Max Le Blond



Max Le Blond (b. 1950, Singapore–) was conferred the Cultural Medallion for Theatre in 1987.1 At age 37, he was then among the youngest to receive the award.2 At a time when the stage was predominantly Anglo-centric,3 Le Blond relentlessly pushed for “a truly Singaporean theatre, by Singaporeans, about Singaporeans and for Singaporeans".4 His efforts spawned the formation of Singaporean English-language theatre companies such as ACT3 Theatrics, TheatreWorks and The Necessary Stage.5

Early years
Even as a primary school boy, Le Blond was already acting in plays. His father instilled in him a love for English literature and drama by introducing to him the works of Shakespeare and poetry. He became active in the debate team and drama club at the St Joseph’s Institution where he received his secondary school education.6

Le Blond did well in debate. For instance, he attained second position at a Rotary Elocution Contest and reached the finals of the Singapore Safety Council Third Annual Oratorical Contest in 1965.7 He was also named Best Speaker at the 1972 Intervarsity School Debate.8

In 1969, Le Blond began his undergraduate studies at the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore). While studying there he met Chandran K. Lingam, a theatre director known to be able to bring out exceptional performances from his cast. Lingam, who later earned himself a reputation of being “the English-stream’s most controversial theatre director”, inspired Le Blond to go into theatre. Le Blond’s studies did not keep him from devoting time to acting in theatre productions.9

It was Lingam who gave Le Blond his first taste of directing. While acting in the musical Kismet, Le Blond was asked by Lingam to stand in as assistant director after he had fallen ill and could not direct at the rehearsal. Le Blond enjoyed the experience immensely and this was to become the first of many more theatre directing roles.10

Le Blond furthered his education at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom where he gained his doctorate in 1978. His thesis on contemporary British drama helped him form his views about Singapore theatre.11

Following his return from overseas studies, Le Blond became a senior tutor of English at the University of Singapore. It was during this time that he wanted to get involved in plays because he found them interesting. His first opportunity came when Reginald Hugh Hickling, a visiting law professor at the university, invited him to direct The Stray Calf, a drama that Hickling had written for the Law Faculty’s moot court in 1979.12

Subsequently, Le Blond went on to direct, produce or adapt numerous plays. He focused his work on three main areas:13
1. Non-Anglo-American works: David Henry Hwang’s F.O.B. (1982), and Athol Fugard’s African Double (1983).
2. Singaporean adaption of Western works: Peter Nichols’s National Health into Nurse Angamuthu’s Romance (1981), and John Gay’s Beggar Man Opera into Samseng and the Chettiar’s Daughter (1982).
3. Original plays: Robert Yeo’s One Year Back Home (1980), and Steller Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill (1985).

Contributions to Singapore theatre14
Le Blond was not satisfied with the state of English-language theatre in Singapore. While the 1960s saw writers like Goh Poh Seng introducing Singlish to the stage, only a few local works were staged and they were largely ignored by expatriates and English-speakers. Theatre did not reach the heartlands. Le Blond was a voice pushing home-grown Singaporean writers to get their work staged as he believed that this was the only way that they could improve.15

He advocated “Singaporean-ness” in his academic and theatre work, calling for Singaporeans to embrace their Singaporean identity and to create their own tradition. He staged Singapore playwrights and used local actors in his productions. There was a strong local flavour to his works.16

At the 1981 Conference on English Language and Literature in Singapore, Le Blond spoke on Drama in Singapore: Towards an English Language Theatre. He made the point that “a truly Singaporean theatre, by Singaporeans, about Singaporeans and for Singaporeans” did not yet exist.17

Le Blond believed that this was because Singaporeans were still not comfortable being themselves. He also felt that Singaporean theatre would only arrive when Singaporeans began to believe that their personal lives and experiences had the same theatrical validity as other works acknowledged as “mainstream literature”.18

Le Blond believed that the way forward was to decolonise theatre in Singapore. He felt that Singaporeans lived in a Western cocoon, partly due to the country’s colonial past, and partly because much of the news came from Western sources. As such, the local plays staged often did not show off local talent. Le Blond wanted to see plays that were not Anglo-centric, and theatrical roles that were closer to the Singaporean experience. He admitted that this was not always easy to do but still he wanted to see the Singaporean experience on the stage.19

