Well-respected stage and screen actor Janice Koh naturally lives and breathes theatre. The Singaporean thespian and Life! Theatre Award winner who is known for her appearances in several TV and theatre productions as well as Hollywood film Crazy Rich Asians, watches at least 15 to 20 plays and musicals a year. Before the pandemic, she would travel to London or New York every other year to catch up on new plays and exhibitions that are opening. “It’s a luxury I accord myself,” she quips.
As an artist, she draws inspiration from the things around her: from the performances she sees to everyday occurrences. Travelling around the world was particularly helpful as it allowed her to gain new perspectives and insights into different cultures. Before the Covid-19 pandemic restricted travel, Koh would jet set abroad about three to four times a year, whether it be ski sojourns with her family, short getaways to decompress or work trips for heading on tour with a show. “I like travelling with a show – I find out so much more about a place and culture when I am able to live and work there. You really feel the pulse, the heartbeat of the people.”
These days, she’s more homebound, but still manages to find joy in the simple things in Singapore. “I find it comforting and rejuvenating to be in nature, so I’ve been taking a lot of long hikes in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and MacRitchie Nature Trail. I think it’s also refreshing to see Singapore with new eyes. Sometimes, I gather a couple of friends, and we take turns to act as tour guide of our own neighbourhood. Singapore can be a place of inspiration if you know how and where to look.”
Although travel is still limited presently, Koh is hoping people continue to support the performing arts community, which has been badly affected by cancelled shows and reduced theatre capacities. Whether it is through monetary means (she started Pasar Glamour Art Aid, for example, to provide cash grants to performing arts workers who have lost income this year) or simply by showing appreciation and love towards creatives by honouring their work, it’s a gesture that will be appreciated around the world and keep the spirit of artistry alive.
Below, she sheds light on some of her favourite spaces abroad and in the Little Red Dot for a dose of artsy creativity. Bookmark this page for your future travels or visit their individual websites to see how you can help.
1. National Theatre in London
You can always count on the National Theatre if you want to be among the first to catch the best new works coming out of London. This is where you can watch superbly staged plays at affordable prices before they become big hits on the West End. Over the decades that I’ve lived in or travelled to London, this has been the venue that has introduced me to some of theatre’s biggest names including Complicité, Robert Lepage, Sarah Kane and many more. Also, when in London, I never miss the chance to go to the Tate Modern and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
2. Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo
I am always floored by the craft and artistry of watching Kabuki, one of Japan’s most treasured traditional art forms. It is exquisite to witness an 80-year-old male performer transform into a young woman in love simply with the use of gestures and physical movement. You don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the art. It is pure theatrical magic.
How can one not be swept away by the intensity, the electricity and the buzz of Broadway? I have seen some of the best musicals here, including Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton and Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen. Head straight to the half-priced ticket booths, and try your luck to see what’s available that evening. When I’m in New York, I’m at the theatre almost every single night.
W!ld Rice is one of Singapore’s foremost theatre companies, and has a reputation for staging high-quality, original works by local playwrights, as well as classic plays that speak not only to the human experience, but also to the hearts of many Singaporeans. Their new theatre at Funan is beautiful and intimate, and is not to be missed.
5. Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore
If you’re living in Singapore, the Esplanade (affectionately known as “The Durian” among locals) is the best place to catch internationally renowned productions, alongside cutting-edge pieces by Singapore performing artists. The regular programming of free outdoor performances and concerts in the atrium and by the water makes the Esplanade a joyful and buzzy place, especially at sundown.
6. National Gallery Singapore, Singapore
The National Gallery Singapore is an excellent place to see art works by some of Southeast Asia’s and Singapore’s finest pioneering and contemporary visual artists. The Gallery is also sited in a heritage building that is home to fine restaurants including Violet Oon’s National Kitchen and a couple of bars that have a stunning view of the Padang at night.
7. Barcelona, Spain
I was never a big fan of Gaudi until a few years ago when I visited Barcelona for the first time. His jaw-dropping buildings are truly masterpieces and are dotted throughout this city. The first time I walked through the doors of Casa Battlo, it took my breath away. The first time I saw Sagrada Familia, I walked around the cathedral at least three times because each façade is different, and the details are so rich. Gaudi’s imagination and the scope of his ambition are truly inspiring.
8. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud is the cultural and artistic centre of Bali. This is where you can view and buy affordable artworks, and watch ritual performances that still play an important part in the religious life of the community. There is something about the energy of this place that allows me to decompress the instant I arrive. Maybe it’s the lushness of the landscape, the serenity of looking out at green padi fields, the rushing Ayung river, or the sound of gamelan (traditional music ensemble comprising percussive instruments), but I find myself at my most relaxed and most creative when I am here. I love Ubud during Nyepi, or the Balinese New Year, when the whole island shuts down completely for one whole day. No noise, no talking, no emissions. A unique and sublime experience.
9. Little India, Singapore
Little India is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Singapore. It is one of the few touristy places that continues to also be a vital and vibrant hub for the community. The array of food choices here is amazing. I love that you can grab a refreshing coconut drink at the mom-and-pop grocery store, try your hand at chewing sireh (betel leaf) and chance upon a special prayer session at an Indian temple along the way. Mustafa, which sells almost everything under one roof, is also great. The streets of Little India are busy, noisy, pungent, hot and lively, and I love that! Also, the Deepavali light-up in November is a spectacular sight.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking and seating requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about. Do also check train and bus schedules ahead of time.
The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines flights, visit singaporeair.com.