite rare to see a Caucasian actor. For the first five years we were both teaching at Julia Gabriel’s Speech and Drama Centre. We were very busy and we didn’t really think about our acting careers, but we would see an expat actor here and there and think, ‘Well, we can do that!’ So we investigated.

We’ve been very lucky because the circle is very small – you get a foot in the door, and one job leads to another one; you get on a roll. There are quite a few theatre companies here now, too, with new ones popping up.

To make a living can be hard though. When I first started, everyone was a part-time actor with a “proper” job. Now there are a few full-time actors, but they tend to be people who don’t have families or children, or they’re married to someone who has a full-time, well-paid job. Jules is the head of drama at Stamford American International School, where both the kids go. I teach as well – I have my own company, The Drama Playhouse, which takes programmes into kindergartens and secondary schools.

Daniel in SRT's Othello

So you don’t spend much time at home?
I’ll leave in the morning and go to one teaching place, then to the next; then maybe a meeting with SRT (where I’m Associate Artistic Director), and finally on to rehearsals or a performance. So in one day I can wear three or four different hats.

Rehearsals are exhausting. For Shakespeare, for example, we rehearse for six weeks from, say, 1pm until 10pm. When I’m performing it’s not too bad, because I’m only performing.

You’ve appeared in every Shakespeare In The Park! Tell us a bit about it.
It’s a fantastic experience and on such a big scale. It’s really nice to do Shakespeare – the scripts and parts are brilliant. In The Merchant of Venice I’m playing Antonio, the merchant. We perform to 2,000 people every night for four or five weeks.

The SRT’s production values are always high, and this year is very exciting as Scott Graham is coming from Frantic Assembly, a highly respected dance theatre company in the UK. He’ll be here for two weeks, purely to do movement with the actors. I think this year’s performance will be slightly different from the others – more stylised.

The park productions are great because they’re so accessible; you can take your kids – we’ve taken Dylan to all of them. He doesn’t really understand it, but the vibe is great, despite the heat!

Daniel has starred in every Shakespeare in the Park. Impressive! 

What’s been your favourite part so far?
Each part has different demands. Last year I played Iago in Othello, the third-biggest role in Shakespeare. It was a fantastic experience, but very stressful. One of my favourites is Malvolio in Twelfth Night. I’m never going to play a romantic lead, so the parts I get have been very diverse, which as an actor is lovely. Here you tend not to get typecast – apart from being the white guy! It’s harder to typecast me in theatre. I’ve been lucky.

Do you think the quality of theatre here is as good as in the UK?
It’s getting as good. In the 16 years that we’ve been here, it’s really grown and developed from being fairly basic and experimental to being more established. The government is realising that the arts are important, hence all the great venues here now. We get a lot more touring companies, too, which has boosted the quality. People are getting used to seeing good shows and good actors; it’s raised expectations and the standard has gone up. We’ve also got Lasalle, NAFA and SOTA now, so there’s proper training and homegrown talent that can stand up against actors from other countries.

Catch Daniel in the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park – The Merchant Of Venice, at Fort Canning Park from 30 April until 25 May.