Born in Saigon, raised in Penang, training now in Singapore – Vanessa’s growing up years may have been multi-faceted, but her life goals were clear since young. Vanessa is one of the lucky ones who knew, since early on, what her singular calling is to be – and for this diminutive chilli-padi, it is to be an actor.
In the pursuit of her dreams, Vanessa gave up school at 13, worked odd jobs to lend a hand to her family, while trying to find her way into the professional performing arts. This, she did in 2012, when she interned for Shanthini Venugopal’s The Jumping Jellybeans, a children’s theatre company based in Kuala Lumpur. That year, Vanessa was also cast in Bites of Delights, a children’s musical theatre production directed by Ghafir Akbar.
In 2013 and 2014, Vanessa worked at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) as a production assistant, and was also a stage manager for the opera, Carmen, as well as for the KLPAC orchestra. During her KL years, she also acted in Joe Hasham’s productions of Broken Bridges the Musical and Sinbad the Musical, as well as What If, Life Unscripted and Theatre in the Red for Short+Sweet Festival Malaysia (Theatre and Musical).
In Singapore, Vanessa performed in Speak Cryptic’s The Tribe, as part of Club Malam at SIFA The O.P.E.N. Festival 2016. She also collaborated with performance/sound art collective The UFO Project for Neon Lights Festival 2016.
At 22 now, Vanessa feels she is still in search of her essence as an actor and of the kind of theatre she hopes to pursue.
Q: What led you to where you are here, today?
A friend once told me that every actor needs training, in one form or another. And I took her advice really seriously!
Thinking about it now, I guess I was a lot of things … I was 18 turning 19 when I started at ITI. Starting a whole new life in a new country, sharing a space with a whole new lot of people from all walks of life… there was nothing ‘matter of fact’ about it all. It took time for me to breathe all that in.
Q: Since then, what have you taken in, in all those interactions from training, that will indelibly shape you?
I have learnt how to take a step back when needed. My ego is my worst enemy, and learning how to tame it or put it down for a moment and just listen to what others have to say, is something really crucial.
Q: How has what you learnt here shaped or changed you as an actor?
The ability to understand my mind and body has changed tremendously. I am healthier today, and that plays a big part in what is the new, improved me.
Q: What will you take away from ITI in your future work?
In a term last year, we had the great privilege to learn mask work from visiting teacher Alicia Martinez, from Mexico. Those four weeks with her is something I cherish very much. There is just something about her, and the way she carries her craft that is so incredible. I learnt so much, and fell in love over and over again, everyday. After experiencing mask work with Alicia, I have decided that I want to continue training in that form, after graduation.
Q: What would you tell to someone who will be in your three-years-ago shoes, when they join ITI next?
I have to say that it is really important to meet and approach each new day with an open mind, but more importantly, with an open heart.