Chong Tze Chien


Chong Tze Chien, 张子健 (b. 1974, Singapore–) is a talented and versatile playwright. One of Singapore’s brightest playwrights, Chong has been compared to heavyweights such as Arthur Miller and Kuo Pao Kun by Casey Lim, the former associate artistic director of TheatreWorks. Chong is truly passionate about all things theatre, evidenced by the diverse roles he has undertaken besides playwriting: actor, producer, director, set designer and as a mentor to upcoming writers.1

Early childhood
Raised in a working-class family, Chong attended St Andrew’s Junior School, where he developed his stage inclinations through storytelling competitions, St Andrew’s Secondary School and Anderson Junior College. Describing his writing skills as average when he was in school, Chong used to dislike writing and find school compositions unpleasant.2


When Chong was 12, he volunteered as a child actor under his elder sister’s influence, who was then a crew member for the play, P.S.S.B (Propagation of Safe Sex Bureau), staged by The Necessary Stage (TNS). Although he only delivered one line, it was Chong’s debut stage performance.3 This marked the start of his involvement in TNS, where he acted in various TNS productions such as Glass Roots and Lanterns Never Go Out in his teens.4 While still in junior college, Chong worked as the company’s stage manager and backstage crew. All these helped him forge a tight bond with TNS.5

Venturing into theatre and The Necessary Stage
Much of Chong’s skills and knowledge stemmed from his training at TNS. This was for him a necessary stage indeed that it brought him head over heels with theatre and roused his artistic talents. His forays in theatre continued at Anderson Junior College, where he served as vice-president of the drama club. To improve the scripts by the club, Chong researched on award-winning plays in the library. His efforts were not in vain – he bagged the second prize for the student category in the Hewlett-Packard/Action Theatre 10-Minute Play Contest in 1993.6


Chong furthered his theatrical passions by majoring in theatre studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He rose to fame in 1998 with his maiden play Pan Island Expressway (PIE), clinching the first prize in the amateur category of the Singapore Dramatist Awards. TheatreWorks staged PIE in 1999, which proved to be a commercial hit. Upon graduation in 1999, Chong joined TNS as associate playwright under the wing of veteran playwright Haresh Sharma. Sharma, impressed by Chong’s versatility, provided him with formal playwriting lessons and a sound foundation, thereby honing Chong’s writing skills. During this period, Chong came up with many creative and well-received plays such as Lift My Mind, Is This Our Stop? (staged in a cargo lift and on a moving bus respectively) and SPOILT. Many schools and educational institutions subsequently re-staged some of these productions. In 2004, Chong left TNS, which was then short on funds.7

The Finger Players
Before long, Chong found a new niche in puppetry. Tan Beng Tian, the founder of The Finger Players (TFP), felt Chong was well-suited to promote TFP’s puppetry works to an adult audience by extending beyond their typically child-focused plays to those dealing with complex social issues. She invited Chong to be the company director of TFP Although Chong’s first production with TFP, Furthest North, Deepest South, in 2004 made a huge loss, the audience soon warmed up to his stories – his second play with TFP, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in 2005, enjoyed great commercial success.8


Outstanding works
Besides PIE and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, other exceptional works by Chong include Poop (2009) and Charged (2010). He also collaborated and co-wrote 100 Years in Waiting with Kuo Pao Kun and Revelations with Haresh Sharma for the 2001 and 2003 Singapore Arts Festival (renamed Singapore International Festival of Arts) respectively.9


Chong is internationally recognised beyond the local theatre scene. His plays have been read and staged in London by The Royal Court’s programme for young writers, Exposure, in 2000 as well as by Singapore Playhouse London (now Platform 65) in 2006, which adapted PIE and SPOILT. In August 2006, Chong’s award-winning play, Furthest North, Deepest South, had its international premiere at the 14th Sziegt Festival in Budapest, Hungary.10

Promoting Singapore theatre
When Chong just started out in 1999, he harboured ideals about developing the local theatre scene into a full-scale industry. Keeping true to his aspirations, Chong has been enthusiastically promoting Singapore’s arts education by providing writing and directing seminars in various educational settings. In addition, his creative juices have inspired many local institutions such as the Nanyang Technological University, NUS and Temasek Junior College to re-stage his works.11


Grateful to the guidance he has received from Sharma and inspired by his collaboration with Kuo Pao Kun, Chong is keen to pay it forward – he is now the one nurturing fresh talents.12 Currently, he is involved in two such projects, the Mentor Access Project by the National Arts Council and Mandarin theatre company Drama Box’s Blanc Space. In September 2011, he began to lecture at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia, where he will continue to inspire a new generation of writers.13

Awards
1998:
First prize for PIE, Singapore Dramatist Awards (amateur category).14

2005: Best Ensemble Acting and Production of the Year for Furthest North, Deepest South, 5th Life! Theatre Awards.15
2006: Best Director for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, 6th Life! Theatre Awards.16
2006: Young Artist Award, National Arts Council.17
2011: Best Original Script for Charged, 11th Life! Theatre Awards.18



Author
Lee Xin Ying




References
1. Tan S. G. (1999, April 27). Just PIE in the sky? You be the judge. The Straits Times, p. 7; Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirl. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirl. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirlThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG..
4. Oon, C. (1999, July 12). Playwright gets a leg up on stage. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Necessary ‘awakening’. (2006, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirlThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Media Development Authority of Singapore. (2010, March 3). New feature film fund supports four new local films Singapore [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirl. The Straits Times, p. 2; Tan S. G. (1999, April 27). Just PIE in the sky? You be the judge. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Media Development Authority of Singapore. (2010, March 3). New feature film fund supports four new local films Singapore [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
8. Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirl. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Media Development Authority of Singapore. (2010, March 3). New feature film fund supports four new local films Singapore [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirl. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Media Development Authority of Singapore. (2010, March 3). New feature film fund supports four new local films Singapore [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
11. Media Development Authority of Singapore. (2010, March 3). New feature film fund supports four new local films Singapore [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

12. Loh, H. Y. (2002, November 2). No PIE in the sky. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved  from NewspaperSG.
13.  Tan, C. (2011, August 29). Story whirl. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Loh, H. Y. (2002, November 2). No PIE in the sky. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved  from NewspaperSG.
15. Kok, T. W. (2005, March 18). Life after Life! Theatre Awards. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
16. The winner’s circle. (2006, March 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Chow, C. (2006, October 21). Price of fame. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Chia, A. (2011, April 5). Surprise as small show scores big. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Chong, Tze Chien, 1974-
Arts>>Theatre>>Playwriting
Dramatists--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies
Theatre
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Theatre