Living a life of no regrets
A jovial granny on-stage and off-stage, Beatrice Chien shares how she pursued her passion of acting at the age of 62.
BY: Joanne Tok
This 71-year-old grandmother of three had the acting bug at an early age. But due to her a number of reasons, Beatrice Chien was unable to pursue her interest and so put it on the backburner. However, nine years ago, at the age of 62 and after her retirement as a nurse, she figured why not give acting another go. It seems she made a wise choice. Agelessonline chats with Chien about her acting journey:
So tell me about your early start in acting?
I had a passion in the arts at a young age of six, acting in schools and clans. I was first exposed to the arts when I followed my mother to sing and act in Cantonese operas in the clans. In the 1960s to ’70s, I was performing radio plays on air with Rediffusion and Singapore Broadcasting Corp, which was MediaCorp back then. I had to give up my hobby because of the irregular working hours and family commitment, taking care of my three children. However, I still got involved in radio plays and TV acting, if time permitted in order to stay engaged with the industry. After my retirement, I then decided to pursue my hobby in acting again.
Was it hard coming back the second time around?
Definitely not! I fancied how I could be more relaxed with the time flexibility, unlike the fixed working hours while I was a nurse. I also had the opportunity and urge to learn more about the newer techniques in acting. This personal yearn to catch up helped me ease back into the process. Hence, I didn’t find it difficult in catching up.
How did you get involved in Glowers Drama Group? How often do you spend time with Glowers and what do you do usually? What else keeps you occupied besides Glowers’ activities?
A group of seniors and I who were interested in drama enrolled ourselves at DramaPlus Arts in 2003 to form an acting group. Glowers Drama Group was under DramaPlus at that time and when it became independent in 2008, I continued being involved with my passion for acting.
We meet once a week for rehearsals if there are shows to be performed. Otherwise, we will meet to play theatre games and continuously improve our acting skills. Besides Glowers’ activities, I am busy with stage shows, students’ short films, advertisements and TV shows, or whatever else I am called for.
Tell me more about first acting gig. Also, any other memorable moments/roles you would like to share?
My very first time on stage was a Cantonese opera with a clan. At that time, as I was only eight years old, I felt that it was fun just playing around. While I was in secondary school, I did a stage performance (风雨牛车水) with Arts Theatre of Singapore Ltd. Since then, I’d discovered my potential in acting.
My first stage show after my retirement was “Grandma’s Birthday” with DramaPlus in 2004. I was so excited and happy that I had a chance to be on stage again.
Subsequently, I acted as a landlady in “Those are the Days” (咕喱房风光) in Cantonese, double bill in “Sperm”, “The catching of Adam Cheng” and many others with Glowers. I have loved all the roles I have been tasked so far, as they were all very challenging and favourable.
What other acting performances have you done so far? Are there any movies?
I have acted in several shows in both Mandarin and English on TV channels. There are also quite a number of short films, which I have done with students in NTU, Tisch NYU (New York University), Chapman University, NAFA, Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and ITEs.
A short film “Going Home” won an award and was circulated around hospitals and some counselling service centres as tutorial reference. This film by the Singapore Polytechnic touched on the issue of dementia.
In 2010, a NTU student short film, “Epiphany”, won an award at the Crowbar Awards and was selected for the 3rd Annual Vancouver Singapore Film Festival. In 2009, I acted in a movie “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner” by Woodworm Production. That was screened at the Singapore International Film Festival 2011.
There were also some advertisements such as with SIA, Super Coffee, Citibank, NTUC condominium, NTUC Foodfare, KFC and Subway. I also did a voice-over for a video by MCYS. I have had a rather broad exposure and I have enjoyed the different roles played in these engagements.
You were also the cast of “Just for Laughs Gags Asia”, how was that?
It was fun to work with the crew and the foreign directors. I always looked forward to the different incidents and roles for the day. I got the role as the team managed to get my contact number from a producer whom I’ve worked with before, and they contacted me directly for an audition. After the audition they sent me to different locations for shooting, playing a variety of roles that play tricks on participants. Some of these roles included being a tourist, hawker, robber, an aunty and even acting as someone crippled!
Seeing how the participants got shocked and ending the scenes with laughter was definitely a memorable experience for me. Being able to share the fun and pleasure with them was satisfying.
What satisfaction does acting bring to you?
In acting, I have a chance to impose myself onto different characters that I would not experience in real-life. To me, it’s a form of de-stressing. Once I am in character, I am acting out of my own personality already. There’s a saying: 人生如戏, 戏如人生. It indicates how life is like a drama, and drama also brings out what we go through in life. I find this very true, and it is as though all of us are living in a universal theatre.
Do you find it hard getting roles because of your age? Or would it be easier?
I don’t specifically go for any particular roles. It’s more of people looking for me as and when they need. Hence, I don’t find any difficulties getting roles. It is probably not that difficult, as sometimes some productions require lots of elderly actors too. Usually there are agencies, production houses and students who come to Glowers to look for us.
What tips can you share with other seniors on acting?
Be focused on playing your character; forget about yourself. Observe people who surround us, taking note of their movements, their attitudes and their behaviours. This will allow you to learn a lot and improve on your own acting skills.
Can you share with us your tips in maintaining an active lifestyle at your age? What motivates you to be so active?
Do not force yourself to do things that you are uncomfortable with, or to please others unnecessarily. Most importantly, have the courage to pursue your passion. Keep yourself occupied but don’t rely on others.
Be more understanding and flexible to your family and others. I volunteered in a helpline counselling and I learned a lot from people who were feeling distressed and troubled. “Never trouble troubles before troubles trouble you” – take things easy so you won’t be troubled unnecessarily.
I’ve also learned how to use the computer, to upgrade myself so that my youngsters cannot tease me for being behind the times. Currently, I’ve joined the hospitals’ projects as “Simulated Patient”. I’ve joined the Duke NUS programme in Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital. We will be going around Singapore General Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Institute of Mental Health and Changi General Hospital to act as patients of different diagnosis so as to improve the student-doctors approach. We also help improve diagnostic techniques and give feedback to their attitudes to patients, to help them improve in the process of becoming qualified doctors in the future. All this helps me keep in touch with the medical progress, connecting with my previous profession.
Any other activities you would like to do but haven’t done?
I don’t think there’s any. At my age, I am satisfied with what I have. I’ve got what I want and I am cheerful everyday. I am proud to say I have no regrets!
How does your family feel that you are a celebrity?
As long as I am happy and comfortable with what I’m doing, they will not have any objections. At times, my daughters will remind me to have sufficient rest and not to overtire myself. It never fails to make me feel so touched and warm with their care and support.
Could you share any upcoming productions/shows that we can look forward to?
I’ve got a telemovie, a feature film, a Subway advertisement and a few other short films with student groups coming up.
Do you think you will ever slow down?
If health and time permits, I don’t think so.
If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
I would be a full-time volunteer in a helpline counselling, something that I’ve done before, and also visiting those who are helpless and the lonely elders.