Act of balance

Act of balance

SINGAPORE - If you have watched a play in Singapore at some point in the past 20 years, it is highly likely that Karen Tan was in it.

Blockbuster musical, sidesplitting comedy, intense family drama or genre-bending experimental work - she has done them all.

Tan, 46, is one of Singapore's most prolific stage actresses and continues to act in at least five or six shows a year.

Case in point: She is starring in two vastly different works within the next month.

Checkpoint Theatre's laugh-a-minute political satire Atomic Jaya opens on Thursday and Cake Theatrical Production's One Point Six One Eight begins on Nov 8.

She tells Life! with a warm guffaw: "I like to joke and sometimes, I think it's half true, when I tell people that actually, my career is more reputation than actual performance."

But judging from the avalanche of scripts she has in her possession, many of them yellowed and well-thumbed, her reputation seems to go hand in hand with her numerous performances.

She sent a self-deprecating text message to this reporter prior to the interview at her two-storey home, saying: "Typically, I have nothing to wear. So I thought I could lie on my couch covered with all the scripts that I have worked on?"

And so she did, gamely allowing this reporter and a photographer to bury her in dusty folders and programme booklets on her lime-green couch.

Tan lives with her gynaecologist husband and their two daughters, aged 17 and eight, in a terrace house off Upper Thomson Road, an inviting space brimming with quirkily mismatched vintage furniture and vibrant splashes of paintings from across South-east Asia.

While some actors tend to stick to the same theatre company and others hold the fort as character actors, Tan has tackled a gamut of roles and worked across companies with a variety of different directors and playwrights.

To her, the most important guideline for selecting a role is to try something she has never done before. She adds: "I can't speak for other actors, but my role as an actor is to be the voice for a writer, a theatre company or the director.

"If a writer has a new play that's being put on and I'm asked to do it, I would do it. Because this writer will never know if the play works until it's actually performed.

Hearing it in your head is one thing, typing it out is one thing, saying it to yourself is one thing... But when you perform it, it's really there."

She chuckles: "Then you think, oh, actually that line is quite bad."

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