30 of Singapore's rising stars under 30

30 of Singapore's rising stars under 30
PHOTO: The Straits Times, Golden Village

Imam Shah, 26, actor

His charming smile and chiselled physique earned him a Top 12 spot in the Manhunt pageant in 2012.

Viewers of MediaCorp television station Suria voted him their favourite male personality at the recent Pesta Perdana awards show. But Imam is adamant his looks have little to do with his rise in the local Malay television industry.

"I don't want to be branded a hunk. I don't want people to say that I won because of my looks."

The former fitness instructor, whose most prominent role was playing a lifeguard in the television drama S.O.S., says he has become more careful in choosing his roles.

"After the Pesta Perdana win, I felt like whatever project I choose next will be crucial because the public, those who don't know me, will always ask 'Who is this guy? How did he beat other local actors such as Syarif SleeQ and Hisyam Hamid?'"

He has set his sights on cracking the Malay movie industry and has scored a meaty role in upcoming Malaysian gangster movie JB Pailang, set to be released next year.

Imam comes from an illustrious show business family - his grandmother is Malay music and film doyenne Nona Asiah, his mother is actress and ex-beauty queen Mariana Yati, and one of his uncles was the late Cultural Medallion composer Iskandar Ismail. His father is musician and singer Abdul Mu Talib, who played with veteran rockers Tania.

He made his acting debut when he was a child in a Malaysian telemovie, but the acting bug bit him much later.

At the age of 17, he took part in Suria's acting and hosting competition Anugerah Skrin in 2006, but crashed out in the third round.

Undaunted, he auditioned for many roles and eventually landed minor roles in shows such as Projek Showcase and, soon, more prominent parts in serials such as drama Mengejar Mentari (Chasing The Sun) and thriller-drama Firasat (Foreboding).

The bachelor says that his Pesta Perdana win has made him mindful of his growing fan base.

"My main responsibility is to entertain. If people don't like you, then it's hard."


Carrie Wong, 21, actress

Months after she played a feisty dessert hawker in the period drama The Journey: Tumultuous Times (2014), people on the streets are still calling Carrie Wong Tang Shui Mei, the name of her character in the television series.

The role earned her nominations as Best Newcomer and Best Supporting Actress at this year's Star Awards. Though she did not win, the nominations were a milestone in her life. Just a year ago, she was a wide-eyed spectator at the live recording of the event. This year, she walked down the red carpet among Singapore's top TV stars. "It's like a dream," she says of her experience.

Wong, a 1.75m-tall Nanyang Polytechnic graduate in hospitality and tourism management, was the youngest voted into the Top 10 Most Popular Female Artistes.

She attributes her success to good luck and her fluency in Mandarin. "Many 1990s kids don't like to speak Mandarin. I've been speaking Mandarin from young," says Wong, who got her show business break after coming in third in Hey Gorgeous (2013), a Channel U reality show that scouts good-looking students with star potential.

Although the bachelorette is now a star with an Instagram account boasting more than 70,000 followers, her family keeps her grounded.

"I go out without make-up, I accompany my parents to the kopitiam to drink coffee," says the only child of a housewife mother and retiree father.

She looks up to popular Taiwanese actress Ariel Lin, who has won two Best Actress titles at the Golden Bell Awards - Taiwan's equivalent of the Emmys. She gushes: "She's an actress with substance and I aspire to be like her. It would be a dream to work with her."


Aloysius Pang, 24, actor

These days, wherever this actor goes, cries of "Best Newcomer" greet him. At work, he is teased with the epithet by colleagues on the set of the new Channel 8 drama Hand In Hand.

Strangers do not spare him too. During this interview and photo shoot, whispers of "Best Newcomer" followed him.

Well, he was indeed crowned Best Newcomer at MediaCorp's annual Star Awards ceremony in April, but his star was already on the ascent before that.

One of eight young male stars hand-picked by MediaCorp to form the Eight Dukes, a new generation of young hunks, he has a full plate this year. On top of his Channel 8 dramas, he is starring as a cosplay enthusiast in a local film Young And Fabulous, set to be released in November.

The bachelor wants to be more than an actor. He has penned scripts for short films and music videos and hopes to direct, produce and star in his passion project, inspired by viral videos of bullying.

