By Tan Mei Kuan
Ipoh Echo had an exclusive one-on-one with Nick Shen Weijun, Singaporean actor, emcee, performer, founder of Tok Tok Chiang and troupe leader of Lao Sai Tao Yuan Teochew Opera Troupe, one of Singapore’s oldest opera troupes with 156 years of history.
He is currently filming in Ipoh and Tronoh since October for a Mediacorp English drama series, “Titoudao” by The Oak3 Films which is scheduled to be aired in February 2020.
“‘Titoudao’ is a story about Singapore’s most famous Hokkien opera troupe, ‘Sin Sai Hong’ with over 100 years of history. Coincidentally, I am acting as the troupe leader Master Gwee Boon. He is a very strict master and will scold the artistes on stage,” he told Ipoh Echo on Friday, December 6.
Nick began his career in showbiz when he won both the All Asian Star Search Singapore and Star Awards Best Newcomer in 1999 after completing his acting course with MediaCorp, Singapore’s leading broadcasting company.
Whilst establishing his career as a media personality, Nick relentlessly pursues his passion for Chinese opera. In 2010, he founded Tok Tok Chiang Events Management, a Singapore-based company specialising in Chinese opera, cultural events and workshops. In 2014, Nick established Tok Tok Chiang Opera, a non-profit entity, as a platform to promote cultural appreciation in Singapore.
His versatility as a media personality and in Chinese opera has earned him numerous accolades. For instance, he is the first actor in Singapore to master the unique Chinese art of mask changing. Under the tutelage of China’s professional mask changing master, Li Shuimin for two years, Nick started performing mask changing since 2013.
When asked about what sparked off his interest in Chinese opera, he shared, “My grandma used to bring me to watch Teochew street opera when I was a little boy. My grandfather used to be a drummer backstage of Lao Sai Tao Yuan Teochew Opera Troupe. I was fascinated by the costumes, painted faces and the fighting scenes. I wanted to be that brave warrior on stage.”
In 2014, Nick was awarded the Honouree Award for the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World – Singapore for the cultural achievement category. He was the only winner selected from a pool of over 200 candidates, to represent Singapore in Germany to compete against other youths from more than 150 countries.
The faculty member of the Singapore Media Academy also contributes to various charitable causes such as the Singapore Kindness Movement.
On his venture into the traditional performing art, he explained, “Chinese opera is not just about performance – it’s also about filial piety, it’s about how you can become a better person. It’s not a secret that local interest in Chinese opera has been declining over the years. The situation in Singapore has actually become rather dire. Old and established firms are slowly closing down. I feel very disheartened to see the actors getting older and the audience getting smaller. Our rich tradition, culture and history will disappear with the art, too.”
To make Chinese opera enticing to people especially the Singaporean youth, Nick has created a hybrid genre of traditional Chinese opera dance with western magic techniques. Performances are also conducted on stage in the respective Chinese dialects with English subtitles in order to overcome the language barrier.
“Tok Tok Chiang will be starting a Chinese opera basic workshop in Singapore in February 2020,” the amiable Nick added.
Here’s his advice for those who would like to pursue a career in Chinese opera: “There’s a Chinese saying, ‘One minute on stage takes ten years of hard work, perseverance and true passion’. Go through training by professional opera teachers and be more involved and engaged through film, drama, documentary and workshop. Gain more information from veterans and industry professionals.”
Having been to Ipoh countless times, he was spotted participating in the Ipoh Car Free Day back in November. “I find Ipoh to be a very peaceful city. I like the fat, juicy bean sprouts here and streetfood like steamed vegetable dumpling and laksa,” he enthused.
“One of my dreams is to create a cultural heritage restaurant displaying Chinese street opera puppets, costumes, instruments, props and pictures besides serving traditional Singapore Chinese food,” he mentioned towards the end of the interview.
For more updates on Nick, check out his Facebook page, Instagram and WeChat.