Singapore’s musical theatre industry is a fairly modest one. But perhaps, it’ll soon get the recognition and attention it fully deserves, as more young talents grow keen to champion their passion.
Enter nascent musical theatre collective Fill The Vamp (FTV), created by Singapore practitioners, Kimberly Chan, Natalie Yeap and Vanessa Kee at the start of 2020. As a collective, the trio believes in the power that lies in music and lyrics. With a desire to tell honest and meaningful stories through song and performance, Fill The Vamp is here to fill the gaps in the industry while showcasing the depths of a longtime genre.
Furthermore, as FTV was formed during a year of ups and downs—against the backdrop of a raging pandemic—the gang has gone above and beyond as creatives. Embracing all things digital, they have plunged headfirst into producing music theatre content for their Instagram page and even debuted an online game. The latter pays homage to Singapore’s musical theatre scene, with trivia and exclusive content about famous local musicals.
At this point, the team may just be ready for about anything.
Below, we speak to the three young twenty-somethings, to learn how they will continue pushing the boundaries of storytelling through the exploration of musical theatre in Singapore.
From left to right: Vanessa Kee, Kimberly Chan and Natalie Yeap
Why a musical theatre collective? Why not a girl band or a regular theatre troupe?
Kimberly Chan: Being compared to a girl group totally tickles my ‘90s kid fantasy! But honestly, Fill The Vamp is our exploration of the musical theatre genre as practitioners. Born out of passion and drive, we knew that whatever projects we chose would have to accompany our careers. As a collective, we don’t have the pressure to hit the same markers as a full-time company, and this gives us more time to focus on the process.
Natalie Yeap: A collective allows for a more intimate and “own time own target” environment, as compared to having KPIs and profit on our minds. There are so many aspects to theatre and creativity that fits better with the organic model of a collective.
Vanessa Kee: Being in a collective gives us more freedom and flexibility to focus on the material we produce, rather than focusing on ourselves, which would happen if we debuted as a girl band. Also, even though we’re all experienced performers, we don’t have a lot of experience as creatives, so it would have been pretty scary to start a theatre company without any relevant production experience.
Can you guys share more about your backgrounds? How did you guys meet and come to be a team?
Kimberly: I graduated from Lasalle with a BA in Musical Theatre, but I’ve been dancing and performing from a young age. Natalie and I have been friends for years; we met in Theatre Studies class at VJC and have always been mad geeky about musicals. It feels like fate to be on this wild journey together. Vanessa and I worked together a few times after our Lasalle days, and I was just very taken with her spirit and her abilities—so I was delighted when she took the leap of faith to come explore this venture with us!
Vanessa: Oh wow I’m so jealous of Kim and Nat’s meet cute! Like Kim, I graduated from the BA(Hon) Musical Theatre Programme at Lasalle. I’ve been singing in choirs since I was nine, and it’s a huge part of who I am today. I met Kim doing a musical when I was in year one at Lasalle. Before that, I always saw her dancing and singing in a college promo video on the big screen in school as a college alum. I felt really lucky when Kim approached me one day to try singing and experimenting with musical theatre material. We had so much fun, it all went uphill from there.
Natalie: Now I’m getting FOMO, having not studied Lasalle! I read law at the University of Bristol, but then got to fulfill my musical theatre geek dreams by pursuing Musical Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London. Like Kim said, we’ve known each other since we were teenagers dreaming of working in the industry, so this journey together really does feel like we’re coming full circle. And of course, Van joining us on this rollercoaster ride has just made things even better.
Who inspires the co-founders of Fill The Vamp?
Vanessa: Honestly, I know this may sound cheesy but these two really inspire me with their fire, ambition and passion. There are a lot of things I wouldn’t have thought to explore if they hadn’t brought me along on this crazy journey! Most of the time I look at them in awe.
Kimberly: Not cheesy at all, because I am most inspired by these girls too. Heading into the unknown together has been an incredible journey so far. I’m also really inspired by the constant determination, drive and innovation that all the artists in the world have shown in these times. Even though the pivot to digital has been scary, it has also created opportunities for new collaborations and connections in ways we never imagined!
Natalie: So much cheese—I’m kidding! Honestly, it’s been amazing being a part of a team where your partners push you and continually inspire you. Between their kindness, intelligence, artistic talent and fearlessness, I have a lot of respect and admiration for my collective mates.
Tell us what inspired House Is Open. Was it always meant to be a digital game?
Vanessa: Just like everyone else in the theatre industry, we love our live shows. House Is Open is definitely a by-product of needing to think outside the box during these challenging times. An important driver for us was to find a fresh, innovative way of engaging audiences virtually.
Kimberly: I think that as a team, we’ve always been interested in exploring Singapore’s rich musical theatre history. We initially had plans to explore archival and education later down the line, but with the pandemic-induced pivot to digital, it was pretty serendipitous that these ideas aligned nicely for us. The project was always meant to be digital for sure, but the ‘game’ aspect was definitely a new take on ideas we were exploring.
Natalie: It definitely was. The main thing standing in our way was having zero technical knowledge of how online games are built from scratch! We learned so much in the creative and production process.
Do the co-founders each have their own roles in the team or does everyone chip in wherever necessary?
Kimberly: I think the nature of a small collective does lend to everyone having to chip in. I’m happy to say that we’ve all leaned into certain creative/production aspects a little more, now that we’ve been toggling projects over the year. We’re so fortunate to have the support of friends who double as our consultants, they help point us in the right direction when it comes to aspects of the process we might not have experience in.
Natalie: I agree—although we don’t have specific roles in the collective itself, we have set roles within each project. That being said, because we are a small team, doubling or even tripling up on roles is pretty common!
Vanessa: In this process, we’ve had to wear many hats, and try things we’ve never done before. That includes digital illustration, marketing, cinematography—skills far from our usual stage performing lives. Through these explorations, it feels like we have all fallen into our strengths and found a system to support each other in our weaknesses. I think we can safely agree that even though the learning curve has been intense, creating a safe space to explore has been incredibly rewarding, and we look forward to growing as a collective.
What has the team been up to since Fill The Vamp’s debut?
Kimberly: We’ve been pretty active on our Instagram, creating content ever since our launch in 2020. We cover musical theatre material and hope to spread our love for the genre through our videos. The team is also in the midst of workshopping for the next phases of future projects, and we are terribly excited to share that with everyone.
Natalie: If you’re interested, we launched an IGTV series called Songs from a Hat (in a Car), introducing audiences to different eras of musical theatre and sharing historical trivia. The series also spawned a one-off live performance at the Esplanade Concourse titled Back to Before. We obviously also can’t forget that we’ve been working incredibly hard to get House Is Open up and running!
As a new, local musical theatre collective, what are some upcoming initiatives or programmes locals can expect from Fill The Vamp?
Kimberly: Our decision to start Fill The Vamp last year coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, and navigating that challenging landscape was an exercise in persistence and growth. It’s very different from our experience planning for the upcoming year, which has been energising and hopeful.
Right now, we’re planning our move to a different platform for all our online video content, and knee-deep in workshops for our very first live musical revue coming to you early next year. Watch this space!
Natalie: Our current project, House Is Open, runs till Aug 31, so if you haven’t tried playing the game, there’s still time! Picking up where Kim left off, we’re also launching a new online series in September that contains interesting collaborations with other performers. Can’t wait for you guys to see it!
Learn more about Fill The Vamp here.