What makes Siti Khalijah Zainal our favourite unconventional theatre actress?
1. She realised she wanted to be an actress when she performed for a school musical
Siti Khalijah Zainal discovered that she wanted to be an actress when she performed in her school's musical adaptation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream during her time in ITE (Institute of Technical Education). Previously intrigued by the school productions put up at assemblies, the 32-year-old actress reprised the role of Hermia at the Kallang Theatre where she sang, acted and danced. "When it ended, I wanted more! That's when I thought: is there a possibility of me doing this full-time?" Siti said in an interview.
2. She did not study theatre
While the bulk of her peers graduated from NUS or LASALLE, Siti came from a path paved by neighbourhood schools and ITE. While she has never received formal training as an actress, Siti works twice as hard especially in singing and dancing. The full-time actress hopes to be an inspiration for those who are academically-challenged but wish to pursue a career in the arts. "I have talked to some of them and they remind me of myself, when I was just starting out. I would like to tell them that it is possible," she said in an interview.
3. She is actually quite shy
"I've always felt that the real Siti Khalijah Zainal, the private individual, is a very boring person. She doesn't know how to convey her thoughts eloquently and is quite shy. She's quite different from Siti, the actor, who she envies for being able to vocalise her opinions well because the lines have been written for her," Siti said in an interview. During her childhood, Siti, the youngest in the family, would always shy away from the mic when her family sang karaoke during the weekends. She was too shy and would only sing and clap along by the side. Needless to say, her decision to become an actress caught everyone by surprise.
4. She will stop eating durian to prepare for a show
She loves durian — her favourite being from a 100-year-old tree — but will avoid the fruit for months to preserve her singing voice if a show is coming up. Other than preparing for her roles by maintaining a good physical condition, Siti also has a few habits backstage. Apart from the usual pacing about and last-minute stretches, Siti likes to crack her knuckles to calm herself down before saying a quick prayer. She then uses the silence that follows to focus and get into character.
5. Her parents gave her a year to prove herself in the arts
When Siti told her parents that she wanted to go into the arts, she was given a year to prove that she could make a living by doing that. She began her acting career in 2003 where she was a part of the Theatre for Youth Ensemble programme by The Necessary Stage on a scholarship and has since journeyed through an extensive career with works from W!ld Rice to being an addition to The Noose. The award-winning actress has even bagged Best Actress at the M1-The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards twice — in 2011 and 2016 — and was awarded the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council in 2014.
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