Last year, Samantha Tan became the first Malaysian to be accepted into the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, a very big deal. Loathe to saddle her parents with the fees, Samantha launched a fund-raising campaign online and received enough from friends, fans and random strangers to almost cover the costs.
She’s just completed her first year. This summer, she’s headed to London to dance at the Olympics closing ceremony.
Just remember you read about her first at Outstation….
Name: Samantha Tan
DOB: 22 January 1985
Hometown: Damansara Utama, PJ
Current city: New York
No. of years abroad: 8
What do you do?
I am an acting student at the Actors Studio Drama School, where I have just completed my first year on the 3-year Masters of Fine Arts programme.
Before this, I was a professional dancer and spent 7 years in London doing mainly musical theatre. In my spare time I am also an amateur chef, and I run the food blog Sam Tan’s Kitchen (www.bakecookeat.blogspot.com).
What do you like about living in New York?
The palpable creative energy and the general positive “go for it!” attitude, which makes everything feel possible! I cannot stress enough how important an encouraging environment is to give you the confidence you need to take risks, blossom to your fullest potential and challenge yourself, especially in the arts. In my past eight months at the ASDS alone I have learnt and developed more as an artist (and as a person) than in all my years of working.
I also love the openness of people, the incredibly cheap student discount policies for Broadway shows, and the amazing food- New York is a true food-lover’s paradise!
What do you not like?
New York specifically: the grimy mice-infested subways, the widespread homelessness. America in general- the profit-driven health insurance system, the pop-a-pill quick fix culture, the exorbitant cell phone charges
What do you miss about Malaysia?
What do you not miss about Malaysia?
The dirty politics, how race and religion permeate everything, the censorship and the lack of freedom of expression.
Would you move back to Malaysia? Why?
Not in the near future- for me to realise my full potential in my field it is necessary for me to train and gain experience in a competitive country, where the standard of acting and entertainment in general is world-class.
I don’t think I know enough yet to make a significant contribution to the industry back home, but perhaps one day when I am established enough for my voice to make an impact I will be in a position to return.
You started an online campaign to pay your school fees that went viral. Tell us about it.
To raise the immense amount of money I needed for my course in New York, I set up a fundraising website last August at http://www.myasdsfund.wordpress.com/.
The website received a lot of positive feedback and turned out to be a huge success in getting me the scholarships I needed, but at the same time it also drew some surprising criticism which enlightened me to the amount of ignorance that still exists in Malaysia about the value of acting and the arts in general.
Aside from entertainment and escapism, the role of the arts is also to challenge our perceptions, to force us to question the status quo and to hold a mirror up to the flaws, strengths, triumphs and struggles of human beings in real life.
Theatre, film and television are extremely powerful mediums, and for that reason it is important for actors (and writers and directors) to enter it for bigger reasons than money or fame, and to do their job responsibly and well.
I was surprised at the amount of people that automatically dismissed the necessity of getting good training, or who assumed actors just needed to look pretty.
I think the turbulent politics and multi-racial diversity of Malaysia actually makes it a very rich drawing ground from which good art can be born, but first people have to give it its due respect and stop associating acting only with Hollywood fluff and glamour.
We have to remember that art is always historically one of the first things to get censored/banned when a dictator wants to hold on to power, when a government wants to silence the masses, or when somebody somewhere is afraid to stimulate thought.
That in itself speaks to its power, particularly in a place like Malaysia.
Click here for more of Samantha.