Bilingual theatre practitioner Danny Yeo, 42, says he owes his career to being good in languages, an inclination his parents encouraged from the time he was a child.
"We spoke Mandarin at home and my parents also conversed in Cantonese. I'm fluent in Mandarin, English and Cantonese. It's possible to learn many languages," says Danny, who has written the script for the Mandarin adaptation of the children's play Goldilocks And The Three Bears, now showing at DBS Arts Centre.
His father, retired managing director Yeo See Ann, 69, says: "My wife and I are Chinese-educated and we encouraged our sons to build up their interest in Chinese culture."
Danny, who is not married, has a 38-year-old younger brother, Jason, who works in real estate management.
Their mother, Madam Low Yin Fong, 68, a retiree who works part-time as a nurse, recalls how Danny was always interested in the Chinese language.
"When he was in primary school, I would take him to the library, where, out of six books he borrowed, five would be in Chinese," she says.
She took him to an acting workshop in Chinese when he was 10, "which started my interest in the performing arts", says Danny, who was an Anglo- Chinese School boy from primary school to junior college.
Formerly a child actor, he went on to act, direct, produce and write scripts for Chinese and English productions. He also hosts events and has worked as a radio deejay, as well as a polytechnic lecturer in Chinese studies and media.
He says: "My entire career has been because of my abilities in language and communication. For events hosting, the demand is quite high for bilingual hosts; in theatre, as well. I'm very lucky because I'm recognised as someone who's effectively bilingual. The family environment was of utmost importance in this."
You've adapted Goldilocks into Mandarin. What sparked your interest in children's theatre?
Danny: I have two nephews, who are three and five. I wanted to do productions where my brother's sons could enjoy themselves in the theatre.
Also, there's a big challenge in being bilingual for the younger generation. My older nephew last year said that I didn't know how to speak English because I used to insist on them speaking Mandarin. It was a very funny remark.
Madam Low: My grandchildren's parents and teachers speak to them in English and they are now not as fluent in Mandarin.
Mr Yeo: We still have to maintain this tradition of speaking in Mandarin.
What was your parenting style like?
Mr Yeo: We didn't place high expectations on Danny and his brother. We never insisted on their getting A+ in school. It was fine with us as long as they got through to the next grade. In terms of jobs, I never said, "don't do this or that". Once they have made their decision, it's quite difficult for parents to change their children's minds. I just performed my duty and sent them to university.
Madam Low: When they were young, I was very strict with them. For example, if they had a fever or cough, I would give them medicine but still make them go to school. After secondary school, I let them be independent. Danny could study on his own. He had tuition in English, maths and science in primary school but in secondary school, he didn't have tuition.
I wanted to instil discipline so they wouldn't throw tantrums in public.
Danny: I didn't feel pressure to excel. I was in the science stream in Anglo-Chinese Junior College because I went with the mainstream in that respect. However, I chose to forgo studying science at National University of Singapore and decided to pursue a mass communications degree in the United States.
Which parent are you closer to?
Danny: I can't tell. When I was younger, my dad was more lenient, so I probably went to him more. As I grew older, my personality is more like my mother's. She has artistic pursuits and has more sensitivity.
Madam Low: I used to do Chinese brush and oil painting. I think he's closer to me because I spent more time with the boys.
How did you discipline Danny as a child?
Danny: There was a cane in the house but my brother and I hid it.
Madam Low: Each time we wanted to use it, we couldn't find it.
Danny: The only times I got caned was when my mum caned me on the palm for Chinese spelling (ting xie). If I got one word wrong out of 10, I would get caned once; twice if I got two words wrong. Madam Low: It's just a threatening act.
Mr Yeo: I don't encourage this sort of punishment. It doesn't necessarily help children understand what is right or wrong.
Danny: I grew up in a time of public caning in school. We were used to it at school, but hardly at home. It was the norm. I was a lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic from 2004 to 2011. Teachers now are afraid to tell off their students, even verbally. They might be worried about how their students evaluate them. They are afraid to be stern, but in education, sometimes there are reasons to be stern.
If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?
Mr Yeo: Nothing. I'm satisfied with him.
Madam Yeo: I hope my mother can be a full-time housewife. I wanted to spend more time with her.
Danny: If I were the parent, I would wish my son talked more. I was very quiet and reserved as a child. Directing and writing scripts can be lonely. firstname.lastname@example.org
Goldilocks And The Three Bears (in Mandarin) runs till March 29 at DBS Arts Centre. Tickets
from $22 are available from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555).
This article was first published on March 15, 2015.
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