Selena Tan



Arguably one of Singapore’s funniest women, talented local artiste Selena Tan (b. 1971, Singapore–) is a director, playwright, actress, producer and comedienne. As a versatile actress, Tan has performed in live theatre shows such as stand-up comedy acts, musicals, pantomimes, Broadway burlesques and cabaret shows, as well as in television sitcoms and films. She is best known for appearing in television sitcoms such as Under One Roof and Daddy’s Girls, and for her successful role in writing, directing and acting in Dim Sum Dollies productions. Tan set up her own drama company, Dream Academy, in 2000.1

Early years
The eldest of five siblings, Tan studied at St Theresa’s Convent, Fairfield Methodist Secondary School and Raffles Junior College.2 At a young age, Tan already starred in advertisements and was sent for modelling lessons and photo shoots.3 She remembers putting on shows and performances with her cousins as a child.4

While still in primary school, Tan would re-enact scenes from musicals such as The King and I and The Sound of Music with her classmates.5 When Tan was 14 years old, she was taught by the late theatre director and actress Christina Sergeant.6 She frequently appeared in school productions and community theatre pieces until her undergraduate years. All these experiences helped to set the stage for her eventual foray into acting and theatre.7

Tan, who had dreamt of being a lawyer since she was eight years old, graduated from the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law in 1994. She acted in plays and performances while working full-time as a general litigation lawyer.8 Tan’s turning point came in 1997. That year, she was lauded for her role as the twins’ mother in the musical, Chang and Eng.9 Possessing a four-octave singing voice,10 Tan’s soulful rendition of the song Mai Phen Rai (Never Mind), performed during the segment of the musical when the twins departed, left an indelible impression on the audience.11 She was also praised for her performances in the television sitcom Under One Roof, which was aired on MediaCorp Channel 5.12

Tan left the legal profession in 1997 to fully immerse herself in the local arts and entertainment scene. She decided to venture full-time into acting and comedy as she loves to make people laugh.13

Foray into acting
Although Tan’s parents were initially concerned over her career switch to full-time acting, they were eventually won over by her passion and enthusiasm for theatre. Tan’s parents and siblings are ardent supporters of her performances, and even helped out in ticketing and ushering for her debut performance, Selena Exposed!14 Tan spent almost S$10,000 of her own money to stage the stand-up comedy piece in 1999.15

Theatre company Action Theatre subsequently restaged Selena Exposed! for its comedy festival in 1999 and reinterpreted her piece as Broadway Baby Kailan. Dr Low Guat Tin, then a teacher-trainer director with the National Institute of Education (NIE), was so impressed with Tan’s performance in Broadway Baby Kailan that she invited Tan to stage a show for Teachers’ Day – The Other Side of the Teacher’s Table. The three-night show was a box office success.16

In February 2000, Tan utilised her life savings of S$13,000 to set up her own drama company, Dream Academy, to serve as a platform for promoting her own brand of theatre and comedy to niche audiences. The company later branched out into Dream Academy Playhouse and Dream TV in 2006.17 The Dream Academy has since become synonymous with staging well-received productions such as Dim Sum Dollies, Broadway Beng, The Hossan Leong Show and Crazy Christmas.18

Local touch
Tan whets Singaporeans’ appetite for comedy and their ability to laugh at themselves. Her works often include Singaporean humour blended into musical-style scripts that are sometimes interspersed with subtle political commentaries. Tan makes it a point to weave Singaporean lifestyles, culture, habits and quirks into her works to help foreigners understand local culture better.19

In 2002, Tan formed a musical cabaret act, Dim Sum Dollies, with her good friends, theatre actresses Pam Oei and the late Emma Yong, who succumbed to stomach cancer in May 2012.20 During a brainstorming session over dim sum for a suitable name for the trio, Tan’s then fiancé (now husband) commented that dim sum is usually sold in portions of three. Hence the name Dim Sum Dollies was conceived.21

Tan is known as Chief Dolly and the trio’s productions feature comedy skits infused with song-and-dance routines that are usually centred on social issues and contemporary life in Singapore. The History of Singapore, scripted by Tan, explores intriguing aspects of Singapore’s history in a comical and satirical manner, and was one of the top 10 bestselling shows in 2007. Dim Sum Dollies productions are popular with both locals and foreigners alike.22

A household name in some of the most successful local productions, Tan has been featured in television sitcoms such as Under One Roof and Living with Lydia, and in Jack Neo’s hit movies, I Not Stupid and I Not Stupid 2.23 Tan’s dedication, professionalism and love for what she does are evident in the meticulous efforts she takes to prepare for a role. In order to deliver a more accurate portrayal of her restroom cleaner character in Wild Rice’s one-woman production, Ang Tau Mui (2002), she actually worked as a toilet attendant at a shopping mall and went around dressed as a 40-something “typical auntie”.24

Giving back to society
Besides her artistic endeavours, Tan believes in giving back to society in a number of ways. These include performing in fundraising concerts, acting as an ambassador for various social campaigns and bringing the arts to the average Singaporean in the heartlands.

