A familiar sight along Orchard Road, Roy Payamal is the city’s first human statue busker. With his ever-changing outlandish costumes and decorated trishaw, his work is as much performance art as busking, and he regularly tackles current affairs, including last year’s elections.
First published on 2 May 2012. Updated on 2 May 2012.
He has trained as an acrobat, actor, dancer, comedian and mime artist, and performed in numerous local theatre and dance shows. As well as co-founding local group Mime Unlimited, he runs his own performance business, Heart Neu Circus. We speak to Payamal during a break in one of his semi-regular performances in front of Takashimaya (he starts around 7pm most nights).
What’s on your trishaw tonight?
The dragon is actually something I got for performances during the Chinese New Year season. I thought it looked too imposing, so I added a pair of sunglasses onto it. It takes me two hours to put together my costume – I was up until 5 o’clock this morning fixing up my trishaw. I’ll keep adding things onto the trishaw as new ideas come in.
What are you trying to express through your performance?
I want to give the audience a sense of humour; I just want to make them laugh. When I perform I may be motionless, but I have many things going on in my mind, so it changes all the time. Very often I improvise on the spot.
How did you start performing?
I started juggling when I was six, and was mostly self-taught until I joined the SAF Music and Drama Company during my National Service. I even trained under [movie actor] Jack Neo at that time – he was a comedian, so I ended up being a comedian. During my NS, I took a mime workshop with an American lady, Christina Sergeant. At school, I always did badly in class, but with mime, I was finally able to be top in a class. Christina had workshops going on at The Substation back then too, and after my NS, we formed a company called Mime Unlimited, like a regular theatre troupe. It lasted about eight years, then I started busking.
How is busking different from performing on a stage?
With stage performances, the audience is already there, and you often have sound effects to build the hype. On the street it is different – you’ve got to adapt, and it’s not just about talent. You have to ask why people should give you money, and know how to get the crowd. I like being out under the sky and on the street, where you can see your audience’s faces. I believe a lot of creativity comes from the street and people here don’t really realise that. I chose to do this because nobody expects great things to be coming from the street; nobody takes busking seriously. But I have a very good spot by a busy intersection. I have that advantage and I feel that I need to do the best I can.
Interview and photograph by Dannon Har