How Terrance Tan teaches empathy to kids through song and dance

Published on 28 February 2024
By Team Catch

Terrance Tan experienced his first epiphany in a theatre at age 12.

He was watching Honk!, a children’s musical adaptation of the well-known story The Ugly Duckling, by the Singapore Theatre Company when he learnt his first lesson on empathy.

He no longer remembers the entire plot, but he still remembers vividly how he felt when The Ugly Duckling cried out “honk!” in anguish. 

“He knew he was ugly and lonely, but desperately wanted not to be. He just wanted to have someone, anyone, come and be there with him,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with Catch.

Honk! left a profound impression on Tan, both in teaching him an important value and in sparking his interest in theatre. Now 34, he is adapting and directing his very own children’s theatre production, Fatimah and Her Magic Socks, which will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio in March.

Adapted from veteran theatre practitioner and author Zizi Azah Bte Abdul’s children’s book of the same title, the play takes the audience along Fatimah’s journey with a mysterious lion, during which she learns the importance of dancing to her own tune.


A magical experience

Terrance Tan, adaptation director of Fatimah and Her Magic Socks

Musical theatre practitioner of 13 years, Terrance Tan Image credits: @erranceterrance on Instagram

The power Tan has to impact and change lives as a director is not lost on him.

The Chinese idiom “江山易改,本性难移”—which translates into “mountains and rivers are easier to change than human nature”—sums up his philosophy on the power of storytelling.

“If stories could change my perspectives, which were harder to change than mountains and rivers, maybe it’s the most powerful force in the world,” he said, recalling how watching a man wearing a silly costume yelling “honk!” on stage 22 years ago ignited his love for theatre.

Targeted at children aged three to six, Fatimah and Her Magic Socks aims to give young children what Honk! gave Tan—a “life-changing experience” and an early lesson on empathy.

“A child psychologist friend of mine whom I consulted for this project told me that empathy is not something that is innate but something that develops at this age,” he explained.


Terrance Tan with his Bitesize Theatre Productions co-founders

Terrance Tan also founded Bitesize Theatre Productions alongside 4 fellow artists: Tanya Ang, Michelle Ler and Tan Rui Shan (from left to right) Image credits: The Straits Times

In his play, Tan wanted to honour what made previous versions so beloved by audiences—the message that being different is what makes you special. But he also wanted to deliver something more.

“For most audiences, this is an important message. But for audiences of diverse needs, such as children who are on the autism spectrum or have learning and developmental disabilities, this message can be especially poignant,” he explained.

So he took conscious efforts to create an experience that respects the emotional, lighting, and sound sensitivities of an audience with diverse needs, while still delivering a fun and emotional experience.  

“We’ve figured out a few really fun ways of doing that, but I’m not going to give it away. Come watch the show to find out!”

You heard him. Fatimah and Her Magic Socks await you and your children at Esplanade Theatre Studios from 1 to 17 March 2024. Don’t miss the magic!

Top image credit: Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay


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