Here's an example of how S'poreans kowtowed to Lee Kuan Yew last time

Goh Lay Kuan, wife of theatre pioneer, Kuo Pao Kun, sheds some light on the ex-prime minister of Singapore.

Belmont Lay| May 05, 11:01 PM

Ok, a little context before we start.

On May 3, 2014, The Straits Times published an interview with Goh Lay Kuan.

The 75-year-old is a dance pioneer and the wife of the late Kuo Pao Kun, who is considered by many to be one of Singapore's most significant dramatists and a pioneer of local theatre.

In fact, the National Museum commemorated the 10th anniversary of Kuo's passing with an exhibition of his photographs, letters and manuscripts in 2012.


Click on photo to go to article and video.


In her teens, Goh fell in love with dance against her mother’s wishes, went to Australia for formal training on a teacher's salary and became the principal dancer of Ballet Victoria, experienced racism, came back to Singapore and married Kuo. They founded the Practise Performing Arts School that produced plays that gave short shrift to the government line.

In 1976, the couple were imprisoned without trial for being leftist elements. Goh was held for four months and was released only after "confessing" to communism on television.

Her husband, Kuo, was imprisoned for four-and-a-half years. During that time, Goh raised her daughters alone and ran the drama and dance school.

And in this recent ST interview, she recalls -- in a telling portion -- how difficult it was back in the days when she and her husband were practising their craft in Singapore and their impression of Lee Kuan Yew.

Q: What main challenges did you and your husband face in starting a performing arts school in 1965?

Goh Lay Kuan:

"It was founded a month before Singapore gained Independence. We had no grants and refused financial help from our families.

We did everything ourselves, including the stage set and costumes. I didn’t get a salary for 13 years, only money for transport. We took 17 years to pay our debts.

Government permits for the performances were hard to get.

We had a skit called gai si de cang ying (Chinese for “damn the fly”) around the time of the Keep Singapore Clean campaign (a yearly campaign that then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew started in 1968).

Lee’s authority struck fear in the people at the TV station.

Once, there was a fly when he arrived to give the National Day address. You can imagine how everybody reacted. Turn off the light! Ten minutes later, the light was turned on and they resumed. But the uncooperative fly came back. The light was turned off and Mr Lee was asked to rest in a dressing room. They had to do the recording a few times before it was finished.

Pao Kun, who was the producer-announcer, felt it was very funny. It was just a fly, but everyone was so frightened, as if a whole army had arrived. So at a drama camp, gai si de cang ying was performed. It was about the funny situations created by a fly at a fruit stall. We did not make any direct criticism, but they thought we had a Communist ideology."

Both Goh and Kuo are Cultural Medallion recipients - Goh in 1995 and Kuo in 1989.

Goh is still actively nurturing professional dancers and actors at The Theatre Practice.


You can read more about Goh Lay Kuan and Kuo Pao Kun here and here.


Top photo of Goh Lay Kuan and Kuo Pao Kun from here

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