A Double Double Act. How Two Power Couples in the Arts Negotiate Life and Work Together.

Is it ever a good idea to work with your husband or wife? Especially in an industry as passion driven as the Arts?

We couldn’t help but wonder as we sat down with the team behind Pangdemonium’s latest play This is what Happens to Pretty Girls. In the first of the DBS-Pangdemonium conversation series, director Tracie Pang and playwright Ken Kwek, as well as cast members Adrian Pang, Pam Oei and Thomas Pang, discussed the play with invited guests and DBS staff.

We followed up with the husband-and-wife teams Tracie and Adrian Pang, as well as Pam Oei and Ken Kwek, on how they successfully navigate being partners at work and life.

At the DBS-Pangdemonium conversation for This is what Happens to Pretty Girls. From left: playwright Ken Kwek, Director Tracie Pang, and actors Thomas Pang, Pam Oei and Adrian Pang.

How would you describe yourself in the marriage, and why do you think it works?

Tracie & Adrian

Adrian : Tracie is absolutely the Boss and I just pretend to be useful.

Tracie : I am the planner, which is all good as long as he follows the plan!

Pam & Ken

Pam : I am the bossier and more tolerant half, at the same time! It works because Ken and I have the same core values about the big issues like religion, money and our kid.

Ken : She's right.

“After the read, Ken and I did not discuss the project any further and he never communicated with the Pangs about the likelihood of me getting the role. It was the Pangs who contacted me 10 days later to tell me I had been cast. I then passed the news on to Ken!”

– Pam Oei

How do the dynamics change when you’re working, and when you’re at home?

Tracie & Adrian

Tracie : I am more “on” when I am at work; I am able to switch off at home but Adrian never switches off!

Pam & Ken

Pam : We’re quite clear about our work roles. If we’re not working on the same project together, we very seldom discuss work at home. I don’t run lines with him at home, neither does he discuss what he’s writing with me. We’re quite clear about work boundaries. Even for “This is What Happens to Pretty Girls”, the first time I read the script was when Adrian and Tracie sent it to me ahead of a table read, which was kind of like an audition. After the read, Ken and I did not discuss the project any further and he never communicated with the Pangs about the likelihood of me getting the role. It was the Pangs who contacted me 10 days later to tell me I had been cast. I then passed the news on to Ken!

Ken : Pam and I have worked on two plays, three films, two music videos and a couple of corporate gigs together. When we're on the same project, it's usually something I've written so I tend to make the key creative decisions. At home, it's the reverse. She's the head chef, I'm the sous chef. If she says the rempah needs more tau jio, I'll add more tau jio. If she wants to 'marie kondo' the wardrobe, I'll learn how to fold things into three. I'm a happy deputy at home. The exception is in parenting. When it comes to our kid, we make decisions together, always.

Playwright Ken Kwek and Director Tracie Pang, who’re married to the stars of ‘This is What Happens to Pretty Girls', Pam Oei and Adrian Pang respectively.

Are there any things you’re mindful of in your professional lives because you’re married to someone who also works on your projects?

Tracie & Adrian

Adrian : Always keep communication lines open. Don’t pent things up. Respect each other’s opinions and feelings. At the end of the day we share the same goal of creating the best theatre possible. We’re chasing this same dream together. And always remembering that family comes first and above all else.

Tracie : Always try to show a united front at work, so sort out our different options on projects before coming into the office.

Pam & Ken

Pam : I treat Ken the same way I would treat any other playwright I work with. Although there have been times for this project, when we’re in the rehearsal room and we have questions about certain lines, I am able to say “let me ask the playwright tonight”. But the usual process is that Tracie the director speaks to Ken directly. If cast members have questions about their lines, I always encourage them to ask Ken and Tracie directly. I am careful not to pull “wife privileges”.

Ken : I work very well with Pam. When the stress of work occasionally spills over into the home, it's rarely due to differences between the two of us, but rather because some other aspect of the production frustrates me. That's when I have to tell myself to take a deep breath and try to forget about work, at least for the night.

Pam Oei and Adrian Pang

What’s something about your partner which you’re extremely proud of?

Tracie & Adrian

Adrian : Tracie somehow manages to remain calm and collected in the face of any kind of adversity, and she is able to wrap her head around the big picture, while I angstily obsess over the minutiae.

Tracie : Adrian’s ability to transform on stage always takes my breath away; that is the place where he truly shines.

Pam & Ken

Pam : Ken is tenacious. And he is very disciplined. His work consumes him and constitutes a large part of him. I am proud of how he is relentless in his search for the story. But above all, he is an amazing, sensitive, committed, funny, hands-on father. Our son adores him and they have a fantastic relationship.

Ken : Pam has a great big heart. She cares a lot about people and is conversely loved by a multitude of friends. She's also an amazing multi-tasker. She can juggle motherhood and several different projects at the same time. I don't know how she does it.

‘This is what Happens to Pretty Girls’ tackles the very sensitive topic of consent in relationships, and sexual harassment, which the artistic team and cast described as a ‘terrifying’ process during the DBS x Pangdemonium conversation – what was most confronting for you in the process?

Tracie & Adrian

Adrian : I suppose it would be the stark realisation of how volatile and fast-evolving sexual politics are right now; how social norms are not “normal” to every single individual, and the challenge of negotiating these differences can potentially create divisions among us all. Values and tolerance levels are so different now than they were twenty or even ten years ago. I worry for the younger generations, because it’s going to be a very tricky path ahead.

Pam & Ken

Pam : Facing my own prejudices. Women can be perpetuators of misogyny too, sometimes sub consciously. This play has made me take a look at how I have behaved in the past towards women and how I am going to change my behaviour in the future so that it reflects my desire for true equality between men and women.

Ken : I wish I could say I was always the perfect gentlemen when dealing with women in the past. But I wasn't. At some point I know I'll have to talk to my son about the mistakes I've made, so that he knows - and acts - better than I did.

‘I want to live in a community that treats each other better; if this play helps young people to better understand how to navigate consent, and embark on both working relationships as well as personal relationships with more respect, then we will have done some good.’

- Tracie Pang

For you personally, what does it mean to do a play that tackles this issue?

Tracie & Adrian

Adrian : For me, it’s wrangling the issues together with my two sons so that they are equipped mentally, emotionally and in every other way, as they grow into adulthood.

Tracie : I want to live in a community that treats each other better; if this play helps young people to better understand how to navigate consent, and embark on both working relationships as well as personal relationships with more respect, then we will have done some good.

Which couple squabbles more on and off set?

Tracie & Adrian

Adrian : All “squabbles” between Tracie and me have been redefined as “creative discourse”, so it’s all good.

Pam & Ken

Pam : I cannot answer this question because I don’t see Adrian and Tracie at home! At work, we are all very well behaved and non-squabbly.

This is what Happens to Pretty Girls is showing at the Drama Centre Theatre from 10-26 May.

DBS is the season sponsor for Pangdemonium’s 2019 season themed Present Tense/Future Perfect. Learn more of the special discounts for DBS credit/debit cardholders here.