Sian Yeo

Sian Yeo Headshot (cr. Samual Black)

📷 : Samuel Black

Since graduating from Bird College a couple of years ago, Sian Yeo booked her first professional role in the tour of Miss Saigon in 2018, staying with the company until their final performance in March last year. Following her role in Miss Saigon, Sian joined the cast of The King and I for their UK and International Tour, which saw her work with Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara, and perform in many places including Japan. We spoke with Sian about making her professional debut in Miss Saigon, touring with The King and I and her musical theatre training.

You were part of the Miss Saigon Tour, how was your time in the show?

It was an incredible experience! I learned so much during that show. It really made me step out of my comfort zone and forced me to push the limits of what I thought was possible with acting, especially since Miss Saigon deals with heavy themes such as war and loss. On top of that, I was surrounded by amazing actors who, especially since it was my first job, really guided me and gave me good advice.


What was it like touring for the first time and making your professional debut?

Touring was really tough, but really worth it. Living out of a suitcase for the first time was a real challenge! But touring also meant that I spent a lot of time with my cast mates, and we ended up becoming really close. It was like having a family away from home! In a way, I’m glad that my professional debut was a tour, because the experience of performing at so many venues, and learning to bond with the company both inside and outside of work, are valuable things that I would take with me for future jobs, and even for life.


Had you seen the show before being cast?

Yes! I saw it when it was in the West End, and again just before we started rehearsals for the show. The most memorable time I watched it, however, was during a show watch. By then, I’d already done the show for several months, and suddenly, now knowing the stories behind each character and the detail that went into each scene, I saw the whole show in a completely new light.


How was it performing on the final night?

It was such a bittersweet performance. I guess it’s always going to be a mix of “look how far we’ve come together” and “I’m sad this is going to be over” when ending a long run of a show, but I think what made it extra emotional was the fact that many of the cast were not from the UK, so we didn’t know when we’d next be able to meet each other again, if ever. There’s always going to be social media connecting us, but it’s strange to think that someone you lived with for the past year is going back to another country like the Philippines, or Korea.

Sian Yeo Miss Saigon Picture (cr. Stephan Drewianka)

📷 : Stephan Drewianka

You joined the cast of The King and I last year for their UK and International Tour, how was it for you?

It was amazing! The King and I was almost the polar opposite of Miss Saigon, and it was really fun to get to do something so different. It’s a beautiful show, and I’m grateful for the opportunity be a part of it. After touring for one year, I learned exactly what I needed to do to make touring life easier. And everyone in the cast and crew were so lovely, it was such a wonderful experience!


How long were you rehearsing for the show and what was the choreography like to learn?

We rehearsed the show for three weeks. It was very challenging to learn the choreography, since a majority of the cast had done the show before at the London Palladium, so it felt like the few of us newbies had to catch up to their level immediately. And a lot of the dance moves, which are based on Thai traditional dance, are so intricate that there was a lot to remember. But it was a good challenge, and I remember having a lot of fun learning it.


What was it like seeing the costumes for the first time and getting into character?

I had never watched The King and I on stage before, so when I saw the costumes I was really blown away by how detailed and beautiful everything was. And I think wearing the costumes added that extra something when getting into character. I couldn’t wear those costumes and not feel like some form of royalty!


Do you have any stand-out moments from touring with the production?

A big stand-out was touring to Japan. It’s always enriching to perform in another country, but Japan felt extra special since it’s so different from the UK. I’d been to Japan before on holiday, but living and working there for a month was a whole new cultural experience. And since I didn’t do the London Palladium production, it was my first time working with Ken Watanabe and Kelli O’Hara. What an honour that was!

Sian Yeo King and I Picture (cr. Johan Persson)

📷 : Johan Persson

How did your acting career start?

I started off dancing in a small ballet school in Singapore when I was four. I learned about musicals through my ballet teacher, and she eventually encouraged me to try out for musical theatre schools in the UK. I applied and was accepted into Bird College. In my third year, the college agency put me up for the Miss Saigon auditions, and that’s how I started!


How do you prepare for auditions?

I usually try to get my hands on some form of the show, whether it’s a film version or clips on YouTube, to try to get a feel of the show. I also do some extra research depending on the role. For example, for Miss Saigon, I watched a lot of music videos where people danced in a provocative way, and tried to copy what they did in order to get into character for the role I was auditioning for.


Do you have a favourite theatre show to watch and do you remember what your first theatre trip was?

It’s so difficult to pick one favourite! My first trip to the theatre was to watch We Will Rock You when I was ten. That was the moment I decided that I wanted to do musical theatre. For that reason, We Will Rock You will always have a special place in my heart. I also really like Avenue Q and the French production of Notre-Dame de Paris.


Can you tell us about training at Bird College?

I had a great time training at Bird College. I felt like it was a place where I could really experiment and experience all kinds of different dance and musical theatre styles. It was very fulfilling for me, particularly in terms of dance. The dance faculty there is absolutely incredible! It was a place that pushed you to your limits both physically and mentally, and then encouraged you to push past your limits to achieve more than you thought you could. Honestly, when I look back and think about a full college day, I don’t think I could do it anymore!


Whilst training, you performed in shows including The Wedding Singer and Rent, what did you enjoy most about doing these?

I really enjoyed the process of putting together these shows. Not just the learning of songs and choreography, but also helping out with prop making, and workshopping the different ways to make scenes work without elaborate sets or effects. I think one of the most exciting things about our college productions was that we were extremely involved in the production process.


What advice would you give a new graduate who has booked a tour for their first professional role?

Don’t stop learning. Just because you’ve ‘made it’ by booking a job doesn’t mean that you should stop learning. Every job, no matter how small, has something you can take away from it. There are so many people you will work with who have so much knowledge and experience that they can share with you, and there are always lessons to learn that will stay with you for the rest of your career.


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