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30 Jun 2008

Robin Goh

Better known as an actor for his roles in Asian Boys Vols 2 & 3 and for playing both Chang and Eng in the namesake musical, fans can now catch Robin Goh in his very own solo concert singing favourites from Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra HIS WAY.

Fridae catches up with Robin Goh, who is best known for his role as the older Chris and the muse in Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol. 3 and for appearing in the widely publicised Youtube video calling for the repeal of Section 377A which criminalises sexual relations between men. No stranger to singing on stage, the 37-year-old who started in the industry in his teens reveals why it has taken him a long time to come out as a singer and how he had an easier time coming out as a gay man.

æ: ASOL (Age, Sex, Occupation, Location)

Robin: 37 years old. But I feel 36. Some days I feel like 12. Some nights, 204. Sex: Male. I was going to put "Very" but I don't want to deny my feminine side. Occupation: Singer. Also does other entertainment odd jobs. What kind? All entertainment jobs are slightly odd. At home in my messy flat in Boon Lay.

æ: Publicity material for Happy Robin describe you as "Singapore's answer to Sinatra," what can the audience expect at the show?

Robin: They can expect songs that Sinatra sang, sung MY WAY. Also songs sung by Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, all sung MY WAY. But they ALL influenced me in one way or another.

æ: How did the concept of the show come about?

Robin: Selena Tan said to me: " Your show is in July. The theatre has been booked." That was it, really. Then we thought about the songs I want to sing, and how I want to sing them, and THEN the concept slowly formed. That's not exactly how it happened, but it's a complicated process. Basically, it's all these jazz standards, some of them torch songs, and how I can interpret them from a modern gay man's point of view. No pronouns will be hurt or changed during this production.

æ: Many readers from Singapore will probably remember you for your role as (the older) Chris and the muse in Happy Endings: Asian Boys Vol. 3 (2007) as well as your role as Chang in the musical Chang & Eng in 1997 and then as Eng in 1999. Would you describe yourself as an actor who loves to sing or a singer who loves to act?

Robin: It took me a long time to dare to say that I'm a singer, and now that I dare to say it, I'm going to say it all the time. And I never say I love to act. I'm not so sure I do.

æ: Who are your biggest musical influences?

Robin: Billie Holiday, always the first and the greatest. She influenced Frank Sinatra among many, many others, but the influence is almost subtle. I get a little something from everyone I hear that I like, and that includes Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae. It's funny (or maybe not) but I listen more to female singers, and then try to use what I learn with my baritone.

æ: How did you get started in performance arts?

Robin: Now that I am so old, it's a long story. But I've been singing and acting since I was a kid, and there are photos to prove it but thank God, no recordings. I don't remember how it started but going to a drama course (that Selena also attended; that's how and when we first met) when I was 14 helped; going to Singapore Armed Forces Music & Drama Company (MDC) helped; doing small roles in choruses in musicals helped. I think it's more important how I stayed in performance arts than how I started. So many people start but are unable to stay on the course due to circumstances beyond their control. I've just been very lucky.

æ: Did being gay play a part - and how - in your decision to be a full-time performer?

Robin: That's a very interesting question. It actually does! Being gay meant, for me personally, that I was only responsible for myself, for my own livelihood. I don't have anyone to support, no wife, no kids. Just me. So the practical risks involved in being a full-time performer is confined to only myself. That gives me the freedom to do what I want to do.

æ: You had recently started co-presenting a radio show having been a TV actor and host of a children's show. You're quite versatile aren't you? According to a recent newspaper interview, you said that you were only 14 when you joined the youth wing of a theatre company. What drew you to performance arts and keeps you going?

Robin: I think that question is sort of half-answered above. But DO tell people about the morning radio show on 883JiaFM! I'm having a great time there and really enjoying myself being back in radio. As for what keeps me going, as Lena Horne once said, "I don't know how to do nothin' else!"

æ: What are your biggest challenges in being a full-time performer?

Robin: Staying interested, staying motivated, staying positive. There are so many things you have to worry about making a living from this thing you love to do, or are trying to do. How do you deal with all those things you only semi-expected when you decided to do this? The looking around for jobs, the contingency plans, the PR, the press interviews (wink), the lack of press interviews I guess at some point, we all look around and wonder if we're still doing what we started out to do. For me, a chance to do something like Happy Endings or Happy Robin, or anything that I really LOVE, is the reason to keep on keepin' on.

æ: What have your most memorable roles been so far?

