Dedicated to being a voice for the unheard, the effervescent thespian reveals her most memorable role and her biggest fear

It was the assembly shows in secondary school that first had Siti Khalijah Zainal in wonderment about acting. “My friends would want to skip these performances, but I’d be so excited to watch them because the characters were always so energetic! I would often imagine being part of the skits too.”

Her fascination with acting grew over the years and in 2003, she decided to enrol into the now defunct, year-long Theatre for Youth Ensemble programme by homegrown theatre company, The Necessary Stage (TNS). The 33-year-old has since established a solid career in theatre and television, performing in English and Malay language productions. Her most recent gig was playing multiple characters, including that of a social entrepreneur, in Underclass, which was a collaboration between local theatre companies Drama Box and TNS.

In April, the 2014 Young Artist Award recipient also stretched her acting capabilities, playing eight different characters, reprising her role in the restaging of playwright Zizi Azah’s popular How Did The Cat Get So Fat?, which brought attention to the realities of Singapore society. She unveils more about her private self and what she fears the most.

Private versus public

“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.” 

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Close to home

“I’m most attracted to stories that highlight real social issues in Singapore. As an actor, I want to be a voice for the under-represented or unheard groups in our society; to let the audience I perform for know about their situations, get them to talk about these issues and change their mindsets. That’s when I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Back in time

“My most memorable performance so far has been Best Of by The Necessary Stage. In the monologue, I play a young Malay‑Muslim woman in Singapore who is faced with the difficulties of getting and going through a divorce. I enjoyed the role because playwright Haresh Sharma managed to create a protagonist who was 60 per cent Siti and 40 per cent fictional.”

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I confess...

“My greatest fear is to lose sight, literally and metaphorically. I’m a visual person who enjoys the beauty in every little thing, and I’m also claustrophobic. So to imagine myself not being able to see is daunting. I also fear that there’ll come a day when I’m so caught up with something I so strongly believe in that others don’t, that I become selfish and don’t listen to them.”

Centre stage

“My favourite local theatre productions are Poop! by The Finger Players, which talks about dealing with the loss of a loved one; The Necessary Stage’s Off Centre, a play about mental illness; and Wild Rice’s Hotel, for its rich portrayal of Singapore’s history and culture.”