An interview with director-producer Derrick Chew: a jack-of-all-trades in Singapore’s theatre and film industry
The Hossan Leong Show. Lord of the Flies. Murder at Old Changi Hospital. Spring Awakening. The Curious Case of the Missing Peranakan Treasure. If any of these titles ring a bell, know that director-producer Derrick Chew has had a hand in it.
Chew had his first real brush with the theatre and film industry back in the early 2000s when he was studying Film & Media Studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. His graduation short film Tan Xin (Conversations), for which he was credited as the associate producer and editor, won Best Film (Singapore Short Film Category) at the 2007 Singapore International Film Festival.
Thereafter, he continued his education in the field, obtaining a degree in Mass Communications/Media Studies from RMIT University and kickstarting his career in the theatre and film industry in Singapore. He has worked for various theatre and film companies like Pangdemonium, Drama Box, and Dream Academy, amassing over a decade of experience in marketing, public relations, branding, producing, directing, stage management, and editing.
As he carves out his niche in the industry, his love for film remains unwavering. It will come somewhat full circle as he premieres his first-ever feature film Boom at the upcoming 2022 Singapore International Film Festival. He co-wrote the screenplay, produced, and directed the 62-minute film, which is an adaptation of Singapore playwright Jean Tay’s 2007 play of the same name. The story follows a stubborn ageing mother and her son, a property agent, as they struggle with the En bloc sale of their flat.
Chew went on to form his own theatre company, Sight Lines Entertainment, in 2012, serving as its executive producer and artistic director. To celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, he collaborated with homegrown songstress Mina Kaye to stage a live concert in November.
Titled Mina Kaye: Live in Concert, the event will be held on 18 Nov at the Drama Centre Theatre and features a four-piece band accompanying Kaye, who has appeared in over 20 musicals like RENT, Into the Woods, and Company. The concert is directed and produced by Chew, with musical direction by Joanne Ho, who has worked for productions such as The LKY Musical and Company. The concert also features seasoned theatre performers Seong Hui Xuan (RENT, Urinetown) and Peter Ong (Company, A Singaporean in Paris) as well as the next generation of theatre performers, including Vanessa Kee (Urinetown, Spoonful of Sherman) and Tiara Yap (Into the Woods, Working).
The A List spoke to Chew to learn about his journey in film and theatre, his advice for industry newcomers, and his latest collaboration with Mina Kaye.
You’ve worn many hats in the industry, from marketing manager to director. What has been your most memorable role so far?
I would be greedy and choose two – exactly the two you mentioned.
I was the Marketing Manager at Pangdemonium! Theatre Company for three years, when they first began. It was my first full-time job as I had been freelancing all my life. The job allowed me to hone my skills, develop my connections and relationships within the industry, and had opened doors for my future endeavours. I will be forever grateful to Tan Kheng Hua (my mentor for bringing me into the company) as well as Tracie and Adrian Pang (Artistic Directors of Pangdemonium!).
My other memorable role is Film Director, having just directed my very first movie Boom, which is an adaptation of Jean Tay’s original play of the same name. I love bringing creatives together and building a platform for them to work together to create magic. Being a film director allows me to do just that – to witness how the various departments come together to create a beautiful piece of art. The icing on the cake is that the film has been selected to screen at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival under the Singapore Panorama category.
What prompted you to start Sight Lines Entertainment?
I started Sight Lines 10 years ago because I wanted to create an opportunity for myself to produce projects that I’m passionate about. It was a very different time then – the scene was still growing and there weren’t many opportunities as compared to now.
That said, my mission in starting Sight Lines has always been to develop and nurture the next generation of audiences and practitioners. Our core programmes include staging school productions and running Acting and Musical Theatre training programmes for practitioners.
I was exposed to drama and the arts at a young age, and it has had a big impact on my life. Now, being in the position to give back, I see my part as an important role in nurturing our next generation through our drama outreach programmes and school shows.
What have been some of the greatest challenges in your artistic journey?
As a producer, I would say funding and selling tickets for both theatre and film.
I’m very passionate about developing our arts culture. Hopefully one day, Singapore will be the Asian equivalent of Broadway/West End. We have the infrastructure, finances, and industry. We just need our people to believe in our local works, and of course, have the culture of going to the theatres.
If someone wanted to break into this industry, how would you recommend they get their start?
I would say they should commit themselves to mastering a specific skill – be it singing, acting, or dancing (or any other related skill). Mastery is something extremely important in our industry because that essentially makes up the tools in our toolbox.
That is why we have launched an extensive training programme in both Acting and Musical Theatre for beginners and emerging performers, as well as professional and experienced performers.
After training, it is essential to constantly put yourselves out there, be it through open-call auditions, creating content, or collaborations with others.
How did the collaboration with Mina Kaye come about?
I met Mina when she was still studying at LASALLE College of the Arts. I was working on one of her shows that she was performing in school and we have been good friends since then. I produced her first concert called The Mina Kaye Show in 2014 when she was organising a farewell concert to fund her Master’s programme. Mina brought the house down for that and I’ve been nudging her to do another concert since then. There has never been a right time, until now – eight years later! So this will be a real treat for our audiences!
What’s going to surprise people about this show?
Many consider Mina to be our Musical Theatre royalty! So apart from her powerful vocals, audiences are also going to be surprised by how much talent we have in Singapore, as the show will feature special guest performers – and a surprise performance.
I have been in rehearsals with these talented folks and every time we rehearse, I am blown away. I cannot wait to see all of them do their thing on stage – it is going to be a riot, and I’m not exaggerating!
Are there any new projects or endeavours you’re excited to share?
As the mastery of one’s craft is extremely important in our industry, we have just launched our Musical Theatre Training Programme called Steps to Broadway. This is Singapore’s only integrated year-long Musical Theatre training programme conducted by award-winning practitioners including Mina Kaye, Joanne Ho (our Music Director for the concert), and Seong Hui Xuan (one of the guest performers for the concert).
Get your tickets to Mina Kaye: Live in Concert here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
(Photos: Derrick Chew, Sight Lines Entertainment)
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