Monday, January 22, 2007

Topless okay, but no full frontal

That's the title of the New Paper article that ran last Thursday:

Acting the part of former porn actress Annabel Chong will be challenging, Cynthia Lee-Mcquarrie tells SHEELA NARAYANAN
January 19, 2007

THE first thing Cynthia Lee-Mcquarrie did when she got the lead role in Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble's production, 251, was tell her mother about it.

The 26-year-old actress told The New Paper: 'I said to her, 'Ma, I tell you first ah, I am playing Annabel Chong (ex-porn actress)'.

'I had to prepare her before the relatives found out.'

Cynthia is an old stage hand at tackling sexy roles. She took off her top as Bunny the prostitute in the stage version of Eric Khoo's film Mee Pok Man, and was one of the Kit Kat Klub girls in last year's raunchy historical musical Cabaret.

Which prompted her to joke that every time a hot role was up for grabs, she would inevitably get offered the part.

She said: 'I don't know what it is. If it's a sexy role, call Cynthia.

'And my poor mother will always get questions from relatives asking her, 'Why your daughter always play sexy roles?' It was best to warn her about this one.'

So why is she doing it?

'I was curious about why they were bringing her back. When (director) Loretta (Chen) explained it to me, that it was about her role in our society, I understood it was offering people a different way of seeing the same picture.

As for being typecast in sexy roles, Cynthia said: 'I rather be typecast than not be cast at all.'

251 is based on the life of former porn actress Annabel, a persona created by Singaporean Grace Quek, now 35. (See report on facing page.)

The title is a reference to Ms Quek's claim of setting a record in 1995 by having sex with 251 men in 10 hours.

251's cast includes veteran actor Lee Weng Kee and Amy Cheng, who play Ms Quek's parents, as well as Cheryl Miles who plays Asia Carrera, a porn actress and Grace's friend.

While there have been many references to Annabel's sex video in other local plays, this is the first time a full-length production is being made about her life.

Annabel, as Cynthia found out after she took on the role, still polarised people.

She said: 'When I told my friends that I was going to play Annabel, I had two reactions, they were either horrified or fascinated.

'One person told me, 'Oh no, why? This is going to be a career breaker'.'

Loretta, 30, an associate lecturer at LaSalle-SIA and a research fellow at the National University of Singapore, agreed that Annabel is still a somewhat controversial topic, even 10 years on.

She said the idea for the play came up during a discussion with Goh Boon Teck, the artistic director of Toy Factory, about the video sex scandals that have hit headlines here, such as the Tammy video.

This is the infamously-circulat ed video clip where a polytechnic student used a camera phone to film herself and her boyfriend having sex. When she lost the phone, the clip ended up on the Internet in February last year.

Loretta said: 'When I read about these sex videos like Tammy, I realised Annabel Chong, in a way, pioneered it 10 years ago.

'And then I thought about her record and how this country is so obsessed about breaking records and all the discussions in the media last year... I wondered how someone like Annabel would be received today?

'Whether we understand it or not, what she did was impactful and still reverberates in our collective psyche.'

Loretta said she wants to focus on the person behind the persona, instead of Ms Quek's sensational career.

She said: 'She is such an urban legend in a way. It seems everybody knows somebody who knew her in school - like a six degrees of Annabel.

'I wanted to present a different perspective to what we know of Annabel from that sensational video. Why this intellectual young woman did what she did.'

However, she denied that she was taking advantage of, or cashing in on, the myth of Annabel Chong.

She said: 'It is controversial, it will always be controversial but it is worthy of interest and discussion.'

Loretta added that she has watched Annabel's infamous orgy video in LA and described it as 'the most anti-porn porn video' because it was shot in such 'a documentary- like manner, it wouldn't arouse anybody'.

So, will 251 contain that infamous orgy scene from the video?

THIRD DRAFT

Loretta said it is still being considered as the script has not been finalised yet and is currently
undergoing a third draft. Even if it is included, the scene will be stylised, she explained.

Likewise, she couldn't give any indication whether there'll be nudity.

251 has received an R(A) 18 rating because of its theme and subject matter.

Loretta said she never expected a PG or G rating from the onset but one of her concerns was whether they would be allowed to even stage the play at all.

Cynthia said she was okay with going topless but not full-frontal.

Helming the script is newbie playwright Ng Yi-Sheng. He took over the reins from veteran Tan Tarn How, who had been unable to commit to the project due to his tight schedule.

Yi-Sheng, 26, a recent literature and creative writing graduate from New York's Columbia University admitted the project is daunting.

But he emphasised that he was not out to vilify or glorify Ms Quek.

Does Ms Quek know about this play on her past?

Toy Factory said it made numerous attempts to reach her via e-mail and through her friends.

It eventually contacted her in December through author Gerrie Lim, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

According to Loretta, Ms Quek gave her blessings for the production.

She said: 'She was in town last month to visit her family and we were meant to meet up. Then it didn't happen as she changed her mind.

'She told Gerrie that we could do whatever we wanted. She said her Annabel days are over.'

Ms Quek still lives in the US, working as a web designer and consultant.

Cynthia believes that meeting Ms Quek might actually not help her in her role.

She said: 'I would like to play her as a fictional character as the play is fictional anyway. It's just
based on a real person.'

Her bigger worry is bracing herself for the onslaught of public comments that will eventually appear.

'I don't want my portrayal to offend Ms Quek's family and friends, but I don't think I need to explain why I am doing this part.

'I won't say that I'm not worried but I am going to deal with it when it comes.'

The story behind Annabel Chong

SHE attended top schools Raffles Girls Secondary and Hwa Chong Junior College before moving to London as a law student in 1994.

At 21, Ms Grace Quek moved on to study photography, art and feminist studies at the University of Southern California.

Her involvement with the pornography industry started when she answered an advertisement in an LA magazine.

She met porn director John T Bone - whom she once described in an interview as 'sleazy' - and her career as Annabel began.

In 1995, Annabel made headlines around the world, when she starred in a video directed by Bone, where she reportedly had sex with 251 men over a 10-hour period
to break a previous record of 121.

She later told online magazine Spike in 2000 that the actual number of men was only 70.

Singaporeans first heard about Ms Quek's exploits when the video began circulating on the Internet.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

In an exclusive interview with The New Paper in January 1997, she said: 'I was brought up in a
conservative society. I went through a serious identity crisis and a phase of finding out who I
really was.

'I found that the more I talked about who I really was and what sex meant to me, the less I wanted to hide the real me.'

Ms Quek's life later became the subject of a documentary entitled, Sex: The Annabel Chong story, which was a hit at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.

In the documentary by filmmaker Gough Lewis, which was never released here, she claimed she was gang-raped by four men while studying in London.

Ms Quek continued working in the porn industry for about six years, acting in as well as directing her own films.

She also set up her own adult website. In May 2003 she shut it down declaring, 'Annabel Chong is dead', and retired from the industry.

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