Not everyone wants to be married or have kids, and people are beginning to relook these societal milestones and pressures for themselves. Shu An discusses her character, Ann, in Checkpoint Theatre’s new play, “The Fourth Trimester”.

“Finding out about the world through the arts was the best way of learning for me. I love to learn but reading is something I struggle with. In history classes, the textbooks were always about people signing treaties or how someone did such and such on this particular date, and I’m like, ‘But how did they feel?!’

My parents sent me to speech and drama classes when I was young to help with my shyness. I joined the drama club in secondary school, and what I love most about theatre is the rehearsal process.

I found it to be a great way to explore what’s going on in the world, observe characters, and have discussions on difficult issues. I feel free, at home, and happy in the rehearsal space.

I really enjoy the process and I feel you can go deeper into issues in the rehearsal space, because when discussing plays or art, there’s a distancing from the personal, and you can discuss things with more objectivity. In theory. [Laughs]

Because what is true objectivity, right? We all have our own biases and feelings about things. It can still provide some distance, though. Being able to have such conversations during rehearsals and learn different perspectives is what I’m grateful for.

The Fourth Trimester written by Faith Ng, examines the journey of becoming – or not becoming – parents. With my character Ann, she is at this point in her life, and is the only single person in the play, which I think is an interesting vantage point.

Society puts a huge pressure on us to be attached to someone, to want children and to reach other societal milestones. Ann is wondering: ‘Do I really want that? And on what terms do I want that? Is it possible to find what you want, and what does it require of our partners?’

I love Ann. She’s fun, very sassy and very independent. She has standards that I think are not very high, but because it is so hard for her to find what she’s asking for, it feels like she’s asking for too much. And I think that’s the struggle she has.

Our director, Claire Wong, challenged me to develop a character who’s not like me in real life. So one of the things we explored was speed of speech. It sounds rudimentary, but, truly, I speak very fast, it is a huge challenge for me.

Claire herself is a fantastic director and actress, she’s so very generous with passing on her knowledge and skills and guides you in a way that’s specific to you. She also is so amazing at holding space for the unknown, challenging us to venture into that, and makes people feel safe to do it.

The Fourth Trimester also really dives into the best friend and sister relationships. These people are a huge part of your whole life – in this case, from your formative years – and I think it’s great, the way these very long-term and intimate relationships are portrayed.

In those relationships, you have the leeway to say more personal things to each other about yourselves, even things that you haven’t realised you needed or wanted to talk about. They also have a deeper perspective on some things, having seen you grow up and change over the years.

I love Faith as a playwright – she has a sensitive way of reflecting life that is very real and in a way that a lot of people can relate to, and she really digs into and plumbs the depths of the ugly and the beautiful.

It tenderly shows the multi-layered relationship between Ann and her sister Lisa, and the kind of friendship that Samantha, played so wonderfully by Julie Wee and Isabella Chiam respectively, and Ann have.

A lot of the time, the media shows very antagonistic female friendships, portraying women being very unkind to each other for absolutely no reason except for the fact that they are women. Although it is changing, it is still there.

I hope that audiences will be able to recognise the amount of emotional labour women put into relationships, question why that is the case, and how comfortable they are with that.”  – Shu An

Interview by: Cindy Abner