In 2002, Tan spearheaded a community project, Wi!d@Heart, which was an event organised by Wild Rice and the Southwest Community Development Council (CDC). The event, held in various Housing and Development Board (HDB) void decks in Bukit Batok and Jurong East, included plays, art installations and children’s games.25

In 2004, the Dim Sum Dollies were appointed ambassadors for the Tangs department store’s month-long Great Singapore Sale (GSS) advertising campaign.26 In 2010, Tan, together with her fellow Dollies, were again appointed as ambassadors, this time for the Public Transport Council’s Love Your Ride campaign. The Dollies appeared in a video and sang, dance and rapped to three jingles that were penned by Tan. The jingles were played in bus interchanges and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations.27

Fundraising concerts that Tan had performed in include Superwomen in Concert in May 2010 (as part of the Dim Sum Dollies), which was in aid of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware),28 and We Heart Emma, a concert held in June 2012 in memory of the late Emma Yong. The latter concert helped to raise funds for The Emma Yong Fund, which was set up to help theatre practitioners suffering from cancer or other critical illnesses.29 Tan sits on the fund committee with actor-director Glen Goei and Sharon Lim, a former schoolmate of Yong’s.30

More recently, Tan delivered a stand-up comedy act at a concert organised by the Singapore Kindness Movement to celebrate World Kindness Day on 13 November 2012.31

One of the more significant achievements in Tan’s career was being appointed creative director of the show segment for National Day Parade (NDP) 2013, an opportunity she referred to as “a director’s dream”. One of the changes she made to the NDP programme was to involve ordinary Singaporeans instead of celebrities to sing the theme song and star in the music video. Tan put her experience in theatre to good use as creative director, with the parade’s show segment being styled after a variety show that features music, movement and comedy.32

Tan has the following piece of advice for those who want to be good stand-up comedians: keep up with current affairs; be observant, perceptive and aware of your surroundings; be able to think on your feet; learn how to assess the audience, and have a ready collection of jokes.33

Selected performances
1997: Chang and Eng, acted as the twins’ mother Nok.34
1999: Selena Exposed!, debut solo stand-up comedy show.35
2000: Maybe Knot, a look at the trials and tribulations of love staged during the week of Valentine’s Day.36
2002: Cabaret: A Single Woman, performed with Pam Oei and Emma Yong.37
2003: Steaming! (a Dim Sum Dollies production).38
2004: Revenge of the Dim Sum Dollies (a Dim Sum Dollies production).39
2005: Singapore's Most Wanted! (a Dim Sum Dollies production).40
2006: Little Shop of Horrors (as part of the Dim Sum Dollies).41
2007: The History of Singapore (a Dim Sum Dollies production).42
2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012: Crazy Christmas (as part of the Dim Sum Dollies).43
2008: Selena Tan: One Singular Sensation, included comic acts and songs from musicals.44
2010: Superwomen in Concert, in aid of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) (as part of the Dim Sum Dollies).45
2011: Into the Woods, a musical by lyricist/composer Stephen Sondheim.46
2012: We Heart Emma, a fundraising concert held in memory of the late Emma Yong.47
2012: Happy Ever Laughter, a stand-up comedy act.48

Past awards
2004:
Best Comedy Actress at the Asian Television Awards for her role as Aunty Violet in MediaCorp Channel 5’s Daddy’s Girls.49
2005
: Best Comedy Actress at the Asian Television Awards for her role as Aunty Violet in MediaCorp Channel 5’s Daddy’s Girls.50

2010: The Dream Academy was awarded Best Ensemble for Sing! Dollar at the 10th Life! Theatre Awards.51

Family
Father: Charles Tan, a retired lieutenant colonel.52
Mother: Daisy Lim, a former gold broker.53
Husband: John Pok, a former lawyer.54
Siblings: Two brothers and two sisters.55



