Would You Exercise Self-Censorship As A Public Figure?

We live in tricky times, says thespian Adrian Pang of the era's "cancel culture".

Would You Exercise Self-Censorship As A Public Figure?

Adrian Pang insists he doesn’t seek to inform and shape public opinion. But the esteemed actor has wisely steered his theatre company Pangdemonium to raise questions and start dialogues yet still allow audiences to decide what they want to make of the performances after. He produces and stars in Urinetown, a tongue-in-cheek pisstake of social ills that runs from 27 September to 13 October at the Drama Centre Theatre.

Is controversy good or bad for your profession?

Any non-work-related nonsense that has nothing to do with the actual work of the actor is just marketing to me. Gone are the days when public figures got away with indiscretions and even cynically saw their careers “boosted” by them. We are in a new era of “cancel culture”, whereby anything anyone has done that agitates societal sensitivities and has been brought to the fore can drastically affect his career or life. It’s a very tricky time.

The last ridiculous thing you did?

I do ridiculous things all the time in my personal life, and I’m honest enough to admit it. In my professional life, the last time I did something really idiotic was to bother responding to someone’s negative critique online. It went back and forth until I realised it was a pointless, egotistical exercise, so rather than perpetuate it and insist I was right, I apologised and put a stop to the silliness. 

Urinetown examines issues very close to the Singaporean’s heart, such as water consumption, capitalism and people power. And things unfold after citizens can no longer afford pay-to-pee public toilets.

What’s remarkable is how much this musical, first produced in New York 20 years ago, is so topical to us here and now. It’s no secret that the cost of living in Singapore has gone through the roof, higher tariffs are being injected into our everyday life, the gap between the wealthy and the needy is widening, and yes, our water resources are increasingly under threat. All these issues are explored and brilliantly lampooned in Urinetown. 

urinetown
Urinetown is “a supremely witty social satire, a hysterical absurdist parody, and a brilliant tongue-in-check piss-take of so many social ills that are rife in our world today,” says Adrian Pang.

People power is a topic that divides many Singaporeans.

People either think they have the solution to society’s problems or they have basically given up. Singaporeans are champion complainers, social justice warriors and “Stomp”ers, mostly because these are the only outlets available to vent our grievances. The Internet is a very dubious place for that because it is so open to abuse and can breed counter-productive toxicity. All the witch-hunts, doxing, and outright libellous character assignations based on hearsay and gossip… it all sickens me.

When was the last time you got into trouble? 

Last year, I was rushing to drive my son back to camp and broke the speed limit on the expressway three times. Yes, I got three speeding tickets within five minutes!

This story first appeared in the October 2019 issue of A.

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