His recent Best Newcomer award marks the first time he has gone onstage not to receive punishment, but an award. In school, he was publicly caned once.

Still, the rebellious kid - the youngest of three sons whose parents are contractors - graduated with a diploma in management studies from Singapore Institute of Management University.

He acted in Channel 8 dramas from age nine to 14. He returned to acting in 2012 when he played a rich kid trying to find his late grandmother's connection to an island in local film Timeless Love (2012).

He says: "I hope I can reach new heights with my acting. It's more than a passion, acting is a part of me."


Nadiah M. Din, 25, actress

She acts, she sings, she dances. Plus, she is effectively bilingual in Malay and English. Little wonder then that this performer is sought after by producers of English- and Malay-language productions in TV and film.

The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts graduate first gained popularity as an actress on Malay TV channel Suria, wowing audiences with her portrayals of a conniving nightclub hostess in the hit show Anak Metropolitan (2012) and a goofy schoolgirl in Balik Sekolah (2012).

But it was not until she guest-starred as a maid in an episode of Channel 5's In Cold Blood (2013) that the doors opened English-language work.

"I never imagined I would be able to make that crossover from Malay to English programmes, but I guess people saw I could handle both languages after I did that one episode, which ended up being the highest-rated episode for the whole season," says the actress, who is the fifth of six children.

Her father was the late painter Mohammad Din Mohammad and her mother, Hamidah Jalil, is also an artist.

Since then, the bachelorette has been landing major English- language roles, such as a leading part of a feisty policewoman in Channel 5's period TV drama Mata Mata (2013).

The go-getter even snagged a lead role in the Italian opera film Le Badanti, which premiered in Cannes in May. "When director Marco Pollini interviewed me on Skype, I told him I could speak a little bit of Italian, when in fact I knew only short Italian greetings which I had taken from Google translate just moments before," she recalls with a chuckle.

"Doing the film in the end was really tough, since everything was in Italian, but I managed to memorise all my lines. Maybe I'm quite good with languages."


Ebi Shankara, 27, actor-host

Ebi Shankara is used to large crowds.

He has been a charming host at the sprawling National Day Parade and the SEA Games and was the youngest winner of the popular singing competition Vasantham Star at age 19.

He has notched up performances in several Wild Rice pantomimes and a hit stage revival of Michael Chiang's beloved Army Daze.

Earlier this year, he gave a star turn as Vinod in a revival of Haresh Sharma's classic play Off Centre at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, playing an intelligent young man struggling with severe depression, in a performance that moved audiences and critics to tears.

Shankara, who is not married, says: "I think that's the peak of what I've done so far."

He attributes all these to his co-actor, the award-winning Siti Khalijah Zainal, and to Off Centre's "exceptional" director Oliver Chong.

The only child of a businessman and a regional sales manager is an all-rounder, stepping into twin roles of magnetic entertainer and heavyweight lead actor with ease.

What first drew him to the stage was "that adrenaline rush... the applause that you get at the end of it, I was addicted to that".

What made him stay was the desire to improve his craft.

The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts theatre graduate is the co-artistic director of Ravindran Drama Group, one of the most established companies in the Tamil theatre scene that also does work in English.

The company produces about four shows a year and he is working to give the group a contemporary appeal and to reach out to a more diverse audience. "I feel that a lot of Indian issues are not addressed in English. We would like to do more English plays with an Indian perspective."

It has been challenging to juggle programming, recruitment, funding, budgets and publicity, but he has found it to be completely worth it.

"The most gratifying thing is when audiences and critics come and watch the play and say, that's a good play. That pay-off is enough."


Seong Hui Xuan, 28, actress

Seong Hui Xuan's CV reads like a checklist of some of Singapore's best musicals of the past five years. Wild Rice's La Cage Aux Folles (2012), Dream World Productions' Company (2012), Dream Academy's Into The Woods (2011), Pangdemonium's The Full Monty (2010) and Spring Awakening (2012) - she has been in them all.

And she has not stopped. This year, she will be taking on one of the lead roles in the Singapore International Festival of Arts opener next month, Nanyang: The Musical, playing a character inspired by Singapore pioneer artist Georgette Chen.

It will require her to perform entirely in Mandarin for the first time, which has meant "lots of hanyu pinyin" on her part, she says with a laugh.

