Actress and former deejay Jo Tan on how emotional whiplash led to a Happy Place
Happy Place brings laughter and awareness to reality
"It was exhausting."
In 2021, Jo Tan added a new achievement to her resume – she became a Kiss92 radio deejay for the morning show, Wake Up and Go with Div and Jo. She also continued her work as a freelance writer and performer. She would get up in the morning to greet audiences with her bright and perky morning show, before heading into theatre rehearsals for plays that touched on dark subjects, such as the breakdown of a marriage in Session Zero.
"The function of a deejay [on a morning show] would be to help people start off the day on a bright and positive note," shared Tan. "The content is accessible and light – we wouldn't talk about the invasions of Ukraine, or the military coups in Myanmar, or the forest fires in Australia"
"It's almost like a mindfulness exercise – hey this is what is happening in your immediate vicinity, that you can enjoy!"
Having to be so positive in the morning was a stark contrast to her theatre roles at night.
"When I went to rehearsals at night, I had to cry it out. It was a way to release a lot of pent-up emotions, but it took me into very dark places because I had to explore these characters," she shared.
Going from big smiles to falling on the ground crying – that was hard.
And the drastic dichotomy between these roles, as different as day and night, took a toll on her.
"Both being a super happy morning show deejay and then going into very dark, grim places in theatre rehearsals at night – there's definitely mental health risks." shared the actress. "You'd think they balance each other out – and on some level, they did – and at another level, it's more things to deal with. Going from big smiles to falling on the ground crying – that was hard. Lots of people can do it, and ideally you have professional support in the form of a therapist."
"As a result, I became short-tempered, unpredictable. It made me focus on myself so much, that I became almost obsessively navel-gazing and inward-looking. I didn't have time for anybody else's needs. It sent me into a spiral of anxiety."
Thankfully, Tan has since found balance and peace, which has resulted in her writing her new play, "Happy Place". Starring Jo Tan, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, and Jamil Schulze, "Happy Place" is directed by Chong Tze Chien. The dark comedy revolves around a morning show deejay interviewing a vocal, passionate, and confrontational political Instagram poet while a mysterious disaster unfolds among them. The show runs from 4th to 7th May at Gateway Theatre.
Dichotomy of light and dark
"These were the two sides of myself that I was struggling with. That was what I trying to portray in the play – is there a way to reconcile them?" said Tan.
"The show attempts to portray that dichotomy, so parts of it are very ridiculous. I experienced very ridiculous things in both these capacities," she said. "And hopefully give people a bit of laughter."
"What I wanted to portray is that the real world [can go into some dark areas]. And what is your own best coping mechanism – what is your own best way to get through the world from day to day? At what point do you decide – I have to acknowledge what is really happening?" Tan shared about the writing of the play.
Despite the challenges of going from light to dark and back again the next day, Tan recognised that both her roles – as deejay and actress – had similar functions. "It's to help people deal with real life, to give them the space to escape for a while. People do need a safe space to escape to."
People do need a safe space to escape to.
"It's also to bring awareness to things that they might not know about, then they can hopefully effect change," she opined.
And for Tan, it was a desire to effect change that spurred her on.
"What can we change, whether you are a huge influencer or a small, intense activist (and angry artist)?" she asked. "I was doing all of these things during the pandemic, when everyone felt so completely helpless, and I was wondering what we could do?"
"That's how this play came about," she said. "Sometimes people need to confront the truth, rather than escaping from it and having toxic positivity."
Happy Place runs from 4th to 7th May at Gateway Theatre.
Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for "Lion Mums", "Crimewatch", "Police & Thief", and "Incredible Tales". He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site.