Ivan Heng



Ivan Heng (b. 1963, Singapore), an accomplished stage actor and director, is the founding artistic director of theatre company Wild Rice. He has acted and directed many Singapore theatre productions and his works have been performed internationally in Europe, Asia, America, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.1

Early influences and education
Heng received his education at the Anglo-Chinese School and Temasek Junior College. At Temasek Junior College, he served as choral director and dance choreographer, and developed an interest in drama.2 After National Service, Heng enrolled in law school at the National University of Singapore. Upon his graduation in 1988, Heng decided to pursue a career in the creative arts rather than law.3

In 1990, Heng continued his studies at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow under a three-year scholarship by British American Tobacco.4 He was the first Singaporean to be awarded the scholarship.5 Heng graduated as one of the top students, winning the Royal Lyceum Theatre Award for his performance in Shakespeare’s Richard III.6


Heng said that his time in the academy provided him with an understanding of what it meant to have a professional theatrical career, and allowed him to come to a deeper understanding of his Singaporean identity.7

Acting
Heng began acting in theatre while he was still a law student. His early roles were in TheatreWorks’ productions such as Kantan (1987), which was inspired by Noh (a form of traditional Japanese theatre), Army Daze (1987) and Beauty World (1988).8

Of his early roles, Heng made headlines with his character Song Liling – a male spy who masquerades as a female opera singer in order to seduce a French diplomat – in TheatreWorks’ staging of M. Butterfly during the 1990 Singapore Arts Festival.9 The critically acclaimed play featured a controversial nude scene involving Heng’s bare buttocks.10 It was the first case of nudity in a mainstream theatre production in Singapore.11

Heng subsequently had notable performances in productions such as the Kiss of the Spider Woman (Singapore Repertory Theatre, 1998) and Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral (TheatreWorks, 1995). His breakthrough performance came in the role of Emily Gan in Stella Kon’s play, Emily of Emerald Hill – the first time the titular Peranakan matriarch was played by a man.12 The acclaimed production with Heng in the leading role was first staged in 1999 and subsequently performed internationally and enjoyed numerous reprisals.13 As at 2010, Heng has played the part of Emily almost a hundred times.14

Directing

In addition to his acting accomplishments, Heng is also a director. He attended workshops by local theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun at the latter’s Practice Performing Arts School while he was still a law student. He was a graduate of the school’s third directing workshop.15

Heng made his directorial debut at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival with The Woman in a Tree on a Hill (TheatreWorks, 1993), winning both the Scotsman Fringe First and Daily Express New Name awards.16 He later conceived and directed Ah Kong’s Birthday Party (Singapore Repertory Theatre, 1998) – the first production in Singapore to include interaction and collaboration between diners and actors, culminating in having the longest duration among local plays.17

Tripitaka Theatre Company
Heng moved to London in 1993.18 There, he founded Tripitaka Theatre Company, in order to stage touring productions focused on an Asian point of view – a key example being his 1995 autobiographical solo performance, Journey West.19 Tripitaka Theatre Company was shut down in 1998, shortly after Heng moved back to Singapore.20

Wild Rice
Upon his return to Singapore in 1997, Heng served as associate artistic director at the Singapore Repertory Theatre before becoming its artistic director in December 1998.21 He left the position in 1999, saying that he disliked the job’s administrative components and wanted the “freedom to be an artiste”.22


In 2000, Heng founded and became the artistic director of Wild Rice, a professional theatre company that aims to promote local theatrical talent and bring Singapore theatre to the world.23 


Wild Rice’s first production, Emily of Emerald Hill, opened at the Jubilee Hall in Raffles Hotel in 2000 following well-received performances in Malaysia and Hong Kong.24

Over the years, Wild Rice has grown and developed as a theatre company. It has been touted as one of the most respected troupes in Singapore and that it successfully balances commercial and artistic interests.25

Later career developments
In 2006, Heng founded the Singapore Theatre Festival, which was the first festival dedicated to local plays. It ran from 2 to 20 August 2006, featuring both established theatre icons and promising new talents.26 In 2008, the festival was renamed the OCBC Singapore Theatre Festival; three years later, the festival became known as the Man Singapore Theatre Festival.27


In 2009, Heng served as the creative director of the National Day Parade, working with choreographers, music and technical directors, as well as more than 6,000 participants. The inspiration for the 2009 edition was the national pledge.28

The following year, Heng was appointed creative director for the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies.29 The opening ceremony featured a multimedia showcase, costumes and performances that reflected Singapore’s history and the cultural diversity of the participating countries.30 The closing ceremony featured a multimedia projection, a tribute to the volunteers for the Games, and a celebration concert.31

