Lim Siauw Chong was born in 1956 in Indonesia and became a Singapore citizen in 1970. His interest in the arts was evident ever since he was a child. He started with playing the piano and then proceeded to painting.
Upon enlisting for National Service, Lim met Dick Lee during their medical examination at the Central Manpower Base (CMPB). Both friends ended up joining the SAF Music and Drama Company which provided them with an avenue to showcase their talents as well as entertain the troops.
He gave up corporate life as a television and events producer to train in Fine Arts at the LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore.
Lim draws inspiration for his paintings from observations, places, people, ideas and readings. These all serve to connect him to many interesting visual interpretations. His works sway towards the contemporary style and approach.
Contemporary paintings lend him the perfect window to express his modernity as a man living with hybrid cultures and sensibilities in the changing world. He also does voluntary social work in his free time. He feels that it is a very rewarding experience to look after the disadvantaged.
Lim was the director of the very first production of Army Daze in 1987 and its instigator too. He encouraged Michael Chiang to turn his book into a play. Lim mentioned how even before there were gay Singaporean plays, the police were censoring gay-themed foreign plays like The Magic Fundoshi and a short lesbian piece called The Dreammakers. They would circle the offending lines in red pencil, and theatre practitioners just had to deal with it.
Straits Times interview, 2009Edit
Lim was interviewed in 2009 by The Straits Times' arts reporter Adeline Chia and the article, "Back on the street" was published in the newspaper's Life! section on 20 July 2009:
"After more than a decade away from the media spotlight, Lim Siauw Chong is back.
The stage and television stalwart in the 1970s and 1980s and one of the founders of TheatreWorks is treading the boards again in Streetwalkers, a play by Action Theatre about the tangled relationship between three gay men.
Written by composer and sound designer Yak Aik Wee, the script won Action Theatre’s playwriting competition Theatre Idols in April this year.
The production is directed by Samantha Scott-Blackhall, Action Theatre’s newly appointed resident director. It also stars David Leong, 38, who acted in the Hong Kong movie Painted Skin, and newcomer Conan Choong, 19.
Who lured Lim back to the footlights?
“I think it’s typecasting,” he says, before bursting into laughter. But “flamboyant" is not a word you would use to describe the tanned and youthful-looking 53-year-old bachelor.
Charming, yes; mellow, probably. Dressed casually in a fitted striped top and jeans, he is thoughtful, playful and candid during an interview with Life!. There is also the unmistakeable charisma of someone whose life has never been far from the spotlight.
After all, this was the man who won the 1976 Talentime with singer Jacintha Abisheganaden and his sister, Cheng Hui - they were a trio who called themselves Vintage. He went on to become a theatre director, actor and TV producer.
He dismisses all of this with a wave of his hand (“Who wants to hear this boring history?”) and says that the last time he acted was in 1999, as a 70-year-old wheelchair-bound patriarch in the horror musical, Haunted.
The initial rehearsals for Streetwalkers were gruelling. His body was an “old unoiled machinery”.
Laughing, he says: “After the rehearsal, I was so apologetic. I wanted to call Samantha to say that if she had second thoughts about casting me, I was prepared to drop out.
“But I didn’t call. And the old instincts and the muscle memory came back. The tap was rusty for so long, when the first drop came out... Boy, was it a relief.”
He says he was drawn to his character in the play. “Streetwalkers is about ageism. Gilbert is a high flyer and a successful designer, but he refuses to acknowledge how vulnerable he is. He can’t escape ageism.”
Does the role strike a chord with him in real life? He says: “It’s a universal thing. The ageing process, regardless of gender, is such a construct. When you are a teenager, you are told to act your age. When you are in your 30s, people tell you that you have to stay young, if not, you’re not productive. It’s youth adulation.”
He has learnt lessons along the way. “As you get older, you realise it’s okay to be vulnerable and have bumps and pimples. Hopefully, you also have wisdom and good spiritedness.”
His career has been a long and restless one. Born in Indonesia, the second of six children to a Singaporean father and Indonesian mother, he moved to Singapore with his family at the age of six.
He was an introverted child but loved singing and playing the piano. In his teens, he banged out smoky jazz standards at dingy bars such as Tropicana in Scotts Road for pocket money.
He says: “The stage is the shy person’s revenge on other people.” After winning Talentime, he studied at London Film School. To pay for his living expenses, he performed in the chorus line of West End musical The King And I.
In 1982, he returned to Singapore, and directed a few productions. Realising that “it was such fun to be working with like-minded people”, he set up a theatre company with theatre practitioners Lim Kay Tong and Justin Hill. Thus TheatreWorks was born.
Where: The Room Upstairs, 42 Waterloo Street When: July 30 to Aug 9 Admission: $35 to $45 from Sistic (tel: 6348-5555, www.sistic.com.sg) He says: “Those days, we didn’t think about the bottom line. We just registered the company. If we thought about it too much, we would be too scared.”
After he took on a television producer job at what was then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), he had little time for theatre. He needed a successor for TheatreWorks. So in 1988, fresh-faced director Ong Keng Sen, who recently graduated from the National University of Singapore, stepped in.
After SBC, Lim set up WOW International in 1992, a theatre and events management company. Some of the plays he restaged were Michael Chiang's Army Daze and Ovidia Yu’s Three Virgins, a play about womanhood played by men. He also studied for and received a diploma in painting at the Lasalle College of the Arts and a degree in journalism and media studies at Queensland University via correspondence.
“But soon I stopped studying. Studying course after course is delaying life. ‘The tap was rusty for so long, when the first drop came out... Boy, was it a relief’
Lim Siauw Chong (left), on returning to the stage for Action Theatre play Streetwalkers (above)
You’ll feel it when you get older,” he says.
He then joined the Singapore Management University’s Office of Student Life as assistant director and organised the university’s arts festival. He left at the end of 2007.
Now, in his own words, he is “happily bumming”.
Rent from property he bought earlier brings him $1,500 a month. He lives with his parents in the MacPherson area.
He says: “I got out of the institutionalised fabric of the workplace. I wanted to simplify my life. I’m growing old and only the essentials are important.
“Of course, there’s less money and less material comfort. But there's also less stress. But you earn your own keep.”
He says he lives simply, does not go on holidays and also shaves his own head. He still sings and plays the keyboard at home.
He admits that he has wondered what his life would have been like if he had stuck to one discipline.
“When I was young, I didn’t know which creative area was my forte.”
After a pause, he adds: “But I feel well-rounded. I won’t be embarrassed by any of the things I did, whether it’s acting, painting or singing.”
TheatreWorks co-founder Lim Siauw Chong eyes the stage again as he returns to acting after 10 years.
- Adeline Chia, "Back on the street", The Straits Times, Life! section, page C2, 20 July 2009.
- Lim Siauw Chong, Metakaos, 2007-2013.
- Dick Lee, "Can't stop the music", Cyber Pioneer, MINDEF, 20 October 2015.
This article was written by Roy Tan.