Robin: Chang and Eng in the namesake musical about two Thai-born conjoined twin brothers who settled in the US in the 1800s. And it has to be playing both Chang and Eng (in different stagings), because I think that if I'd only done one twin without the other, it wouldn't have been half as interesting. Did that come out right? :P Chris from Happy Endings. There are many reasons for that one. Great part, great director, great cast. But the greatest reason for it being my favorite is Alfian Sa'at. His words!

æ: Speaking of Happy Endings which was based on your former schoolmate Johann Lee's book Peculiar Chris (1992), it has been said that he author had based the characters in the book on real people and you're rumoured to be one of them. Did you "see" yourself in any of the characters fleshed out in the book?

Robin: In Peculiar Chris? No. I don't think I registered much on his radar during our schooldays. Not even on his gaydar, I think. I didn't even know I was gay back then.

æ: Tell us about growing up gay in Singapore.

Robin: I didn't grow up gay. Like Athena, I sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus when someone hit him on the head. Actually, It sort of happened like that. I don't remember being sexually aware when I was growing up. Two incidents. One, I remarked to a primary school friend that Jon Bon Jovi was hot. Two, there were these sidelong glances with a cute junior college mate in the school toilet. Other than that, nada, zip, zilch. I came out in MDC, AFTER I slept with a guy. And MDC was a very protected environment for gay people, and so I became very self-assured in my homosexuality. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

æ: What is your vision for the gay community?

Robin: Recently, someone asked me if I thought there WAS a gay community in Singapore. Of course there is! Where there are gay people And trust me, THERE ARE GAY PEOPLE IN SINGAPORE. My own feeling is that we are still finding our feet as a community and that there will be certain things, certain phases we have to go through, as individuals and as a group. Some of those things have happened, like the whole 377A thing last year. Some of those things, the challenges, are ahead of us. I just wish that gay people in Singapore think of themselves as just that: GAY SINGAPOREANS. The country is already so same-y in so many ways, we should embrace our diversity and think of it as a positive thing, both for ourselves and for the country. Believe that we are an unassailable asset, and we'll be able to claim our rights as citizens.

æ: What other projects are you involved with?

Robin: None. I'm lazy. Plus I'm waking up at 5am, Mondays to Fridays, to do the morning show from 7am to 10am every week. So I'm just enjoying whatever free time I have (which is still quite a lot). But when Alfian writes Asian Boys Vol. 4 (which he says he won't!), call me.

æ: What's your biggest guilty pleasure?

Robin: I would say sex, but there is no guilt. I shop a lot these days, for no apparent reason. I don't need any more stuff, whether it's CDs, bags, or clothes. But I keep buying stuff. I just bought a bag today! They're not branded or anything, just cheap things on sale, but when did I turn into a bargain basement Sarah Jessica Parker?! Argh!

æ: Tell us one of your fantasies?

Robin: No. ;P

æ: Who would your dream date be if you were straight for a day?

Robin: Faye Wong. She's so pretty and sings like an angel, and I totally dig her attitude. I'd probably bore her, though.

Happy Robin
Presented by The Dream Academy Playhouse Pte Ltd
Directed by Selena Tan
17 - 20 Jul 08, Thu - Sun, 3pm (Sat & Sun only), 8pm
Esplanade Theatre Studio
$48. Tickets sold through SISTIC Website, Hotline and Outlets.


Reader's Comments

1. 2008-07-01 23:04  
Robin has got a beautiful smile here. I just wish he learn to smile outside his celebrity world, not portraying an unfriendly image as always seen outside in and outside Singapore.

Gd luck in this event.

2. 2008-07-01 23:29  
Robin !
gam ba teh!
3. 2008-07-02 01:35  
Being an entertainer is like a blessing with a curse, an ability to make people happy is great, but entertainers are always expected to look great and happy all the time.. thats not realistic...

I wish I could fly to see you there ;-) , HAVE A GREAT SHOW!
4. 2008-07-04 12:15  
wht u expect? ask him to smile everywhere he goes? god, people have mood u know.
5. 2008-07-04 19:58  
Robin dear, you're very very talented and screw all who envy your talent. Unfortunately, Singapore is not exactly the best place to use your talent - I've seen you a countless times in many stage productions and your portrayal of Lau Jiu still bring goosebumps to my skin! Break a leg and you bet I'll be there to see you. Hugs
6. 2008-07-05 22:20  
Excellent interview. It's nice to learn more about Robin, and his life.
Keep on Singing and Swinging!!

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