V SUBRAMANIAM (BBA 1998)
Our search for alumni took us to the Substation Theatre on 21 June for the opening night of Tru. This monologue production portrays the American writer Truman Capote and his state of mind a couple of days before Christmas 1975 just as he is dropped by New York’s high society for a perceived betrayal of trust.
The script, a black comedy written by Jay Presson Allen, who also wrote Marnie and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, is a monologue drawn from Capote’s writings and interviews, as well as the many anecdotes about him. It depicts Capote’s loneliness and despair through ramblings that give insights into his social circle, his troubled childhood, his work, his homosexuality and his addiction to alcohol and drugs.
A familiar face in the cast
The alumnus we set out to see was actor and director V Subramaniam (BBA 1998), who portrays Capote in this critically acclaimed one-man show. Subramaniam, now a resident of Melbourne, was in Singapore to perform Tru for three consecutive nights from 21-23 June. This production showcased the obvious talents and passion of a true thespian.
Welcome to my world
Subramaniam, founding member of World-in-Theatre, has a reputation for not being an easy artiste to work with and is perhaps the reason why he tends to favor monologue scripts. As such, Tru was the perfect vehicle for him. His portral of Capote, author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is testament to Subramaniam’s talent for drawing the audience in to an alternate space and time. Not an obvious choice perhaps to play the 5″ 3′ homosexual writer, the six-foot-plus-tall Singaporean superbly leads the audience to a state of suspended disbelief, convincingly pulling off Capote’s high-pitched voice, southern drawl and camp mannerisms. For two hours, we were no long in Singapore, but were instead a fly on the wall in Capote’s New York United Nations Plaza apartment, privy to the writer’s ramblings, phone calls, drinking and cocaine habit.
Employing a safety net
We interviewed Subramaniam during one of his rehearsals to find out how he journeyed from NUS BBA undergraduate to theatre thespian. Subramaniam revealed that he had always wanted to act, but opportunities in Singapore during his school days were not many. While he was determined to follow a path into acting, and subsequently directing, he was pragmatic enough to realize that he needed a safety net, hence his decision to pursue a BBA at NUS. “I needed to be employable, so the degree gave me the ability to support myself financially while I pursued my acting ambitions,” he explained. His foresight paid off as he is now able to supplement his theatre income by working as a market research analyst during the day while pursuing his passion for the performing arts at night.
The product of two key mentors
Subramaniam’s first public performance came in 1995 in the late theatre pioneer William Teo’s staging of The Mahabharata Part One. Under Teo’s mentorship, he continued to take part in local theatre productions. In 2007, he went to the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney on a partial National Arts Council Scholarship. It was here that he gained an in-depth understanding of theatre production and directing. He credits his design teacher, Peter Cook, as the person responsible for the type of actor and director he is today. “He was highly demanding and was the type of teacher that would never give you the answer. He made you find it yourself, a mark of a true teacher,” he recalls of his post-graduate studies. “He was tough because he knew he could draw it out of me and I respected him for that.”
Now holder of a post-graduate degree in directing, Subramaniam takes the same approach when he directs at the independent La Mama Theatre in Melbourne. “I can be difficult to work with, but if I know I can get a particular performance from an actor, I don’t give up till I get it. But I don’t spoon feed them. I let them work it out for themselves. I would be doing them a disservice otherwise. It’s the only way to really learn your craft.”
Hoping for the passion to take flight
Having bought the performance rights of Tru last year, the actor/director hopes to be able to tour the show in Melbourne, Germany, Chicago and London if he can get funding. His ultimate goal is transition into movies whenever the opportunity arises. In the meantime, his skill sets learned during his NUS BBA keep him able to pursue his dream.
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