Burn victim to perform in upcoming play
Burn victim acts in transgender play despite injuries
More than seven months ago, she suffered third-degree burns that covered 60 per cent of her body after her sari caught fire at a Hindu temple.
There were fears that Miss Joena Shivani Thomas Nathan, 37, might never lead a normal life again.
But the plucky woman, who is transgender, refused to let her injuries destroy her.
Next week, she will be taking on the lead role in a two-hour play about the challenges her community faces and how she struggled after getting burnt.
On Jan 20, the freelance make-up artist was at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple at Serangoon Road when her sari caught fire.
She will be acting in "Akka 3" (elder sister in Tamil) soon.
Presented by Avant Theatre, the R18 Tamil play will be staged at the Goodman Arts Centre at Goodman Road, near Mountbatten Road.
On Monday, The New Paper (TNP) attended one of Miss Joena's rehearsal sessions at the Aliwal Arts Centre near Beach Road.
She said: "I can't stay at home forever feeling sorry for myself. I look forward to these rehearsals. They cheer me up."
Miss Joena said she was born male but had gender reassignment surgery in 2012. Also known as Sandhya to her friends, she said she started dressing in women's clothes when she was 21.
Before the surgery, she had always felt like she was trapped in the wrong body.
Declining to reveal any more details about her former life, she said: "I'm a woman now."
Akka 3 is the third installation of the Akka series of plays that focuses on the lives of Indian transgender women in Singapore.
The director, Mr G. Selva, 47, told TNP the first production in the series, "Akka", was staged in 1991.
Mr Selva said that in the 1991 play presented by the Ravindran Drama Group, he played the lead role - a drag queen called Kamini who later becomes a transgender woman.
The second play in the series, Akka - The End, was staged last year.
It was a continuation of Kamini's story on how she tried to cope with life as a woman.
Mr Selva met Miss Joena in August 2013, when she came in as a panellist for last year's play to give her insights on the life of a transgender woman.
He later offered her a supporting role in Akka - The End.
In January, he found out about Miss Joena's accident and visited her at Singapore General Hospital.
He said: "Even though she was badly burned, she still managed to smile and assured us she was okay.
"Sandhya is a brave woman. She's a fighter."
Akka 3 is about a transgender woman called Manjula.
Like Miss Joena, she was badly burned in an accident. The play will show how Manjula quickly picked up the pieces.
But being part of the production has not been easy for Miss Joena.
She has to wear her compression garments during rehearsals.
She said: "They restrict my movements. I also perspire when making vigorous movements. The skin underneath often feels very itchy because of this."
She added her doctors have told her that she is recovering well and she is also receiving financial help from a non-profit organisation, the Ray of Hope Initiative.
Its manager, Ms Sharmin Foo, said it has raised about $3,900 for her.
Akka 3 will be staged on Sept 11 and 12.
Though Sept 11 is Polling Day, Mr Selva is confident it will not affect the attendance.
He said: "Only about 30 per cent of the tickets for that day are left while the tickets for the Sept 12 show are almost sold out. Polling day is a public holiday so I see this as a blessing in disguise.
"The show must go on."
ABOUT AKKA 3
Presented by Avant Theatre in Tamil with English subtitles. Rated R18 for its transgender theme
WHEN: Sept 11 and 12
VENUE: Goodman Arts Centre at Goodman Road, near Mountbatten Road
Tickets: $25, call 9899 3002 or visit akka3.peatix.com