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Gen Y Speaks: I’m a potter, actor and playwright. Covid-19 has upended my artistic pursuits but I’m not giving up

Growing up, I never excelled in art classes at school and no one who knew me would have thought of me as an artsy-fartsy type.

 

The author at his pottery studio at Sultan Arts Village on Dec 16, 2021.

The author at his pottery studio at Sultan Arts Village on Dec 16, 2021.

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This article was written in partnership with Singtel.

 

Growing up, I never excelled in art classes at school and no one who knew me would have thought of me as an artsy-fartsy type.

Written words came easier to me, which led me to pursue a Communication Studies degree at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information in Nanyang Technological University.

Little did I know that an introductory drama module I decided to take for fun would spur my interest in the arts.

It opened my eyes to theatre as a viable extension for storytelling and sparked in me a sense that maybe I didn’t have to be super talented to be involved in the arts.

After graduating in 2013, I embarked on a typical corporate career in marketing and product management across telecommunications, financial services and now, technology.

Marketing provided me with an avenue to explore the consumer psyche and create relevant campaigns for customers.

Being able to add value to others’ lives gave me a great deal of satisfaction while allowing me to keep my finger on the pulse of the latest technological developments.

However, I still felt that something was missing. I needed a creative outlet for ideas that I had and stories that I wanted to tell.

REVISITING THE ARTS

As chance would have it, I came across a theatre acting workshop in 2015 conducted by a faith-based organisation and decided to give it a try.

Following the workshop, I was offered a permanent placement with the drama group named The Arts Collective.

We would meet every week, usually after work on a weekday, to undertake creative exercises that were usually followed by rehearsals for an upcoming play or workshops by myriad artistic directors.

I would look forward to every session as there was always something new to learn and most of all, the freedom to act on creative ideas that had the ability to touch lives.

The author acting on stage as part of a production that addressed social issues such as dating, divorce and dementia in December 2019. Photo courtesy of Costa Daniel Chua.

I remember vividly an improvisational performance held at the Enabling Village in which we would re-enact real-life stories told by the audience.

One particular story featured a heart-rending account of childhood abuse and perceived injustice.

Following the rather intense re-enactment of the story, the audience member shared how he came to see things from the perceived perpetrator’s perspective and found peace in revisiting the incident again.

There would be many more such anecdotes from audience members about how a play made them reflect on various unconscious biases or helped them come to terms with certain issues that they were struggling with, all of which lends purpose to my involvement in theatre.

Before I knew it, I was acting in musicals and performing at public arts venues such as Centre 42 two to three times a year.

In 2018, a musical I acted in revolved around the concept of ceramics.

As part of the preparations, all the actors had to take part in a ceramics workshop and that inadvertently kick-started my foray into the visual arts.

In a case of déjà vu of sorts, what started off as a single ceramics workshop eventually became an apprenticeship that has endured for the past three years.

For me, drama couldn’t have been more different than the visual arts.

While drama taught me to read the audience, connect with them on stage and often required me to work with other actors in bringing a story to life, pottery was generally more introspective in nature with most artistic creations being driven by an individual.

Sticking my fingers into both forms of art has allowed me to better appreciate situations from different perspectives.

COVID-19 STRIKES THE ARTS

By now, we are all familiar with how Covid-19 brought an abrupt halt to live performances across the nation. Plans were shelved and like many others, I was hopeful that the worst would be over soon.

During this period, I doubled down on pottery, as it was still an available avenue for me to indulge in the arts.

The author bringing out some freshly made ceramic pieces to sun dry prior to firing in a kiln in August 2020. Photo courtesy of Costa Daniel Chua.

However, even pottery ceased to become viable during last year’s circuit breaker as the arts were not classified as an essential service and hence only the master potter and owner of the pottery workshop, from whom I previously rented a space, was allowed into the workshop. 

For the first time, I was devoid of the opportunity to dabble in both artistic forms. I felt restless and bored, as if I was wasting valuable time that could be used to further hone my craft.

INNOVATING AMIDST THE CHALLENGES

As the pandemic dragged on, it soon became evident that my fellow artists and I had to find a way to continue honing our craft while abiding by social distancing rules.

First, a group of us co-founded our own pottery studio instead of renting from other potters.

Having a space to call our own would allow us to continue our craft for the long haul should another lockdown be re-imposed.

On the drama front, my mates and I decided to put together a series of recorded monologues in August 2020.

Despite some technical difficulties streaming plays online for the first time and concerns that the audience would not take to watching theatre performances online, we successfully screened it online to about 200 people watching in real-time, and to rave reviews at that.

POWERING THE ARTS WITH TECHNOLOGY

While going digital with the arts is all the rage these days, there are still challenges, especially in recreating the magic of theatre within a two-dimensional format on-screen.

The pandemic has also disrupted travel and supply chains, making it difficult to host exhibitions and ship physical ceramic pieces across countries.

The author pivoted to filming a monologue that was broadcast to a virtual audience during the Circuit Breaker period in April 2020. Photo courtesy of Costa Daniel Chua.

Technology and in particular, 5G adoption in Singapore, has the potential to address these challenges by future-proofing the arts from further disruptions similar to those wrought by the pandemic.

With its ultra-fast speed, 5G technology could potentially be used to power holographic performances in real-time, thereby allowing actors and audiences alike to interact in three dimensions (3D).

Likewise, non-fungible tokens and 3D-printing technology would allow potters to replicate the exact dimensions of each ceramic piece across countries while certifying the authenticity and controlling the distribution of the replicated artwork.

THE NEXT FRONTIER

It is my hope to someday collaborate with both local and global galleries and corporate companies in curating ceramic exhibitions and nurturing appreciation for local pottery.

Likewise on the theatre front, my vision is to work with other local theatre companies to bring local productions to the masses, possibly even taking them overseas too someday.

In the near term, I have written my first full-length play about suicide and mental health, with plans lined up to stage it in 2022.

This will be the first play that I will be co-directing and I am certainly looking forward to expanding my horizons in theatre practice.

I couldn’t have been more thankful to my family and friends for their support throughout my artistic journey as well as the various creative directors and master potters who took me under their wing.

In the end, the pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it pushed me out of my comfort zone to experiment with new formats, and made me realise just how much the arts have become such an integral part of my life.

The arts can seem somewhat daunting but I would encourage anyone who has even a sliver of interest in the arts to just give it a try. You never know where this journey might lead you.

I am just getting started on mine.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Costa Daniel Chua is a marketing professional with a global e-commerce multinational company. He is a co-founder of an arts studio at Sultan Arts Village, a theatre actor and shares samples of his art works and performances on his Instagram account @costadc. 

Related topics

passion arts theatre Covid-19

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