Recent School of the Arts (Sota) graduate Selma Alkaff reckons her plan to take a performance degree is "every Asian parent's worst nightmare".
To which her mother, Mrs Camilla Alkaff, quips: "It's lucky that we're not 100 per cent Asian parents then, though I've lived here for so long, maybe I'm more Singaporean than I think I am."
The 48-year-old Swede, who has lived in Singapore for about 28 years, adds: "Practically, it might not be the best option as the theatre industry is tough. But if you really know for sure, if you can't live without it and are prepared to starve or make sacrifices for it, then, okay."
She and her husband Jafar Alkaff, 49, a scion of the prominent Arab family in Singapore that built the iconic Alkaff Mansion, have two younger children, Hannah, 15, and Ali, 11.
Selma, 18, makes her professional debut as an actress this week in Circle Mirror Transformation, which runs from Thursday to Feb 15 at the DBS Arts Centre. The comedy-drama, presented by theatre company Pangdemonium, brings together five aspiring actors at a community centre acting class.
Currently taking a "gap year" to "figure things out a bit and gain more experience in theatre and in life", Selma intends to apply for drama schools in the United States and Britain.
Mr Alkaff, who runs an events management business, is willing to let Selma and her younger sister, Hannah, also a Sota student, pursue their interest in theatre.
He says: "For now, it's good for them to try. As they get older, they may find something else. As a parent, I do hope they find something more steady for the future."
He harbours hopes that his eldest child will "do law some day", a sentiment that Selma attributes to a passing comment she once made about being interested in environmental law, which she says her dad "seized upon".
What sparked your interest in theatre?
Selma: I started doing drama in Primary 1 at Opera Estate Primary School at the drama club there. In Primary 6, I won third prize in a nation-wide playwriting competition, The Write Stuff, with my play about a selfish Goldilocks.
I've always done theatre, but the thought of it as a career came last year when I got the role for Pangdemonium. That was quite encouraging because they believed in me.
I told my parents and they said, "Are you sure they got the right person?"
Mr Alkaff: I was quite surprised, but happy for her. I knew she was very determined and hardworking.
Mrs Alkaff: It was a lucky break and a great opportunity. I thought, wait and see first, they might change their mind.
Your 15-year-old sister Hannah is also studying at Sota, like you did. How would you describe your sibling relationship?
Selma: Hannah is passionate about theatre. We give each other advice about theatre. Hannah's quite honest and doesn't sugarcoat things. At school, if I had a bad performance, she would give it to me straight. We trust each other. She's my No. 1 critic.
What was Selma like as a child?
Mrs Alkaff: She thrives on attention, she's very excitable and enthusiastic. When she was 21/2 years old, she put on her backpack weeks in advance of attending daycare. When she got there, she threw up due to nervousness. She was a very active and energetic child, and has always been a good girl.
Mr Alkaff: She's also very self-driven. She took ballet as a preschooler and tap dancing at around seven years old. She took ballet till she was about 14 or 15. She still does tap. Rain or shine, she wanted to go for the lessons.
Selma: I'm easy-going and never gave my parents any problems. I've never had to sneak out of the house. I'm not really interested in clubbing. My parents drop me off at Zouk when I go there.
What is your parenting style like?
Mr Alkaff: It's a balance of Western and Eastern styles. I come from a very traditional Singaporean Arab family, which is more conservative. We hold values such as respect for elders. My wife comes from a Swedish culture of more openness, more open communication.
Mrs Alkaff: It's quite an open dialogue. We talk things through with our children. I'm quite relaxed. I'm not a Tiger Mum. Selma: My parents are very supportive. There's a lot of trust between us.
What was your naughtiest moment as a child?
Selma: Nothing. Maybe I talked too much. My mum let me roll in the mud, climb trees.
Mr Alkaff: Selma's very obedient. My wife allowed them as young children to paint the walls and floor, which would be painted over in white again. It was freedom of expression.
Which parent are you closer to?
Selma: Growing up, I was closer to my mum because she was at home caring for us. Now, I'm close to both of them. As a young adult, I learn things from both of them. My dad gives me pep talks about being determined and not giving up - he started his business from scratch 15 years ago. Mum is realistic, but encouraging. What are your views on caning?
Selma: I've never been caned. I've never even had a curfew.
Mr Alkaff: No child should be physically harmed.
Mrs Alkaff: I'm from Sweden, where corporal punishment of children is against the law. I wouldn't suggest violence as a solution. Coming from a Swedish background, it would be weird if I ever bought a cane. It's not in my mind at all.
If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you have done differently?
Mr Alkaff: Nothing. We're blessed that she doesn't want to smoke or party. Communication is so good between us. I think she's grown up happy.
Mrs Alkaff: Nothing. While I would ideally have liked to live on a farm, her upbringing was probably what I would have liked as a child, free and easy.
Selma: Nothing. Though maybe I would have placed a bit more emphasis on academics, maybe been more of a Tiger Mum, in terms of drills and doing homework. I had above-average grades, but I could have failed PSLE and they would have said it was okay. I had to go to look for mathematics tuition on my own while I was at Sota.
Circle Mirror Transformation runs from Thursday to Feb 15 at the DBS Arts Centre.
This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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