Even in the middle of a global pandemic, Dream Academy Artistic Director Selena Tan is going strong. Serving out her quarantine in Singapore after returning from 8 weeks on shoot in the Dominican Republic (Shotgun Wedding, in which her co-stars include Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Lopez), we caught up with Selena and how she’s been coping amidst the many challenges 2020 has faced, and Dream Academy’s new show I Am Kumar.
“I’m definitely not complaining about the opportunities I’ve been getting,” says Selena. “It’s been a good getaway and shoot, and I’m so grateful for it, along with all the interesting people I’ve met.”
Selana is well-aware of what a privilege it’s been for her to even get such an opportunity to travel for work, especially after a year of hunkering down and laying low in the local entertainment scene. “This whole period has been so difficult all around the world, particularly for live performances,” she says. “All we could do was sit tight and allow the medical field to progress and wait till things stabilised.”
“At Dream Academy, we were well aware of how little we could do, so my strategy was not to whinge, and see how best we could stay afloat and alive during this period,” she continues. “We’ve always been very mindful of our expenses and keeping ourself lean in terms of our cost. Couple that with a bit of government help, and it’s managed to tide us over to this year.”
As a big company though, there was almost this pressure for Dream Academy to re-open and put on a show once the restrictions started to life. “That’s why we had Crazy Christmas in December,” says Selena. “We felt like we had to do it because we wanted to had to get in there and show we’re still here, to show off our resilience and bounce back ASAP. We wanted to be the first few to come back to what we did best, especially after a year of experimenting with new things, to give the audience live theatre again.”
“Live performances need that kind of intimacy and energy.
Of course, with new measures in place, Dream Academy had to figure out new ways to manoeuvre around the restrictions and ensure a great show no matter what. “After the experience with the Esplanade Theatre for Crazy Christmas, we realised that we needed a smaller theatre to fill so it felt more full for both audience members and performers,” says Selena. “Live performances need that kind of intimacy and energy.” she adds. “There was a lot of wondering about whether we could do certain things when we were planning, and constantly adapting to the changing guidelines, yet making sure we could still do something spectacular.”
The choice to start off with a new Kumar show was made, partly because of how Dream Academy originally planned to stage the cancelled Vote Kumar last year in April. In this brand new show, I Am Kumar, Singapore’s (drag) queen of comedy makes a triumphant return, as he begins to question his own identity, and what exactly makes him the Kumar we know and love. How? Through his tried and tested sequence of songs, dance, keen observations and humourous anecdotes.
“To do I Am Kumar really means everything to us,” says Selena. “For all the audience members who bought tickets to Vote Kumar, we either gave them a refund or a video link to catch the recording of the show. But we also gave those who bought the higher tier tickets the option to replace their tickets with access to this year’s show instead. That was the commitment we made to our audiences and ourselves to start the year off with a brand new Kumar show.”
“We were so grateful to everyone who held on to their tickets and kept their faith in us. We know it wasn’t an easy 2020, and there were even those who ended up donating the money to us,” says Selena. “To me, it was so wonderful to see the community pull through together like that, and we really wanted them to know how much we appreciated it by giving it our all with our first show this year. We’re so happy we’re able to deliver on that, and this is really a big thank you to all who stood by us during this time.”
As the chief of Dream Academy, one would expect her to keep a watchful eye on the production, even when she was away. But Selena assures us of how much trust she put in her colleagues and fellow artists. “We had our eye on the target from the very beginning, and it was all about just following through on our plan,” says Selena.
“Kumar and the team have been fantastic, and when I had to leave, I left the show in George Chan’s capable hands. He and Kumar work wonderfully together, and all I had to do was just check in on the rehearsal reports and videos. There’s some nice personal moments amidst the usual Kumar flair and flamboyance, and I only really had to make very small suggestions. But I honestly think the audience is in for a nice treat.
In terms of how Dream Academy stages this comeback, beyond the loyal fans, Selena also attributes it to the contributions of both Capitol Theatre and even the National Arts Council (NAC), with regards to being able to put up this show. “IMC was the company that took over management of Capitol, and they were very sweet, asking about how they could support local theatre,” says Selena.
“I explained to them about the cost of putting up a show, from rental to logistics and tech, and they helped cut our costs. It also helps that with that by having an extended four-week run of the show, it helps to cover the costs, especially with the 250 audience member limit,” Selena adds. “And even though we’re a private limited, NAC actually did pitch in, and proactively reached out to us when they were offering aid, so it’s been very heartening.”
“I think that our commitment and efforts towards connecting with our audience is what keeps them coming back, and we do want to return to our three show a year schedule,” she concludes.
“All we can hope for is that people keep buying tickets, keep introducing their friends to local shows, and come to the theatre so we can carry on doing what we do. This has been an unprecedented time, and you really see people all banding together to lend support as a community. There’s no doubt in me that if something like this ever happens again, we will pull through together once more.”
I Am Kumar runs till 23rd May 2021 at the Capitol Theatre. Tickets available from BookMyShow