Wayang percussionist Johnson Yee

How did you get started in wayang?
My parents and aunt were wayang performers. When I was seven or eight, I started acting and stopped when I was 13. I went back to wayang as a percussionist when I was 15 or 16. I’ve stayed in opera ever since.
Wow. You started young. So what’s your most memorable acting role?
My most unforgettable role was in the opera called Ji Gong Zhuan. I had heavy makeup and I looked very ugly and fierce in that role!
Would you say young wayang performers like you are an endangered species?
Yes. You can say that. It’s very hard to find young people who are interested in wayang now. I’m the youngest full-time wayang percussionist in Singapore. The average age of wayang performers in Singapore is between 50 and 60-years-old.
But are there avenues for the young to learn wayang in the first place?
There are young people who’ll enroll in lessons in community centers. But it’s better to enroll in an opera troupe. You’ll be immersed in the environment, see how different roles get played out on stage and you’ll learn more. You don’t even need to pay fees. Most troupes will pay you. And if you are an amateur, they’ll give you the basic transport fees.
Have you ever regretted choosing this vocation?
Not really. I’ve chosen the path. I wouldn’t know what else to do even if I give up now. I’ll take one step at a time and see how long my troupe Sin Sai Hong will last.