The story of how Adrian Pang graduated with a law degree but ended up acting in Mediacorp
Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.
On Air – Untold Stories from Caldecott Hill is a collection of 51 essays about the history of television and radio in Singapore.
Compiled and published by Marshall Cavendish, the book features accounts from actors, producers, directors, journalists and many more about their time in the broadcasting industry throughout Singapore’s history.
Here, we reproduce an excerpt from the book, “The Best Stage of My Life”, by actor Adrian Pang, about his experience on working at Mediacorp and how theatre has always been his first love.
Pang is currently serving as Artistic Director at Pangdemonium, a local theatre company that he co-founded with his wife in 2010.
On Air can be purchased here.
By Adrian Pang
Despite studying law in the UK, I never became a lawyer
After graduating from Keele University with a degree in law, I spent the next eight years being a fugitive of the law, working as an actor in the United Kingdom, building up a steady body of work in theatre, television and film.
Thankfully, I never had to be a waiter to fill in time between acting gigs, although I did act as one once.
During that time, I would occasionally return to Singapore to perform in plays and musicals, and even managed to squeeze into a little Singaporean film called Forever Fever.
I also found the time to get married to a wonderful human called Tracie, buy a house, and produce two sons in quick succession (in an effort to placate my parents, who to this day are still waiting for me to become a lawyer).
I returned to Singapore in 2001 & had a lot of fun at work
In 2001, with a mortgage and two babies to feed, I was lured back to Singapore to join a fledgling “rebel alliance” television network called MediaWorks.
For the next three years I was flung into all manner of television productions: from variety shows, game shows, sitcoms, dramas, info-tainment programmes and soap operas.
Notable shows include the sitcom Ah Girl for which my over-acting won me the award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series at the Asian Television Awards; the mini- series Six Weeks, a personal labour of love I am especially proud of, not least because I helped create and write it (my character of a dying man had a mantra “life is too short”, which really resonates with me); Durian King, another over-the-top acting assignment, but (secretly) enormous fun; and the foodie guide Yummy King, in which I found myself “tricked” into speaking Mandarin for the first time in more than twenty years, made bearable only because I shared hosting duties with the yummylicious Michelle Chia.
In the meantime, the fates had bigger schemes up their sleeves, and (to cut a long, sad story short) in 2005, MediaWorks “merged” with Mediacorp, and I found myself swept up in the maelstrom, and becoming a Mediacorp artiste.
Then I got swept up into acting in my first Chinese drama
Hey, at least I still had a job.
Bruised and bewildered, I was shoehorned into my first major Mediacorp gig – a 100-episode Mandarin soap opera called Portrait of Home (don’t ask me how to say it in Mandarin, I’ve forgotten).
It was a whole year of my life speaking Mandarin, which was agony for me, but apparently music to the ears of Channel 8 viewers.
My character was saddled with the catchphrase “Is my hair a mess?” (it somehow works better in Mandarin) – a line which strangers still yell at me a decade and a half later.
Or maybe, they’re just swearing at me.
I was still involved in English productions however
After paying my dues on Channel 8, I got to be involved in several English programmes: hosting Singapore’s version of the game show Deal or No Deal, the object of which was to see how long I could endure obnoxious contestants without slugging them with a briefcase; the sitcom Maggi & Me, in which I played a conman masquerading as a ghost whisperer; the drama Red Thread, playing a blind (or was I?) lawyer, which inexplicably won me the award for Best Actor in a Drama Series at the Asian Television Awards; two seasons of The Pupil, this time playing a visually-unimpaired lawyer; Parental Guidance, again a lawyer (see, Mum and Dad, law school was a good investment after all); and, just so I wasn’t typecast, Polo Boys, in which I swanned about in nothing but a pair of Speedos, which should be against the law.
Just for good measure, I was made to act in two other Mandarin dramas: Nanny Daddy, which revolved around an adorable one-year-old girl called Nicole, whose cuteness helped me survive the shoot; and With You, which was basically Maggi & Me, except in place of Fiona Xie as my spiritual companion, I had Chen Han Wei, who’s a wonderful actor, but looks nowhere as good in a leotard as Fiona does.
I was terrified of doing yet another Chinese drama
In 2010, with negotiations pending to extend my television contract, I had a minor panic attack: the thought of doing another Mandarin drama or sitcom terrified me.
Don’t get me wrong: the people I had the privilege to work with at the station were all lovely, and the work had provided me with a steady income.
But in my heart of hearts, theatre was, and is, my one true passion, and the one thing I had always yearned to dedicate my working life to.
So I decided to stake it out by returning to theatre instead
So, I talked it out with my boss (Tracie), and we jointly made the big decision – in the throes of a global financial meltdown, we were going to fulfill our fantasy of starting our own theatre company.
The logic being that there couldn’t be a worse time to try to sell people something they did not think they wanted, but probably needed more than ever.
And so Pangdemonium Theatre Company was born, and since 2010, with Tracie as director, and me prancing about on stage as directed by Tracie, we’ve been working harder than ever, but living the dream.
I am sincerely grateful for the time I spent as a MediaWorks, and then a Mediacorp, employee, and for all the benefits that has accorded me.
But indeed, life is too short, so I am now more grateful than ever that I am spending it doing what I love most, with the person I love most.
I’m the luckiest actor I know.
Top image collage from Adrian Pang Facebook