Star of Pangdemonium's 'The Son', Zachary Pang on youth mental health and his acting ambitions

Star of Pangdemonium's 'The Son', Zachary Pang on youth mental health and his acting ambitions

Feeling good

Text: Tracy Phillips

Image: Pangdemonium

Adrian and Tracie Pang, the husband-and-wife team and shared artistic directors of acclaimed Singapore theatre company, Pangdemonium, will open their 2020 Season with Florian Zeller's powerful original play, The Son. Having staged The Father, another of Zeller's works on the subject of dementia to a sold-out audience in 2018, this season's opening show's theme is no less timely and pertinent, diving into the topic of mental health amongst youth.

The Son will be a family affair, with Tracie Pang directing and starring Adrian and his eldest son Zachary, alongside the rest of the cast: Nazray, Serene Chan, Sharda Harrison, and Shona Benson. We thought who better than the play's young star Zachary, who plays the title character Nicholas, to provide insight into the work, critical subject matter, and his own relationship with mental health.

To start off, could you share with us how you viewed Nicholas's story arc and has your perception changed over the course of rehearsals?
I suppose I thought it was a rather smooth journey at first, but as we've worked on it, I realise it is way more nuanced, having ups and downs, and taking steps forwards and backwards.

What kind of prep did you do for this role?
I did research on different types of depression, as well as took a look back on my own experiences. I also had to create a backstory for Nicholas's relationships with the other characters to figure out why he acts in certain ways to different characters.

What are your thoughts on mental health among young people around your age?
Mental health issues can affect anyone. The hormone fluctuations as a result of puberty can play a big part for many young people, which is why teenagers can be very susceptible, or start to show signs of various mental illnesses when they hit puberty.  Especially at a younger age, it is important to have proper guidance and support along with the right education in order to help young people be informed and protected, especially since these things can be very new and confusing to a younger person. It can be a critical age to develop good, healthy habits, and support systems that can last a person into their future. While I am out of my teens already, I still think this applies to those around my age group too. Furthermore, our generation has the potential to be one that is educated enough on these topics to create a healthy supportive culture to support those in need. Some communities of the older generations can tend to be less informed on the topic of mental illness, which is why I think it is crucial for ours to do better.

Have you personally done any conscious work on your mental wellbeing? Have there been any points in your life where you had to make a concerted effort to overcome some kind of mental turbulence?
Yes, I myself have had my own struggles, experiencing depression for a period in my teens. I made the smart decision to seek help, reaching out to my family, and then seeking professional help. This was not an easy decision for me, but I am lucky enough to have a family that is supportive and understanding, as well as well- educated on the matter. I had a very healthy environment in which I could recover, and to this day, I still keep aware of my moods and thoughts, and try to keep a grip on the life I have taken control over. In an ideal world, everyone could benefit in the same way I have, but this takes a concerted effort from a whole society.

How does the play deal with this incredibly personal subject matter across two generations? Are there any takeaways?
This play shows how the effects of the environment that one grows up in plays a huge part in the person you become. This may seem like a fairly obvious observation, yet many people are unaware that they may perpetuate behavioural patterns that are unhealthy. An example would be certain traditional 'masculine' behaviours of trying to be stoic at all times. While this has the potential to create tough individuals, intense suffering on the inside can be formed due to an inability to express one's emotions. I think this is something that the play does touch on in a way, though it will be interesting to see where the audience chooses to put their focus.

In terms of your own acting ambitions, where do you see yourself and what would you like to do more of in the future?  
I hope to learn how to be a bloody good actor.

The Son runs from 20 February to 7 March at Drama Centre Theatre, Advisory 16, tickets are available from Sistic and Pangdemonium.