Seong is one of Singapore theatre's examplars of a triple threat. She can sing, dance and act, and has put every single one of those skills to good use over the course of her career - she is just as comfortable playing the part of Olivia in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (2012) as she is being assistant choreographer in the upcoming blockbuster The LKY Musical, which will open later this month.

She hopes to do more choreography in the future.

Seong, who is not married, graduated with first class honours from Lasalle College of the Arts with a bachelor's in musical theatre. She was spotted by leading director Tracie Pang in the school production of Sweet Charity, which led to a strong working relationship with theatre company Pangdemonium. She clinched a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Life! Theatre Awards for her part as a sassy younger sister in the heart-rending production of Rabbit Hole (2013).

She was one of the youngest winners to take home the trophy in the same category the year before, for playing a ditsy flight stewardess in the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, given a Singapore spin by director Hossan Leong.

She is the only daughter of two teachers and has a younger brother.

Seong is modest about her achievements. She says: "I've been lucky to have encountered people who have been so supportive and nurturing. When I was starting out, it was scary. You don't know if people will hire you - you don't know if people will even like you... You just cross your fingers and jump in, and hope."


Faith Ng, 28, playwright

Faith Ng laughs as she recalls the "weird labels" she has been given over the past few years: Prodigy. Dark horse. Even the questioning "one-hit wonder?".

Under her bangs, her eyes widen: "That was really very stressful." But the playwright seems to have shaken off those difficult expectations with a hat-trick of strong plays.

Ng was thrust into the limelight when her intense domestic drama, wo(men), garnered rave reviews at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Arts Festival in 2010 while she was still a student. The play, about three generations of women in a family and their relationships, was later nominated at the Life! Theatre Awards for Best Original Script.

She received her next script nomination last year, for a tender but incisive portrait of a Singaporean marriage, For Better Or For Worse (2013). This was inspired by her parents' own marriage - her father is a logistics company manager and her mother, a tutor.

The associate artist with Checkpoint Theatre feels that her most challenging play to date was the recent Normal (2015), about students grappling with life in the Normal (Academic) stream in secondary school.

Normal also received positive reviews, but for Ng, who was a Normal stream student, writing it was like taking an emotional sucker punch. She cried after a particularly difficult feedback session with the actors.

"The other plays were about my family or my friends, but this was about me. I had to be vulnerable, but at the same time, I didn't want to navel-gaze."

That is a trademark of Ng's plays - they provide insight into contemporary Singaporean life, but are never indulgent or mawkish. "Write with your heart, but edit with your brain," she says with a grin.

She received her master's degree in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and is a part-time lecturer at NUS, where she teaches playwriting. Ng is married to NUS theatre researcher and academic Alvin Lim, 32, and the couple are now working on a play that will deal with religion, and fathers and sons. They have no children. She is also working with The Necessary Stage's Theatre for Seniors wing to write a short play.

She still struggles with the pressure of putting out play after play. "What people don't realise about writing is, you need to rest. You can't keep on churning out work. The quality will go down. You need time to refine it."

She adds: "I'm more invested in quality than quantity."


Joel Tan, 28, playwright

Joel Tan says his writing process is like a "menstrual cycle". "It depends on my bio-rhythm. Sometimes, I can go at it for days, but other times, I just need to stay away from the page as much as possible," he says with a laugh.

He has emerged as one of the strongest voices in theatre and on the page here over the last few years.

He made his debut in 2011 with Wild Rice's Family Outing and, since then, has made a name with plays such as Take Off Productions' Mosaic (2015), a critique of Gen Y's obsession with preserving a rose-tinted past, and The Way We Go (2014) by Checkpoint Theatre, about stumbling upon love later in life.

His works have not just been popular with audiences - The Way We Go was a hit with critics as well.

Life's freelance theatre reviewer Ng Yi-Sheng said Mosaic "is evidence that young Singaporeans can make great theatre".

The associate artist with Checkpoint Theatre will script Wild Rice's annual pantomime, The Emperor's New Clothes, this year. He also mentors younger practitioners. He has worked with groups such as Take Off Productions, a network of young theatre practitioners, and Creative Edge, a theatre training ensemble for actors aged 17 to 27.

