Stage and TV actress Catherine Sng finds satisfaction in engaging seniors in drama and spending family time.
BY: Joanne Tok
She is a familiar face on TV, having played Auntie Cheong for five seasons of Channel 5’s hit-show ‘Growing Up’. With no airs and exuding a bubbly personality, Agelessonline sits down with 61-year-old Catherine Sng (left) as she shares what life is like after ‘Growing Up’, her contributions to seniors with The Glowers Drama Group and her own personal resilience – surviving colon cancer:
Tell me how you started The Glowers Drama Group in 2008?
It started off with SAGE Stage Counselling at Toa Payoh where they had a Basic Drama Workout 101 as an introductory opportunity to expose seniors to acting. At that time, I was approached to help train the Mandarin classes. To me, any opportunity is good and if there is an opportunity, I might as well go in and try.
After SAGE Stage ended in 2006, I thought it was a pity to spark off the interest in these elderly and especially having three years of foundation and knowing that once you’ve got the kick, you just want to do more. I did not want the elderly to just stay at home and feel that they are not needed. There are so many useful things they can do and they should be given the opportunity to live life to the fullest. Living to our age, I feel that everyday is a bonus already, so why don’t we live high and fly? Elderly are just like anyone. We have emotions; we have feelings. When we watch movies, we also laugh at the funny parts, and cry at the touching bits. We often have too many stereotypes and inhibitions about what elderly should be. We are not very much different from everyone else actually, so why don’t we dare to try?
My members and I then decided to register The Glowers Drama Group in 2008. Though Glowers has been formally registered as an official entity, we are really more of an interest group. We are very lucky to be hosted by Kampong Glam Community Club at the moment, allowing us the use of space for free so that our membership fees can be channeled towards the actual productions we have and getting props for rehearsals.
What are your plans/directions for the group this year and in the future?
I have no plans! I don’t set plans beyond a year because life is so unpredictable. Especially for seniors, I wouldn’t know when I might suffer from a disease or perhaps dementia that I won’t be able to manage Glowers anymore.
However, I do have a wish! My wish would be for them to experience real large-scale theatre productions. Most of them have been through real theatres, except for the newer members who have only experienced stage productions.
I have recorded their performance before, for them to keep a DVD of their songs and dance items, as a memento. It doesn’t matter if they went off-pitch or whatnots, I wouldn’t want to edit that to a perfect record because it wouldn’t be real anymore. If I could wish for everything, it would be for them to perform live, at places like the National Library Board (NLB) Drama Centre or even School of The Arts (SOTA)!
How many seniors are currently involved in the group and what age is the youngest and oldest?
There are 35 members and about 20-plus active ones. The youngest we have is 58 and the oldest is 84.
There are a few other senior acting groups, how does your group differ from them?
We are not very different from them, except that we are the first independent performing group. There are other groups out there by theatre practitioners. I have never gone for any professional theatre classes. I am just here to share my experiences and in fact, I do encourage my members to go out to sharpen their skills and learn from other theatre practitioners as well!
What is your role currently with the group?
I am mainly in charge of coordinating shows for the group. We do about 25 shows per year. I deal with the artistic side of productions; a more technical aspect and everyone in the group have got their own responsibilities. For example, I have a treasurer, someone to handle registration, admin, etc. I am trying to get them to be independent and that allows them not to rely on me solely.
Can you share what your typical day is like? Are you currently involved/or will be involved in any TV/movie gigs?
Everyday is different! It depends a lot on what are the shows or productions that we have at Glowers. For example, I’m currently involved in the Singapore Arts Festival from May 18 to June 2, helping to coordinate with Glowers members who will be the Village Hosts. They will be familiarised with the Arts Village and bringing visitors on a tour and introduce them to the various stations.
Do you feel it is hard for someone over 50 to act locally?
To act locally is not hard; it is the attitude you go in with. The local scene is very different from Hong Kong, where senior actors are given much respect and prestige. It is a culture for youngsters to rise, and seniors are likely to play supporting roles.
Therefore, the attitude you have when coming into this industry is very important. It shouldn’t be about the money or fame. Rather, if you are just looking at having exposure and will be happy with just appearing on TV and having fun exploring, then this would be good for you.
What would you say has been one of the hardest points in your life? Would you say it is your 3rd stage colon cancer?
[After thinking for very long] I haven’t had much difficulty in my life actually! If there is one that I have to speak of, it would probably be when my father-in-law had stroke. My father passed away when I was very young, so I treat my father-in-law just like my own father. He is someone very dear to me and to me, taking care of him was not a burden at all. He did not ask to be a patient, in fact he would even try to look after himself and not let us worry. I had a great time looking after him, and picked up many skills in caregiving. Taking over the tasks of a nurse, I have learnt a lot from the experience actually.
The only difficulty would be the financial aspect. As my husband works on an oil rig, income was very unstable. There will only be income if there is work available. We only struggled financially, but that is really the only difficult moment I have had.
Could you share how you discovered you had cancer? How are you coping with it? How has it changed your life?
I found out about my condition when I was suffering from a series of bloated stomach and fever bouts. Thinking that it was stomach flu initially, as it carried on, I thought I might be having bladder stones hence I went for a check-up. It was only then that I found out that besides a very small stone that I had, I was suffering from third-stage colon cancer that caused those symptoms.
I went for chemotherapy and luckily for me, I had the opportunity to undergo treatment that was under clinical research. It proved to be very effective for me and this is my eighth year since then, and thankfully, I have had no relapse.
Yes, of course it has changed my life! I cherish a lot more family time that I have now and it has made my husband and I more loving. I have learnt that we cannot take people around us for granted and we should cherish every single moment spent together. I have one son and I often encourage him to pursue his passion. We speak to each other very openly, treating one another just like friends.
If you should share two bits of advice to:
Listen to your heart.
b) Senior, what would it be?
Try. If you try, you still have 50 percent chance of succeeding, if you don’t try, it’s 100 percent gone case! As seniors, accept that you are old and slow, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t go ahead and pursue the opportunities available.
What is on your bucket list and what would you like to achieve that you haven’t yet?
That would probably be what I’ve mentioned on my wishlist earlier. The Glowers members are all my children and if they succeed, it is my success as well!
If you could turn back the clock, what one thing would you change in your life?
Nothing that I can think of, my life is actually quite perfect now that I look back. Hmmm … perhaps the only thing would be my size! But what is there to complain about? Even if I don’t have a perfect figure, I still have a very loving husband.
What is your secret to living such an active and fulfilling life?
Leave the unsettled matters to the next day, and another day, and another day, and when the day comes, it’s either settled or forgotten!
Anything else you would like to add?
To me, I believe in the ‘everything must try’ attitude. Experiencing the hardest moments shows that we’re getting out of those hard times as things can only get better after that. I’m satisfied with my life, and I find it fulfilling that I don’t see myself as working, but rather, I’m living my passion!