On 22 October 2013, Heng received the Cultural Medallion, an award that honours Singapore citizens or permanent residents who have excelled artistically and contributed distinctively to the cultural scene.32

Family
Heng’s father, a Singapore Armed Forces major and later a real-estate agent, died of a heart attack when Heng was 17 years old. Heng’s mother, Nancy Ong, a school canteen operator, remarried.33 Heng is the cousin of actress Tan Kheng Hua.34

Marriage
On 1 August 2014, Ivan Heng married his long-time partner, Tony Trickett, in a ceremony in London at the Chelsea Old Town Hall.35


Selected performances
1987:
Army Daze.36

1988: Beauty World.37
1990:
M. Butterfly.38

1995: Journey West.39
1999:
Emily of Emerald Hill.40

2009: The Importance of Being Earnest.41
2011: Emily of Emerald Hill (restaging).42
2012: La Cage Aux Folles.43
2013: The Importance of Being Earnest (restaging).44

Selected productions (director)
1993:
The Woman in a Tree on the Hill.45
1998: Ah Kong’s Birthday Party (also co-writer).46

2001: An Occasional Orchid (also co-writer).47
2002: Animal Farm.48
2004: Landmarks: Asian Boys Vol. 2.49
2006: The Campaign to Confer the Public Service Star on JBJ.50
2007: Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol. 3.51
2012: Romeo and Juliet.52

2013: The Optic Trilogy.53

Awards
1993:
Scotsman Fringe First, Scotland.54

1993: Daily Express New Name, Scotland.55
1995: Edinburgh Spirit of the Fringe.56
1996: National Arts Council, Young Artist Award.57
1998: National Youth Council, Singapore Youth Award for Art and Culture.58
2002: Singapore Press Holdings, DBS Life! Theatre Award, Best Director (Animal Farm).59
2006: Singapore Tatler Leadership Award for Culture.60
2013: Cultural Medallion.61



