Actress Margaret Chan finds new route at 66
She goes to New York to learn playwriting in her latest effort to reinvent herself
If there's ever a need for a lifelong-learning spokesman, Margaret Chan could be the best candidate.
When she was 52, she earned her PhD in philosophy from Royal Holloway, University of London, through the UK Overseas Research Scholarship.
Now at the age of 66, the veteran actress is embarking on a new chapter of her life.
The recipient of the prestigious Fulbright research scholarship is spending three months at New York's Columbia University School Of The Arts, learning and working alongside its head of playwriting David Henry Hwang.
Associate Professor Hwang is best known as the celebrated US playwright of the award-winning 1988 play M. Butterfly.
STUDENT-TEACHER: Margaret Chan will be working with Associate Professor David Henry Hwang (above) at Columbia University School Of The Arts. PHOTO: MEDIACORP
During her stint where she will be giving talks and doing research work as part of the scholarship programme, Chan will also be shadowing Prof Hwang, something that she is really looking forward to.
Prof Hwang, 59, is re-staging M. Butterfly on Broadway next year.
"By shadowing him, I will learn a whole lot. We're talking a Broadway production here," said Chan.
She knew Prof Hwang from her theatre days, but still felt "very paiseh" (Hokkien for embarrassed) when he wrote "very generous and nice things" about her theatrework.
Part of her Fulbright scholarship application required Chan to have a fellow professor as an academic sponsor.
Chan, who left Singapore on Tuesday, told The New Paper that apart from a few days on research trips, she has never been away from her family - 70-year-old husband John, their two children and six grandchildren - for long.
Chan, an Associate Professor of Theatre/ Performance Studies (Practice) at Singapore Management University's School of Social Sciencessaid: "The last time I was in the US was more than 30 years ago, when I took the children to Disneyland. So it's my first time on my own and in New York no less.
"My husband is very worried. He asked why I chose to go at this age. I told him I had to grow.
"I am more anxious than excited, but that's a part of learning, isn't it? Learning independence."
Adding to her anxiety is the knowledge that she will be staying in notorious West Harlem despite describing herself as "sensible and strong".
Chan, who believes in constant re-invention, is best known for her stellar performance as the lead in the local play Emily Of Emerald Hill and her scene-stealing turns in local TV series like Masters Of The Sea and The Golden Pillow.
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She decided to switch to academia when she turned 50.
"As an actress, you work with your body. At 50, you can be the best actress on earth but you can't play Juliet in a standard Romeo And Juliet," she said.
"I had to reinvent myself, so I decided I'd become a professor.
"As I grow older, I may soon be unable to act, so becoming a playwright is my new reinvention.
"I am very aware of ageism, which we should do our best to show is just a label."
Chan has also learnt to stay optimistic, especially after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012.
"It was bad. After sessions of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I was reduced to being in a wheelchair."
"So I told the doctors and nurses that on my last day of treatment, I was going to sing and dance out of the National Cancer Centre - and I did. I sang New York, New York at the top of my voice and danced - badly - out of the clinic.
"It was tough and painful, but the Pollyanna (optimistic) attitude helped.
"In everything, there is the good and the bad, and if you focus on the good, you will live in a happy world.
"Now I'm planning to do the best for Fulbright, who believes that this old woman is still worthwhile."
"As I grow older, I may soon be unable to act, so becoming a playwright is my new reinvention. I am very aware of ageism, which we should do our best to show is just a label."
- Margaret Chan