Author

Lee Xin Ying and Veronica Chee



References
1. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Quek, E. (2010, April 13). Model child. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
4. Oon, C. (1998, December 4). I'd really, really wannabe like Scary Spice. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Yong, S. C. (2002, July 30). A flair for transformation. The Straits Times, p. 25, Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Huang, L. (2013, February, 22). Farewell, Sergeant. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
7. Yong, S. C. (2002, July 30). A flair for transformation. The Straits Times, p. 25, Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Kwok, Y. (2005, March 28). Laws of attraction. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Kwok, Y. (2005, March 28). Laws of attraction. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Oon, C. (1998, December 4). I'd really, really wannabe like Scary Spice. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Laughing, crying, clapping, whistling. (1997, December 15). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
12. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Yong, S. C. (2002, July 30). A flair for transformation. The Straits Times, p. 25, Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Oon, C. (1998, December 4). I'd really, really wannabe like Scary Spice. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Oon, C. (2000, January 26). The world’s now her stage. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
17. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Dream Academy (2015). About us. Retrieved from Dream Academy website: http://www.dreamacademy.com.sg/about-us
19. Hong, X. Y. (2007, July 5). History girls. The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
20. Chia, A. (2012, June 18). Review theatre; to Emma, with love. The Straits Times, Retrieved from Factiva.
21. Yee, B. (2005, August 5). Your life - weekend: Singapore sing, cabaret-style. The Asian Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from Factiva.
22. Hong, X. Y. (2007, July 5). History girls. The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hong, X. Y. (2007, December 6). Her dreams come true. The Straits Times, p. 67. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Suhaila Sulaiman. (2002, July 8). Spilling the beans. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yong, S. C. (2002, July 30). A flair for transformation. The Straits Times, p. 25, Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Yeo, A. (2002, September 2). Artists draw the crowds and fill the void. The Straits Times, p. H3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tan, C. (2013, April 23). Plug and play. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
27. Goh, C. L. (2010, September 5). Take the 'Q' from Dim Sum Dollies. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
28. Nanda, A. (2010, May 6). Suit up for Aware. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
29. Teo, J. (2012, June 12). Me and my money; not all ‘play, play’ with this Dim Sum Dolly. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Chia, A. (2012, June 18). Review theatre; to Emma, with love. The Straits Times, Retrieved from Factiva.
30. Tan, C. (2013, May 2). $400,000 raised for Yong's fund. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
31. Tai, J. (2012, November 14). Kindness Movement seeks tray return 'ambassadors'. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
32. Ee, D. (2013, May 10). Ordinary citizens to sing parade's theme song. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Lim, Y. L. (2013, May 10). NDP 2013 to showcase stories of Singaporeans. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Mohandas, V. (2013, May 10). Theme of NDP 2013: Many Stories ... One Singapore. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
33. Hong, X. Y. (2004, September 27). Black hole of D&D is no joke. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Laughing, crying, clapping, whistling. (1997, December 15). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Oon, C. (1998, December 4). I'd really, really wannabe like Scary Spice. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Oon, C. (2000, January 26). The world’s now her stage. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
37. Imelda Marcos and Bo Peep. (2002, October 19). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Yee, B. (2005, August 5). Your life - weekend: Singapore sing, cabaret-style. The Asian Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from Factiva.
39. Wong, K. H. (2004, June 13). The email interview: Selena Tan. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Dream Academy (2015). Shows. Retrieved from Dream Academy website: http://www.dreamacademy.com.sg/shows/?y=2005
41. Quek, E. (2010, April 13). Model child. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
42. Hong, X. Y. (2007, July 5). History girls. The Straits Times, p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Dream Academy (2015). Shows. Retrieved from Dream Academy website: http://www.dreamacademy.com.sg/shows
44. Koh, B. (2008, March 25). Singing Dolly. The Straits Times, p. 58. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Nanda, A. (2010, May 6). Suit up for Aware. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
46. Martin, M. (2011, August 1). It’s fairy good; theatre review: Into the Woods. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
47. Chia, A. (2012, June 18). Review theatre; to Emma, with love. The Straits Times, Retrieved from Factiva.
48. Teo, J. (2012, June 12). Me and my money; not all ‘play, play’ with this Dim Sum Dolly. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
49. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Chia, A. (2010, March 31). Sweet dreams made of these. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
52. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Chia, C. (2006, July 31). Selena exposed. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




The information in this article is valid as at 12 July 2013 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
Asian Television Awards
Actresses--Singapore
National University of Singapore
Comedies (Plays)
Comedians -- Singapore
Comedians
Biographies

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