Authors
Vina Jie-Min Prasad & Stephanie Ho



References
1. Wild Rice. (2014, January 15). The House of Bernarda Alba [Press release]. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/images/production/14THoBA/The%20House%20of%20Bernarda%20Alba%20media%20release%20(15%20Jan%202014).pdf
2. Chew, D. (2006, August 2). He fills in the blanks. Today, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, G. (2013). Ivan Heng: A man for all seasons, p. 4. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/ivan-heng.pdf
3. Leong, C. (1990, July 20). Adventures of Ivan Heng. The Straits Times, p. 6; Law or theatre dilemma for graduates. (1988, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7; Chew, D. (2006, August 2). He fills in the blanks. Today, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lum, M. (1998, December 5). Still going to BAT for the arts. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. National Arts Council. (2013). Cultural Medallion 2013: Ivan Heng. Retrieved from National Arts Council website https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/ivan-heng.pdf; Chew, D. (2006, August 2). He fills in the blanks. Today, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Khor, C. (1987, April 28). Noh according to Mishima. The Straits Times, p. 23; Khng, E. M. (1987, June 24). Just good for a laugh. The Straits Times, p. 25; Lam, J. (1988, May 25). Memories of the ’60s in an ’80s musical. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Chew, G. (2013). Ivan Heng: A man for all seasons. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/ivan-heng.pdf; Leong, C. (1990, July 20). Adventures of Ivan Heng. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Bare and essential. (1990, July 2). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ong, S. F. (2000, November 1). Artistic integrity vs social responsibility. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chew, G. (2013). Ivan Heng: A man for all seasons. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/ivan-heng.pdf; Nayar, P. (2000, April 29). Gender bender of an Emily. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Oon, C. (2000, April 24). He’s a woman with balls. The Straits Times, p. 7; Emily of Emerald Hill returns to the stage. (2001, August 29). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, G. (2013). Ivan Heng: A man for all seasons. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/ivan-heng.pdf
14. Wild Rice. (n.d.). Emily of Emerald Hill: About the show. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/productions/60-emily-of-emerald-hill; Wild Rice. (2010, October 18). Emily takes on the Esplanade! [Press release]. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/images/doc/press/PR20101018.pdf
15. Ho, S. B. (1995, June 27). Practice Performing Arts school at crossroads now. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Leow, A. J. (2014, January–March). We are the world (pp. 57–60). Singapore, p. 58. Retrieved from Singapore International Foundation website: http://singaporemagazine.sif.org.sg/flip/2014Q1/; Ong, S. F. (2002, September 12). Father of S’pore theatre. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Leow, A. J. (2014, January–March). We are the world (pp. 57–60). Singapore, p. 58. Retrieved from Singapore International Foundation website: http://singaporemagazine.sif.org.sg/flip/2014Q1/; Pandian, H. (1993, June 8). Curtain call. The Straits Times, p. 8; Koh, B. P. (1995, September 1). Singapore four at Edinburgh Fringe. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Chew, G. (2013). Ivan Heng: A man for all seasons. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/ivan-heng.pdf; Low, K. T. (2006). Who’s Who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 177. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
18. Wild Rice. (2010, October 18). Emily takes on the Esplanade! [Press release]. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/images/doc/press/PR20101018.pdf
19. Asian actors’ lot in West inspired play. (1995, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 18; Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lum, S. (1997, November 25). He’s back to give you what you want, but not what you expect. The Straits Times, p. 8; Oon, C. (1999, July 5). In the swim for a tough new role. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Oon, C. (1999, July 5). In the swim for a tough new role. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Wild Rice. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/about/wild-rice
24. Nayar, P. (2000, April 29). Gender bender of an Emily. The Business Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Chew, D. (2006, August 2). He fills in the blanks. Today, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tan, C. (2006, June 13). A leg up for theatre. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Wild Rice. (n.d.). About: Wild Rice. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/about/wild-rice; Chia, A. (2011, May 28). Man behind Wild Rice’s festival. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Tan, C. (2009, July 3). NDP theme blossoms out of the pledge. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Wild Rice. (n.d.). About: Artistic team: Ivan Heng. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/about/artistic-team/81-founding-artistic-director
30. Tickets for YOG opening ceremony available for public sale from August 2. (2010, July 30). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
31. Saad, I. (2010, August 24). YOG closing ceremony promises to be spectacular & reflective. Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
32. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). On a cultural mission. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Leong, C. (1990, July 20). Adventures of Ivan Heng. The Straits Times, p. 6; Lin, W. (2011, February 27). Thumbs up for tigress mum. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Hong, X. (2005, November 28). Days of being wild. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Chan, B. (2014, August 3). Ivan Heng weds his partner of 18 years on a ‘perfect British summer’s day’. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
36. Khng, E. M. (1987, June 24). Just good for a laugh. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Lam, J. (1988, May 25). Memories of the ’60s in an ’80s musical. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Foo, J. (1990, July 1). M Butterfly: What’s the flutter? The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Koh, B. S. (1995, October 9). That yearning for more say in an alien land – Is it valid? The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Wild Rice. (n.d.). Emily of Emerald Hill: About the show. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/productions/60-emily-of-emerald-hill
41. Seah, M. (2009, March 30). Delightfully insincere. Today, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Tan, C. (2011, March 11). One-man tour de force. The Business Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Chia, A. (2012, July 23). Flamboyant tear-jerker. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
44. Tan, C. (2013, April 15). Back in Earnest. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
45. Pandian, H. (1993, September 11). Singapore play wins two awards at Edinburgh Fest. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Low, K. T. (2006). Who’s Who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Whos Who Publishing, p. 177. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
47. Teo, P. L. (2001, April 4). I’m man enough to be a woman. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
48. Chow, C. (2002, April 22). Animal Farm is a scream. The Straits Times, p. 51. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
49. Oon, C. (2004, February 9). These boys get serious. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Ong, S. F. (2006, August 16). Funny or silly, probing or passe?The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
51. Happy ending. (2007, December 6). The Straits Times, p. 70. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Tan, C. (2012, April 5). Old tale of young lovers. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. Yusof, H. (2013, July 19). Cut and thrust of gender dynamics. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
54. Koh, B. P. (1995, September 1). Singapore four at Edinburgh Fringe. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
55. Koh, B. P. (1995, September 1). Singapore four at Edinburgh Fringe. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
56. AsiaOne. (n.d.). Cultural Medallion 2013 recipients. Retrieved from AsiaOne website: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/10-singapore-artists-honoured-istana?page=0%2C1; Wild Rice. (2014, January 15). The House of Bernarda Alba [Press release]. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/images/production/14THoBA/The%20House%20of%20Bernarda%20Alba%20media%20release%20(15%20Jan%202014).pdf
57. National Arts Council. (2014, June 10). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award recipients for theatre. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://nac.gov.sg/art-forms/theatre/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-theatre
58. Ho, D. (1998, June 30). Everest team bags award. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
59. Ong, S. F. (2003, April 2). Shiny happy people. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
60. Wild Rice. (2010, October 18). Emily takes on the Esplanade! [Press release]. Retrieved from Wild Rice website: http://www.wildrice.com.sg/images/doc/press/PR20101018.pdf
61. Oon, C. (2013, October 23). Trio of veterans honoured with Cultural Medallion. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.




The information in this article is valid as at 28 October 2014 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
Artists--Singapore--Biography
Award winners
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Theatre)
Heng, Ivan, 1963-
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Actors-Singapore
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Arts>>Literature>>English (Singapore) Literature>>Drama
Theatrical producers and directors-Singapore
Theatrical actors