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One to Watch: Kristina Pakhomova on acting in Singapore

By: Susannah Jaffer

Kristina Pakhomova. Remember the name! Charming, ambitious and full of unwavering energy and passion, the up-and-coming actress is undeniably one to watch. Dressed in fashion by Asian designers ZENCHI and Ashley Isham, we caught up with the busy performer at LASALLE College of Arts after the success of her first self-directed one-woman show, Dark Room, a black comedy that gives an intimate insight into the life of an expat wife in Singapore.

actresses in Singapore, Kristina Pakhomova, local designers in Singapore

What made you decide to continue your studies at LASALLE College of the Arts?

I’d wanted to be an actress since I was five years old. My mother is an actress too, you see, so I guess she inspired my career choice. I grew up in the theatre among actors and directors, set designers, music, costumes and lights, and I started performing at the age of 12.

On stage it felt like I was the most important person in the world. Everybody was looking at me, and listening to what I was saying. I could communicate my feelings, tell stories and be transported into another reality – to me, that feeling is priceless. So, after high school, there was no question what I’d do next. After I graduated, I got into the Far East Academy of Art in Russia in the city of Vladivostok, 700km from my hometown of Khaborovsk. I was 16, and so happy and excited to finally be doing what I loved.

After my second year of university, my parents returned from a trip to Singapore and, out of nowhere, my dad asked if I’d be interested in studying abroad. He’d heard about LASALLE while he was over here and suggested it to me. At first, I was confused – why would I leave my comfortable life and a promising future here in Vladivostok for Asia? At the time, I couldn’t speak English well and didn’t know anyone – it sounded insane.

In the end, I think, curiosity won, so I moved over here by myself when I was 18, and haven’t regretted my choice since.

How has your experience of Singapore’s acting and theatre scene been so far?

It’s very vibrant and dynamic, and although it’s very contemporary, it hasn’t lost its traditional Asian flavour – that’s what makes it unique. I’ve watched and learnt about many Asian forms of drama, including traditional Chinese opera, Japanese Noh theatre, Indian Kathakali, Balinese theatre and many others that I’d probably never have been able to experience in Russia.

The theatre scene here is very happening. There are new shows and performances every month – art exhibitions, fringe and film festivals, festivals for writers and young talent,  you name it. I’m addicted to theatre so much that I have to stop myself from spending too much money on Sistic! I also love seeing how the younger generation is becoming increasingly involved in the creative art scene.

Working as a professional full-time actress can be challenging, though, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, the industry is very small – but you can make that work in your favour. It’s easier to network and look for new connections and collaborations, and with hard work and the right amount of self-marketing you can bring your name forward much faster. I’ve also found that I don’t need an agent to represent me here, unlike in other countries – and that saves money.

That sounds ideal, right?

It may sound pretty perfect, but being a Russian actress here has its downside. Even after six years of studying and working in Singapore, it’s hard for me to find a place in the Asian market. At first, it was fun to play small parts on television, like a Chinese man’s ang moh (Western) wife in a Channel 8 television drama, or the (very stereotypical) Russian spy, or other short roles in films, commercials and print ads.

For obvious reasons, priority is given to actors who look Asian or pan-Asian, but I’m not a quitter and I like to challenge myself. I’ve also been lucky to be surrounded by people who believe in me, which is important in times of self-doubt. I crave for much more though, as I know I have a lot more to offer than just a pretty face. I want to act out stories and play characters that resonate with me. Theatre drives my ambitions. That’s why I decided to write my one-woman show, Dark Room, which I performed in November last year.

We were big fans of your performance. What inspired you?

I’d just come back from the Spoleto Arts Festival in Italy, held in collaboration with the not-for-profit cultural centre La MaMa Umbria International. I felt so inspired by the people I’d met and the workshops I’d attended that coming back to Singapore to “the phone that never rings” was frustrating. I was in search of something or somebody to inspire my next project…


Read the rest of Kristina’s interview in the February issue of LIV, available with every copy of Expat Living.