Peranakan Theatre Actor Baba GT Lye Wins Heritage Award

baba gt lye heritage award
Photo by Baba Colin Chee.

The Peranakan Association Singapore congratulates wayang Peranakan doyen, Baba GT Lye, on being honoured as a Steward Of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage by the National Heritage Board.

The Award aims to recognise practitioners of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) who are dedicated to the promotion and transmission of ICH elements, and have made outstanding contributions in their field.

Baba GT Lye has been a wayang Peranakan practitioner for 36 years since his first foray into theatre in 1984 in Pileh Menantu, staged during the Singapore Arts Festival. The play was a landmark in wayang Peranakan which sparked a revival of Peranakan theatre. Before that, no Peranakan play had been staged in Singapore since the 1960s.

In his next role in 1985, Baba GT played the Peranakan matriarch for the first time – a role which would shape and define his career in Peranakan theatre. The strength of his performances stem from his personal experience and careful study of the speech and mannerisms of these matriarchs who have long since disappeared.

Over three decades, he has not only starred in 23 wayang Peranakan plays but has also contributed to the art form as a scriptwriter, co-director, dialogue coach and mentor to young wayang Peranakan actors. His mastery of the Baba Malay language is nonpareil. The bulk of his performances were in plays staged by the Gunong Sayang Association. There is no other living wayang Peranakan actor who has displayed the level of mastery of the art form like Baba GT Lye has.

Baba GT has also brought Peranakan culture abroad on cultural missions to France, China and Korea.

Earlier this year, the Association prepared and submitted Baba GT’s nomination to the National Heritage Board. Apart from compiling his extensive resume and highlighting his mastery of skills and practice in his field, we also approached members of the Peranakan community who know him and have worked with him to write letters of support for his nomination. The Association is deeply grateful and sincerely thanks the following individuals and our sister associations for their written support of Baba GT’s nomination:

  • Baba Colin Chee for The Peranakan Association Singapore
  • Baba Alvin Teo for Gunong Sayang Association
  • Baba Ponno Kalastree for Peranakan Indian (Chitty Melaka) Association Singapore
  • Baba Ivan Heng, Cultural Medallion recipient, Founder and Artistic Director, W!LD RICE
  • Baba Alvin Tan, Cultural Medallion recipient, Founder and Artistic Director, The Necessary Stage
  • Baba Robert Yeo, Award-winning poet, playwright and author, BBM (Public Service Star) for distinguished performance in the Arts.
  • Baba Peter Lee, Independent researcher and scholar of Peranakan culture, Honorary Curator, NUS Baba House
  • Nyonya Cynthia Lee, wayang Peranakan performer
  • Baba Kelvin Tan, wayang Peranakan performer (Female Impersonator)
  • Baba Chan Eng Thai, wayang Peranakan performer
  • Baba Richard Tan, Arts practitioner and educator, Artistic Director, GenerAsia
  • Nyonya Josephine Chia, award-winning author of eight books, Winner, Singapore Literature Prize (Non-fiction) 2014

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