Tan hopes to expand his repertoire and push himself out of his comfort zone. "I want to start writing plays that will surprise myself and that I didn't know I could write, or write about things I didn't know I was interested in."

His mother is a nurse and his father is a manager at a maritime company. He has two brothers, aged 38 and 26. The older one is a freelance writer and the younger sibling works in marketing.

Regardless of what happens in the future, he knows he will keep on writing. "I wouldn't know what else to do... I suppose it's a way of clarifying the mess in my head and processing my own complications," he says.

Writing, he adds, also lets him express his frustrations with the world. "Through the act of writing, you can agitate the texture of the world around you."


Wang Weiliang, 27, actor-host

More Beng than babe, Wang Weiling shot to fame playing the wisecracking Lobang in the popular Ah Boys To Men (2012, 2013) films. He is the most distinctive face among that cohort of young hunks and the most versatile and quick-witted - which is why he has developed an active hosting career in addition to his acting.

Like Lobang in the Jack Neo films, he is unpretentious, hungry and decidedly unbookish. He dropped out of Montfort Secondary School at the age of 14 and took on odd jobs from selling cars to sugar cane juice. Fluent in Hokkien, he has been hosting getai shows since he was 22.

Now, he has branched out into hosting on TV, helming variety programmes such as Mission S-Change (2015), where he and fellow Ah Boys star Tosh Zhang travel across China for 50 days with only 50 products to barter for food and shelter.

His official Twitter account has more than 35,800 followers, while his fan club Weiliangsation has more than 7,700 followers on Twitter. Never mind that the actor is hardly hunk material. Ask him what he thinks his edge is, he says: "Not being good-looking."

He enjoys all aspects of his show business career, but what he still finds bewildering is how he managed to become a star.

"I never knew I could act until director Neo gave me the chance.

"Before that, all I wanted to focus on was doing my best in getai and doing whatever I could to help my mother with household expenses."

The younger of two brothers is raised by a 51-year-old administration assistant mother, who is a single parent. Adding that he dreams of emulating the career of Hong Kong actor Nick Cheung, the bachelor says: "Even though I've been in the industry for a few years, I have not found it easier. I take on every new project as a new challenge. I will put in 100 per cent of my effort to do well."


Irfan Kasban, 27, playwright and director

From sensitive allegories about race and religion to site-specific, non-verbal productions, Irfan Kasban has tackled an entire range of styles and genres when it comes to creating for the stage. He is an all-rounder when it comes to the theatre. He writes, directs, does stage management and lighting design. "I think my challenge right now would be to act," he says.

For the moment, he is concentrating on writing and directing.

He directed last year's winner of the 24-hour Playwriting Competition (Open Category), Three Inches Of Alive by Clarilyn Khoo, which just completed its run in several heartland theatres.

Later this month, he will be directing nine dramatised readings for a TheatreWorks programme that develops writing for the stage. He will also be on the theatre company's roster of associate artists next year, where he is looking to work on a piece based on Sun Tzu's classic The Art Of War.

The Temasek Polytechnic graduate in applied food science and nutrition, who is not married, is the second of six children. His mother works in primary school education, while his father is an IT specialist and consultant.

He enrolled in Ekamatra's Playwright Mentorship Programme under the tutelage of former The Substation artistic director Noor Effendy Ibrahim in 2006and was appointed associate artistic director last year. He has since left to become a freelancer.

Irfan's work gained wider attention when a triple-bill of his plays, collectively titled Hantaran Buat Mangsa Lupa (Memories For The Victims Of Amnesia), was presented at the 2012 M1 Singapore Fringe Festival organised by The Necessary Stage. Genap 40 was a poetic debate between an expectant mother and an angel who visits her; W.C. involved a man and a boy trapped, metaphorically, in a toilet cubicle; and monologue 94:05 followed a man with a congenital heart defect who had been stripped of almost everything he loved and was facing the unknown. The trilogy received warm reviews.

A play Irfan wrote two years ago, Tahan (2013), drawn from his own experiences in the police force, was selected to be part of the Esplanade's Singapore theatre retrospective, The Studios: fifty, earlier this year, showcasing him as one of the voices to watch from his generation.

He says: "Once you've written a play, it's not yours. It becomes part of the universe, part of a larger conversation."


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