What does it mean to make a family? That’s just one of the tough questions the actor tackles in Checkpoint Theatre’s new play, “The Fourth Trimester”.

“‘Rusydina! I can’t hear you!’ I was a very shy and quiet student. So when my teacher raised his voice at me to speak louder during voice class, I started hyperventilating. I then sobbed for a good 45 minutes while the other students did their vocal warm-ups. [Laughs]

I actually did fine arts in my first year at a local art school. But when we had to choose a cross-disciplinary elective, I took up Malay Theatre and fell in love with it. I think it’s because you’re mainly confined to yourself in fine arts; but in theatre, you’re in very fun company.

Because of that, I decided to pursue theatre instead in my second year. But I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to open myself up and be vulnerable. I wasn’t ready for what theatre required of me. So I struggled for two years until it gradually got easier.

What I love about theatre and acting is the process – of learning my character, of digging deep to create this other person who’s different from me. I’m an introverted person, so it’s very freeing to be someone else. Every single role I do is challenging, and I love that.

In The Fourth Trimester, I play Sofia, who is trying to start a family with her husband Johan. She has been trying so hard to chase this dream of being a mother, to reach this next milestone in her life, and perhaps, unknowingly, meet other people’s expectations of her.

I wanted to do this play because when I read the script that Faith Ng had written, I was drawn to the theme of adult friendship. I love how it touches upon the importance of female friends being there for one another.

I was there for my sister when she became a first-time mum. Growing up, my sister and I were never close.  But when she had her first child, I would travel for more than an hour every single day to cook for her. I wanted to be there for her because she was alone at home during her confinement period.

To prepare for my role as Sofia, I did research online and listened to a lot of TED Talks. I also spoke with friends who shared certain private struggles that they have been going through as women and as mothers.

It was quite an emotional process listening to them because I could hear the hurt in their voices. I’m sure it was very hard for them to share their stories as well. Even as I sat there and empathised, I knew it’s something I’ll never fully understand unless I go through it myself.

Working with director Claire Wong has helped me get into Sofa’s headspace because she comes into rehearsals with different exercises prepared for different actors. She’s able to pull out our unique strengths through these exercises, and I think you need a very keen eye to do that.

As actors, we have preconceived notions about our characters, but Claire makes us break the mould. She’s not afraid to ask difficult questions about our characters. And sometimes I don’t have the answers, but the process of discovery makes our characters fuller.

I think it’s very important for people to watch The Fourth Trimester because as women, so much is expected of us. The ideology of ‘get married, have babies and create a family’ has been taught to us since we were young. It’s been engrained in us that it is normal, that it is the rite of passage.

I don’t remember anyone encouraging me to remain single until I’ve gotten my life properly figured out, or or having conversations about how infertility could also happen in our lives and how to navigate through it. I don’t remember having any of these perspectives at all when I was a girl.

I’m thinking about what is missing in this day and age, and I think it’s compassion. All these struggles happen behind closed doors, so the least you can do is to be a kinder and more compassionate person, because you never know what other people are going through.

And to everyone who’s watching this play, I hope you come to realise that it’s okay if your life is turning out differently from what you thought it would be. If you want to remain unmarried until the age of 35, so be it. Don’t want kids? That doesn’t make you any less normal. Go write your own story.” – Rusydina

Interview by: Arman Shah