In our latest series of ‘Cool Dads’ British Actor and Theatre Director at SRT, Daniel Jenkins, talks about being a father to his teens Dylan and Lily and how he can relate to some of the themes of finding it hard to let go in his latest theatre production The Almighty Sometimes
Daniel Jenkins is a well-known face on stage and screen, as well as the Deputy Artistic Director at SRT. Daniel chats to us about how performing is in his genes, why his house is always filled with make-up and sparkles and how he feels any art form is of benefit to children. Daniel shares that he was brought up without a father figure, which is all the more reason why he hopes he has been a good role model for his kids. One of the themes in his latest production The Almighty Sometimes (in theatres 8 November) centres around the difficulties that a parent may have in letting go of their child and letting them take charge of their life which is something that Daniel can relate to himself. Read on for Daniel’s words of wisdom and his inspiring parenting philosophy…
Where are you from and how long have you been living in Singapore?
I am originally from the UK and have unbelievably been in Singapore now for nearly 25 years! My wife and I came on a two-year contract, planning to see a bit of Asia, experience new things and have an adventure, and here we are now, married, with two children, 25 years later. It’s been a wonderful move and we absolutely consider Singapore our home now.
Tell us a little about your family.
I met my wife Jules when we were both working actors in the UK and we were involved in a six month theatre tour together. Since moving to Singapore Jules has turned her attention to teaching and is a wonderfully passionate and dedicated theatre teacher. She is now Head of Drama and Performance at Stamford American International School, guiding her students to spectacular IB theatre results. I have two wonderful children, my son Dylan, who is 18, and my daughter Lily, 15.
Tell us something quirky about yourself.
For a bald man I have surprisingly worn very few wigs during my acting career. I have fallen off stage during a performance dressed as a monk, almost landing on the lap of a poor audience member who was sat in the front row. I have been dragged up on stage and forced to improvise a ballet dance in front of 1000 people in the middle of a dance competition that my daughter was participating in much to my daughter’s embarrassment!
What are the best things about living in Singapore and what do you miss from your home country?
My family and I love being in Singapore, the food, the people, even the heat! And my children were both born here and really consider it their home. Obviously we miss our family and friends in the UK but us living here has given them an excuse to visit Singapore and they have all loved it.
How did you get started in theatre?
My father was a director at the BBC and my mum was always interested in amateur dramatics and performing so I guess it’s always been in my genes. There was never a eureka moment when I knew I wanted to work in the industry, it was always just obvious that that was what I was going to do. I have been so lucky in the variety of work I have done, from Shakespeare to contemporary plays, comedy to drama, television, film and voiceovers, acting, writing and directing. I have, as all actors joke about, even played a tree!
Do you prefer acting or directing (and why)?
I can honestly say I enjoy both. Acting is where I started and I love the challenge of creating a character, analysing a text, and working with my fellow actors. Directing though allows for more creativity, freedom and ideas. As a director it is my job to look at the whole story (not just one character’s perspective) and work with my team of designers to include set, lighting, costume and sound to really bring the story to life. I enjoy the collaborative process of bouncing ideas around in the rehearsal room, and the satisfaction when you see your ideas come to fruition in the performance.
Do your kids do drama lessons? Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn drama?
They do. Dylan, my son, was involved in all his school productions as well as small roles in a couple of movies and professional local theatre productions. Since starting Bristol University in the UK in September he has already involved himself in the drama society, and performed in his first production. My daughter, Lily, loves to dance, and all her time after school and at weekends is spent dancing. From dance exams to lessons, competitions and performances, she is always preparing for something and my house is often filled with leotards, costumes, make up and sparkles!
I really do believe that any art form is of benefit to our children. Regardless of whether they intend to be an actor, dancer or performer, the skills they learn attending drama, dance or music classes teaches them so many other life skills. Plus they meet wonderful people who are creative, artistic, fun to be around, and who enjoy working together to create something amazing.
Do you think drama can bring kids out of their shell and improve their self-confidence?
Drama can certainly help to encourage a child to feel more confident and believe in themselves and their abilities more. However, most importantly, I believe it can provide a safe, supportive, creative environment where children are allowed to be themselves, to express themselves freely and explore situations and characters that better help them to understand the world around them. It takes the pressure off academic success, and rather encourages imagination, creativity, enthusiasm and joy.
What else can parents do to help kids self-confidence?
As parents we can help our children by providing a home in which they are encouraged to share and be heard without the pressure of expectations, and be supported, encouraged and praised for being who they are as individuals, not what we as parents demand of them. If a child feels comfortable, happy and safe, they will, in their own time, discover the confidence to be themselves.
Tell us about the latest theatre production that you’re directing ‘The Almighty Sometimes’
The Almighty Sometimes is a wonderfully written play that follows the journey of Anna, a young adult who, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder from a very young age, now has a choice to make. Cared for by her mother Renee, Anna has been on medication for the last 10 years, now that she is turning 21, she has a chance to discover who she really is free from medication, and as an adult, her mother no longer has a say in her treatment and is powerless to stop her.
It’s a powerful, funny, moving play that draws attention to the plight of young people and their all too common struggles with mental health, provoking conversation about the relationship between parents and their children, and the struggles of letting go of the one you love no matter what the circumstances.
Have you had any experiences that have made these topics pertinent to you or your family?
As a parent I really connect with the difficulties a parent may have in letting go. My son has recently started Bristol University in the UK and although he is 18 and I trust him implicitly, I still worry and struggle with letting him go. I worry about whether he is ready to be an adult, whether he will cope on his own, make the right decisions, take care of himself, make friends, be safe etc. And despite the circumstances in the play being very different, I can really relate to Renee and her difficulty in allowing Anna to take charge of her life, to find her own identity and have the freedom to grow as an individual, free from the shadow of her parent.
What are the key messages for parents about young people growing up?
That as parents our job is to raise our children in the best way we can. To give them the tools they need to succeed, to be kind, thoughtful, caring, confident and happy. But ultimately, a huge part of that job, is also allowing them to leave and knowing when to let go. To allow them to stand on their own two feet and to make decisions for themselves. Of course, our children will inevitably make mistakes, and the paths they choose to take may not be the ones we would have taken ourselves, however, making sure they know they are supported, cared for and loved no matter what happens, will allow them to get over the obstacles life may throw at them and stand strongly on their own.
What’s your parenting philosophy?
I very much believe in trying to create an open, honest and trusting relationship with my children. I hope they feel that they can talk to me about anything. That I won’t judge. That I will always try to understand and see things from their perspective, and that whatever advice I give comes from the fact I love them and want what is the best for them. Ultimately, I want my children to be happy in whatever they do. I was brought up without a father figure, so I never had a male role model to emulate or follow. I hope I have provided a good role model for both my son and daughter.
What’s your favourite one-on-one activity with your children?
Both my wife and I lead very busy lives, and my schedule, in particular, does not always allow us all to spend as much time together as we would like. That’s why holidays have always been such a precious time for us all. A time when we can leave work behind, and really focus on just being together, enjoying each other’s company, sharing quality time and new experiences. And as my children get older, I appreciate these times even more. When one’s children are young we think we will have them forever, but the time quickly passes and as they grow older the time we spend with them becomes even more precious. My advice is to treasure every moment.
What’s been your proudest moment as a dad?
I am proud of everything my children do. Every day they inspire me, make me smile, laugh and fill me with joy. I love being a father and my family is without doubt the best thing in my life.
Many thanks for chatting with us, Daniel we really love your parenting philosophy. All the best for your next show!