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Tell Us In Ten: Sandra Tsing Loh

Published 28 June 2024

In our profile series Tell Us In Ten, we ask cast members and creatives of top London shows to tell us all about themselves in just 10 questions. From the best part of their jobs to the hardest, we want to know it all!

This week, we hear from Sandra Tsing Loh, playwright of Madwomen Of The West, opening at Riverside Studios on 30 July. 

1. My route into theatre was…

Since my youth eons ago (I was born in 1962!), I’ve always adored theatre that makes me laugh — well-made comedies, madcap farces, musical theatre. I thought it would be wonderful to write plays! However, starting out in Los Angeles in the 1990s, I found it difficult to keep actors together in small theatres, as they were always leaving a play run to do a 5-minute audition for “pilot season”. So I had to abandon that dream for a several decades-long career as a monologist, one-woman shows making for the least fun cast parties you can imagine (and I’m as fun as one woman can be). The pandemic gave me unusual access to some legendary and iconic Hollywood actresses, which was like its own graduate program in comedic playwriting — three cities later, here we are!

2. The thing I love most about my job is…

Music: experiencing the rhythms of great actors in flight in real time! I never tire of it. If we’ve booked a 32 show-run, I will see every single show — you can’t keep me away. I suspect this is particularly true in comedy. Because each audience has a distinct rhythm — they laugh in various parts and make their own unique sounds, each show is completely different. I’m in awe of great live theatrical actors — it’s like watching fighter pilots soar and dip in flight, or like watching the World Cup, where with balletic ease someone in a red jersey (or black catsuit, as in Madwomen) suddenly tumbles backward and scores an aerodynamic-defying goal. It’s so exciting! You almost want to place bets! 

3) My favourite show from present or past (that isn’t one I have worked on) is…

I don’t want to get too obscure, so I’m going to put all my cards on ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong‘. How can any human not love this? Rubenesque actor in flop-eared dog suit, Peter Pan slaloming against scenery, the hilarious character work… There it is. ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’ is the greatest piece of art ever made and I will shackle myself to The Tower of London until it wins a Nobel Prize in Theatre (which does not yet exist, but I’m sure will after this Tell Us in Ten).

The cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong hold up signs on a stageThe cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Pamela Raith.

4) A misconception about my job is…

Ooh, that depends on who is doing the misconcepting! In the US anyway, we live in times where — for some — Art is a personal feeling, a vague calling, and a Journey; the task is to stifle the Inner Critic and keep the pencil moving no matter what — create! Perhaps there are also thoughts about one’s societal otherness (race, gender, etc.) one wishes to share. There is nothing wrong with this and, in fact, executed correctly, theatre of particularly the second kind can succeed well. But outside of development workshops, live theatre is a beast with its own rules.

5) The hardest part about my job is…

As a writer, the hardest thing I ever did was write a novel, which has been likened to driving a car at night with just your headlights. I once spent 4 weeks at a writer’s colony working on a novel and at promptly 1.30pm every afternoon, I’d go out to the field to lie down on the grass and cry. If you’re an extrovert who also writes, the balance can be tough. I have one introvert friend who writes a new novel every year. I think playwriting is this amazing invention where you write a script and it creates an instant social event. 

6) The career moment I’m most proud of is…

Two moments together in one yin/yang symbol. In 2000, I was doing my solo show ‘Aliens In America’ at Seattle Repertory, my then husband, a musician was on tour with Bette Midler, and on her night off Midler graciously came with a parade of Harlettes and I thought: “This is the high point of my career! I can die now!” I was 38. Fast forward a few years: I was doing a show so under-booked I threw 60 folding chairs out of the theatre myself (to make it look more full), the Stage Manager missed a critical sound cue so I had stop the show, go back and repeat six pages. But afterwards, my small crew and I shared a beverage and laughed like soccer teammates and I thought: “The true magic of theatre. Companionship!” Which is to say, I lived beyond 38. 

7) On my days off I like to…

play Settlers of Catan, on my iPad, with robots. It’s all the dice-rolling without the emotional “work” of managing winners and losers. Not that Catan robots don’t have personalities. When robbed, one shrugs: “It is only a matter of time until I get it all back again,“ another explodes: “My ancestor, great uncle Theodorich, would have cut the thief’s hand off immediately!” A third whines: “Pah! It’s always the little people who suffer; I’m just a simple worker!” No surprise that this particular postmenopausal on-the-spectrum lady also adores The Great British Baking Show.

8) My daily work rituals include…

Many cups of coffee and Settlers of Catan, until fear of deadlines overwhelms the procrastination. I am also very, very free with office supplies — colourful Post-its, push pins that look like candy, I just mistakenly used a permanent marker on my whiteboard (which made my Catan robots very angry—“Pah!”). Needless to say, I won’t be penning any writing advice books any time soon.

9) My inspiration is…

Eddie Izzard! I have been an EI fan since the 1990s, when I first saw her at a Los Angeles stint at the Tiffany Theatre on Sunset. At another EI/LA show a few years later, I was sitting behind Cher, who was laughing so hard she practically choked. Aside from EI’s absolutely original, inventive, killingly precise, gut-bustingly hilarious comedic genius, I am always moved by her abounding exuberance for life and performance. EI once talked about an early theatre booking, where in the morning she would ask: “How many tickets sold? Two? Terrific! TWO!” then at noon, “How many? Four? Excellent! FOUR!” From afar, I’ve always loved Eddie Izzard as an exemplary artist and human, so it’s a dream to have my play in the same theatre at Riverside Studios, where her Hamlet is playing in June.

10) The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

In another peak career moment in 2004, my solo show ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’ was enjoying a glamorous run at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. The Artistic Director was Gil Cates, a legendary figure who also produced The Oscars. Opening night, the revered white head bobs close. Said Cates: “Two things. Your show has slides. Slide projectors break. When it does? Just keep talking. Second, the great thing about you, Sandra, is— and don’t change that… YOU NEVER GET SICK.” At the time it seemed anticlimactic, now I see the wisdom. Our four amazing stars of ‘Madwomen Of The West’ are classic troupers and they make the show a joy. Come join our party!

A bright image of four women, made in a cartoon style.

Madwomen Of The West plays at the Riverside Studios from 30 July – 24 August. Book your tickets via the Riverside Studios website.




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