His accomplishments
Le Blond directed many plays but it was playwright Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill that brought him much acclaim. First staged at the Singapore Drama Festival in 1985, the 90-minute monodrama brought Singapore theatre to the international stage when it was performed the following year at both the Commonwealth Arts Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.20

Set in the 1950s, the play centers on Emily Gan, a Peranakan matriarch. The script opens a window into the world of the Straits-born Chinese community, whose members were caught between the tensions resulting from the displacement of traditional Chinese values by new ideas from the West. Emily, played by food columnist Margaret Chan, struck a chord with audiences.21

Le Blond’s directorial efforts paved the way for an emerging theatre that could truly be called Singaporean. Emily of Emerald Hill inspired the formation of other English-language theatre companies in the 1980s, including ACT3 Theatrics, TheatreWorks and The Necessary Stage, and heralded the growth of the English-language theatre scene in Singapore.22

Sydney, Australia, is now home for Le Blond and his family. He is a practising lawyer and part-time English Literature teacher who sometimes teaches drama. He is married with two daughters.23

Education24
St Joseph’s Institution.
University of Singapore.
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Awards and accomplishments
1965: Finalist in the Singapore Safety Council third annual oratorical contest.25
1972: Best Speaker, Intervarsity School Debate.26
1987: Cultural Medallion (Theatre).27

Directed theatrical works28
1979: The Stray Calf by Reginald Hugh Hickling.
1980:
One Year Back Home by Robert Yeo.

1981: Nurse Angamuthu’s Romance based on Peter Nichol’s National Health.
1982: FOB (Fresh off the Boat) by David Henry Hwang and Samseng and the Chettiar’s Daughter based on John Gay’s Beggar Man Opera.
1983: African Double by Athol Fugard.
1985: Emily of Emerald Hill by Stella Kon.
1988: Peter’s Passionate Pursuit by Eleanor Wong.



Author
Angeline Koh



References
1. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond; National Arts Council. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Theatre. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/theatre/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-theatre
2. Lee, S. H. (1988, January 4). Cultural Medallion won in all 6 fields. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

3. James, K. (1983, October 22). Into the heart of darkness. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Ho, M. (1981, April 17). Singaporeans are still not at home on stage. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
6. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
7. SJI Class of ’66. (2007). Journey thru’ 1966. Retrieved from http://www.freewebs.com/sjiclassof66/journeythru1966.ht; 10 finalists in Safety First speech contest. (1965, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Schools debate on TV tonight. (1973, June 13). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Tribute.sg. (2012). Chandran K. Lingam. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Chandran+K.+Lingam; Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond; James, K. (1985, June 7). Spotlight on Chandran. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
11. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond 
12. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
13. Holmberg, J. (1988, January 4). Max Le Blond – Drama. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 148–149. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
14. James, K. (1983, October 22). Into the heart of darkness. The Straits Times, p. 19; Ho, M. (1981, April 17). Singaporeans are still not at home on stage. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15.  Lee, S. H. (1988, January 4). Cultural Medallion won in all 6 fields. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
16. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
17. Ho, M. (1981, April 17). Singaporeans are still not at home on stage. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Ho, M. (1981, April 17). Singaporeans are still not at home on stage. The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. James, K. (1983, October 22). Into the heart of darkness. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
21.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond; Hoe, I. (1986, June 22). ‘Emily’ hits a hitch but how long can SBC opt out? The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

22. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
23. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 148–149. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
24. Tribute.sg. (2012). Max Le Blond. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Max+Le+Blond
25. 10 finalists in Safety First speech contest. (1965, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Schools debate on TV tonight. (1973, June 13). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. National Arts Council. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Theatre. Retrieved from 
https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/theatre/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-theatre; Lee, S. H. (1988, January 4). Cultural Medallion won in all 6 fields. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Holmberg, J. (1988, January 4). Max Le Blond – Drama. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Subject
Personalities
Arts