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The I-Ching of Debra Teng

Money frogs, koi carps and dragon tortoises seem to be what local theatre and TV actress Debra Teng has been up to recently.

In a new reality TV series, Feng Shui Makeover, Debra visits Feng Shui Master Raymond Lo for advice on redecorating her home in the hope of improving luck, fame and fortune in her acting career.

Perhaps, known best for her character in the local ‘dramady’ series Moulmein High, Debra is nothing like her on screen character, the ditzy ‘Eve’. Instead, she is down-to-earth, intelligently articulate and has a confident personality that strikes a fine balance between the non-conversationalist and the overbearing.

Fresh from a rock-climbing workout, Debra invites me to join her at a nearby bistro.

“After he [Lo] gave me the recommendations, my house mates and I went around Singapore, trying to get all sorts of stuff to make-over the house.”

As luck would have it, Master Lo’s advice on how to improve Debra’s career seemed to take instant effect. During the filming of the reality show, a theatre director who had seen Debra act called her from the United Kingdom (UK) to invite her to audition for a role.

“That was really quite shocking that he even called me. I hardly ever turn on my UK phone, and just that very day I happened to just turn it on for the heck of it and it rang!” Even now Debra is astonished at her luck and gestures animatedly as she recalled the occasion.

“I thought ‘What the hell!’ It was too much of a coincidence and too big a chance.”

So how did the audition go? She smiles and says, “Watch the show and find out!”

Feng Shui Makeover pilots on the Discovery channel on Jan 21 at 1030pm.

The Yin & Yang of it All
Acting as a Destiny
Imparting Actors’s Wisdom

The Yin & Yang of it All

While relishing the new experience of reality TV, Debra found able to shake off her camera crew. They followed her everywhere – to her home, her audition and on her shopping expeditions.

But when Debra talks about her fellow crewmembers, she speaks with great endearment and respect for them. Making no distinction between the cast and the crew, she thoroughly enjoyed the filming of Feng Shui Makeover, comparing her work experience to “friends hanging out together”.

It is perhaps that easy-going nature of hers that has helped her to overcome the gap between stage acting and acting for TV.

She explains that when acting for a TV show like Moulmein High, the emotions of the actor have to be completely honest as the camera will catch your expressions up close unlike in theatre. On stage, there are certain techniques that she has learnt that allow her to “fake” some of the emotions during her performance. Of course, they both have their individual challenges, acting for TV being the need for pure honesty, and stage acting being spontaneity and the fact that each performance cannot be replicated.

Acting as a Destiny

As far as she can remember, Debra has been acting.
It began as a cathartic relief – she used it to take her attention off the world around her. “I didn’t have very happy home life so it was my way of escaping, of pretending that I had a perfect family and that I had people who loved me.”

When she was 12, she prayed for a sign that would indicate that acting was God’s plan for her. Her prayers were answered when she won the best actress award that year from her school. The news still surprises her. “Even then I didn’t dare to go into it full time because being from a poor family I needed to have something to fall back on, so I went into architecture.”

However, sometime after, Debra still chose to pursue acting and went to London to study acting full-time after she got a fully paid scholarship, leaving her occupation in architecture. As she sits and raves about theatre in London and the degree of dedication she experienced there, she expresses her passion for acting in enunciating her ideas on camaraderie and commitment.

“It’s that dream, the raw passion that reminds me of why I started out doing what I did in the first place, why I left architecture – a good job, and a good pay, to do what I do now. It reminded me that I started out wanting to chase a dream and it’s time to go back,” she says expressively.

“There were so many times I wanted to give up and find a real job because I kept looking at my rent and my bills and I can’t go on with no work. I actually did apply for work, like real jobs but nobody would have me,” Debra says, explaining many companies’ reluctance to hire an actress.

“On reflection, when you’re going through it, when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s really hard but… it’s really not that bad.”

Imparting Actors’ Wisdom

For any aspiring local actress, Debra’s career is an enviable one. She has already bridged the career gap between theatre and TV, and starred in over 10 plays with leading roles both in Singapore and London. Her portfolio includes ABC’s of HealthModern Dance for BeginnersMail Order Brides and Other Oriental Take-Aways – just to name a few.

Above that Debra also has her own artistic development company named ‘DARE‘. She has also directed and produced productions such as Alice in Wonderless Land and Modern Dance for Beginners, where she acted opposite local theatre actor Mark Waite.

All she has achieved today are the fruit of her diligent, realistic and committed approach to acting – she has spent many years pursuing her career despite the low pay. Her accomplishments have been received with an equal measure of astonishment and humility.

As the interview draws to a close, I ask Debra what advice she would give to aspiring actors and actresses. She instantaneously responds, “Don’t do it. I would tell them not to do it.”

“Don’t go for it for the glamour, there isn’t very much of it – it’s not Hollywood. If you’re really, really passionate about it and you believe you would die for it… then go for it.”


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