National Arts Council
Feature | Public Service

Making the
Arts Come Alive

National Arts Council
The National Arts Council (NAC) Scholarship seeks to nurture promising talents in the arts and culture. We speak to two NAC Arts scholars to find out how they are shaping Singapore’s arts scene and inspiring audiences and fellow artists.

F or James Tan, his foray into the arts began when he was an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore Theatre Studies Programme. James worked at the University Cultural Centre as an undergraduate student crew, where he was exposed to various performances. “I had good insight into what the ‘backstage world’ looks like and how a show is actually put together. The adrenaline rush of working in theatre attracted me to pursue Lighting Design as a career,” says James.

On the same note, Glenda Ng’s love for stage performances spurred her to be part of the arts and support the dreams of other artists. “I was in choir in primary and secondary school. When I discovered the Diploma in Arts and Theatre Management (formerly known as Diploma in Technology and Arts Management) in Republic Polytechnic (RP), I thought I could support in my own little way, either as an Arts Manager or a Production Manager. After graduation, I decided to pursue my degree in Arts Management, with sponsorship from the NAC Arts Scholarship,” shares Glenda.

Why did you apply for the NAC Arts Scholarship?

James Tan: I strongly believed that the NAC Arts Scholarship would help me grow as an artist. I also did intensive research and knew that I would be headed to the US to further my studies. For three years, I designed as many shows as possible and took production shots religiously, so that I could put together a comprehensive design portfolio in preparation for the scholarship application. Furthermore, I wanted to concentrate on my studies without being bogged down by monetary woes upon my arrival in the US. My plan B was really to just fly off with whatever I had, and figure things out along the way. I am blessed and honoured to have received the scholarship.

Glenda Ng: I always knew I wanted to further my studies in the Arts at the degree level. But if I wanted to study overseas, I would have to attain the NAC Arts Scholarship as my degree would be financially challenging. I worked towards my goal with the belief that NAC would be able to support my dreams.

James Tan, Recipient of the NAC Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate)

James Tan
Recipient of the NAC Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate)

Freelance Lighting Designer

“I am glad to do my parents and Singapore proud, and for representing UCSD Department of Theatre & Dance.”

Tell us more about your internship experiences during the scholarship journey.

James: During my professional internship at The La Jolla Playhouse (San Diego) and Allen Lee Hughes Lighting Design Fellowship at Arena Stage (Washington, DC), I had the opportunity to observe and collaborate with many Regional and Broadway Lighting Designers, like Ken Billington, David Lander, Ben Stanton, Paul Gallo, Lap Chi Chu and Howell Binkley.

Some of my roles as a Lighting Design Assistant included calling follow spot cues, running daily work notes with electricians, executing focus calls, tracking intelligent fixtures, creating the script layout and lighting cue sheet, and charting out design notes for the Lighting Designer. Being part of the process in an established theatre setup and tech environment equipped me with the knowledge and fundamentals of how a Lighting Design team can be efficiently run.

Glenda: I interned and worked part-time at various companies both locally as well as in Australia during my undergraduate days. Some companies include Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, West Australian Ballet, University Theatres at the University of Western Australia, Asian Civilisations Museum, and Singapore Drama Educators’ Association.

One thing I enjoyed doing was tagging my internship experience with the modules I was taking that semester. For instance, if I was taking a marketing unit, I would do an internship with a marketing department. I think it is important to fully explore the various roles of an arts manager and not pigeon-hole myself. After all, the best time to experience various things is when you’re a student!

Glenda Ng, Recipient of the NAC Arts Scholarship (Undergraduate)

Glenda Ng
Recipient of the NAC Arts Scholarship (Undergraduate)

Programmer, The Esplanade Theatre Co. Ltd

“I think it is important to fully explore the various roles of an arts manager and not pigeon-hole myself. After all, the best time to experience various things is when you’re a student!”

Describe your roles and responsibilities at your current jobs.

James: As a Freelance Lighting Designer, I play a supporting role to help “tell the story” and direct attention on stage. Like a cinematographer that dictates camera angles in film, my job is to craft poignant moments on stage, to help steer the audience towards a certain acting area, or to evoke emotions through the use of light, intensity and colour. In the larger scheme of things, I am one of the design collaborators that helps fulfil a director or choreographer’s vision and set the aesthetics of the production.

Glenda: As a programmer at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, I focus on children and youth programmes as well as the free programmes series. Essentially, my role involves supporting our artistes and presenting quality and diverse works to audiences. Some things we do as programmers include conceptualising programmes for series and festivals, negotiating and drafting contracts, developing ideas with artists and arts organisations, working closely with marketing and sponsorship departments for the programmes we present, and working with the production crew to put up the work on stage for audiences to enjoy. Out of work hours, we watch plenty of performances to gain exposure to different things and be kept updated on what is going on in the industry.

Name a highlight in your career or scholarship journey.

James: In my graduating year at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), I became the first Singaporean to win the United States Institution for Theatre Technology Young Designers and Technicians Barbizon Lighting Design Award. It came as a pleasant surprise as the contestants were from major theatre institutions across the US. I am glad to do my parents and Singapore proud, and for representing UCSD Department of Theatre & Dance.

Glenda: I think the most memorable performance I did was with a group of special needs children. It was heartening to see the effort they put in and the fun they had from rehearsals to the actual performance. The bond we formed was also very special. The teachers and parents involved were very helpful, supportive and encouraging. Overall, it was a very meaningful experience for everyone!