Nick Shen Weijun won the Singapore Star Search in 1999 and went on to join MediaCorp after winning. He left acting in 2012 and started his own company – Tok Tok Chiang Wayang Pte. Ltd. as a platform to promote Chinese opera. Nick was awarded the Honouree Award for the JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World – Singapore for the cultural achievement category in 2014. Nick has great passion in Chinese Opera and has since been working on promoting Chinese opera in Singapore.
The Inaugural Chinatown Opera Festival 2019 proudly presented by Chinatown Business Association (CBA) is the first ever opera festival showcasing Singapore’s rich local heritage and culture. Supported by the Singapore Tourism Board, the festival will run from 20th to 24th November 2019 at the bustling Chinatown district, a go-to destination for both locals and tourists.
Photo Credit: Nick Shen Weijun, MediaCorp Star Search Champion and Ten Outstanding Young Person of the World Honouree award winner
Nick Shen will be performing at the first-ever Chinatown Opera Festival 2019 in Singapore. Our Parenting World – OPW Media team is pleased to be able to interview Nick Shen where he will be sharing more with us about his role and participation in the festival. Read on to find out more!
Exclusive Interview with Nick Shen Weijun, 沈炜竣
1. Please share with us more about your background and how did you get interested in Chinese Opera?
My grandma used to bring me to watch Teochew street opera when I was a little boy. My grandfather used to be a drummer backstage of Lao Sai Tao Yuan Teochew opera troupe. I was fascinated by the costumes, painted faces and the fighting scenes. I wanted to be that brave warrior on stage. My Dad was totally against it because he felt that opera artiste has no bright future in Singapore. I ran away during my Sec 1 June holiday. He used to cane me whenever I perform in opera troupe but that didn’t stop me. Now my father is supportive and he will help me backstage too.
While I was still working with MediaCorp full-time, I took up some courses on entrepreneurship and my teachers encouraged to start a business to promote Chinese opera.
And so I started back a few years with Tok Tok Chiang. Initially I wanted to give up, but a “Cheng Kang Culture” teacher sat down with me and said what I was doing was really very meaningful. I am not only helping to preserve this heritage through all these cultural performances, but also allowing more people to understand the value of life through Chinese opera performances.
Chinese opera is not just about performance – it’s also about filial piety, it’s about how you can become a better person. And two years ago, I became the troupe leader of 156 year history Lao Sai Tao Yian Teochew opera troupe because they wanted to close down and I think it’s such a great pity. It has strong sentimental values to me.
2. What is your involvement in the Chinatown Opera Festival? How do you prepare for your role?
My involvement in this festival is a special highlight- ‘Pop Music and Chinese Opera ‘ featuring pop songs influenced by the Chinese Opera. In partnership with Sylvester Sim, SGEE Ventures, we are very excited and have developed an exciting fushion approach that will ignite the excitement of leading the series of sparkling performances by local and international troupes such as Chinese Theatre Circle (敦 煌 剧 坊) as well as Guangzhou Hongdou Cantonese Opera Troupe (广州红豆粵剧). Both “ Sims” are greatly inspired and determined to revive this dying art form and will do our best to help make it a reality if we spread the notion. Our goal is to introduce this meaningful art to younger audiences, to let younger generations appreciate this art, and to keep this dying art alive.
3. How and why did you decide to be a part of Chinatown Opera Festival?
I am particularly passionate about this beautiful art, and I have a heart in it. So long so my schedule permits, I would love to be involved in any of such activity to encourage and provide my best value and experience, to promote and conserve the dying art of Chinese opera.
4. With your ventures in ‘Tok Tok Chiang’, what made you decide to venture into the dying art of Chinese Opera?
It’s not a secret that local interest in Chinese opera has been declining over the years. The situation in Singapore has actually become rather dire. Old and established firms are slowly closing down. There is no new blood to carry on with the art. Until we know it, there will be no more Chinese opera in Singapore.
It’s not just the Chinese opera that dies. Our rich tradition and culture, our history, disappear with art, too. Primary school students don’t even know what their dialects are today. Once asked, the answers were “Singaporean,” “Chinese” or “English.” This simply proves that Singaporean Chinese children are sadly and, unfortunately, rather disconnected from their Chinese roots.
One of the main reasons for me to step into “Tok Tok Chiang” is because I feel very disheartened to see the actors getting older and the audience getting smaller. In reality, sometimes there’s no audience at all. If there’s no audience, there’s no motivation, and you’re doing something that you don’t feel anyone is appreciative of, and a lot of Chinese opera troupes are gradually closing down. That’s why I took over Lao Sai Tao Yuan Teochew opera troupe, I really hope my support and contributions to them can sustain their livelihood, and hopefully even more income, better platforms with more audience, and getting overseas opportunities.
5. Where can one learn Chinese Opera in Singapore? Are there Opera schools for kids?
6. Do you have any advice to those who are passionate about Chinese Opera and would like to pursue a career in it?
There’s a saying “one minute on stage takes ten years of hard work, perseverance and true passion. We must go through some training by professional opera Teachers. They should also get themselves to be more involved and engaged through film, drama, documentary, workshops. Gaining more information from veterans and industry professionals and proving that they are truly passionate about this exclusive career.
7. What are you currently working on? Any future projects in the pipeline?
I am currently filming in Ipoh for a Mediacorp English Drama “Titoudao” by the The Oak3 Films. The story is about Singapore most famous (100 over years history) hokkien opera troupe Sin Sai Hong. Coincidentally, I am acting as the troupe leader Master Gwee Boon. He is a a very strict master and will scold the artistes on stage. In real life as a troupe leader, I never scolded anyone on my Lao Sai Tao Yuan teochew opera troupe. Please look out for Titoudao – The Drama Series, in Feb 2020.
I also hope to create more platforms for my opera troupe members so that they can continue to maintain their livelihoods, and probably even more income, better platforms with more audiences, and opportunities abroad. We work closely with MOE, NAC, NHB, various museums clans. Another goal and mission of mine, I think, is to produce a movie about Chinese opera and let the younger generation from all over the world to appreciate this art and keep this dying art alive.
8. Lastly, do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers about the coming Chinatown Opera Festival and what can audience expect when they visit the festival?
I strongly encourage you to join us and have fun on November 20-24, 2019. Support this ground-breaking first-of-its-kind festival where true memories of Chinatown are revived and local culture is celebrated through generations.
For more information, kindly visit : https://www.facebook.com/events/501327333931629/
Thank you Nick Shen Weijun for taking our interview!
Come and have fun at the Chinatown Opera Festival 2019 with your family and friends! This dynamic opera festival enables visitors to travel back in time and re-live the nostalgic days of performance art in the 1950s and 60s with exquisite star-studded performances and family-friendly activities.
The festival has free activities for the public to enjoy, such as photo booth, colouring station, games stall and opera props display. There are also public paying activities such as food and beverages stalls, mask painting and sales of Opera Merchandise.
In addition, there will be a ‘Chinatown Opera Fest Contest’ that will be held throughout the festival days, one stands a chance to walk away with a brand new Apple iPhone 11. Simply unleash your creativity by dressing up in the best opera costume to win. To find out more, please visit https://www.facebook.com/events/501327333931629/
Tickets are currently on sale at Chinatown Visitor Centre, Chinatown Heritage Centre and online at SGD $20 for Premium Seating and $10 for General Admission of night shows.