From The Straits Times    |

Do you like your job? Or wonder what it would be like if you’d gone against your parents’ advice and pursued your dream career? Her World’s Career Confessions column spotlights the professional journeys of its subjects and reveals how each individual’s career path and the choices they have made can have an impact on their personal finances, psychological health, and interpersonal relationships.

When it comes to a performance on stage, the spotlight is often on actors, dancers, and musicians. But a crucial part of every performance is the people who work behind the curtains to tie the entire experience together. 

As a sound designer, Guo Ningru’s work often occurs off-stage, but she’s just as important as those who are on stage. Responsible for executing all the sound effects and music of a production, Ningru helps to elevate the entire show experience with soundscapes that build on the atmosphere in the room. 

Sound designing is a rather unconventional career choice. Ningru credits her mother for the early exposure, sharing that she grew up “learning music and all types of art because [her] mother believed in exposing [her] to various art forms to help develop [her] appreciation of the world”. 

As she grew older, she knew without doubt that she wanted to combine her arts foundation with her interest in science and technical programming. “When it was time for me to choose my higher education path, I jumped right into technical theatre arts, knowing I would be able to get a degree whilst pursuing my interest in the area,” she shares. 

To date, Ningru has worked on sound production for some of Singapore’s top dance and theatre companies, including Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) and T.H.E Dance Company.

In December last year, she was the only woman to be awarded the 2022 Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council in recognition for her passion towards the craft of sound designing, and for continuously pushing boundaries to present innovative and creative works that put Singapore’s arts on the global stage. 

“It is a great honour and recognition towards my work and for theatre sound design to be receiving it. I feel it is an affirmation not only to myself but to the very often invisible craft as well.” On the hurdles she had to jump through to get to where she is today, she shares, “Being in an unconventional job, it initially took some time for my family to accept that I was doing well in the field. It is also a traditionally male-dominated (although it is getting better!) field, so it was challenging in my early career to be treated like a professional.”

It’s not an easy journey, but it’s a worthy one as she very much enjoys her job, Ningru confesses. She’s also a new mother, and so she’s also learning to balance motherhood and her career. 

In her career confession below, she shares more about the challenges of the job as well as what it takes to be a sound designer as well as the challenges of being in a technical design field that cannot be seen but only heard and felt.  

This is her career confession.

Sound designer Guo Ningru (Credit: Olivia Kwok via National Arts Council Singapore)

Name: Guo Ningru
Highest Education: Masters in Fine Arts
Job Title & Industry: Sound Design (Theatre)
Years of Work Experience: 15 years

What do you do, and how would you describe your career? Would you describe it as a job, a career, or a calling that you’re extremely passionate about? 

I feel it is a mixture of all of it. The work that I do is definitely work that I am very passionate and persistent about, but as with any job, there will be moments when it will feel laborious and tiring. These tiring moments are equally matched with the fun and exciting parts of the job, and that’s what keeps me going.

Is this the career path that you envisioned for yourself, or do you wish you were doing something else? 

I would say this is definitely one of the career paths I would have chosen for myself. It is a career that combines my logical and creative brain, which I enjoy very much. 

Ningru is one of the four recipients of the 2022 Young Artist Award (Credit: Olivia Kwok via National Arts Council Singapore)

How is your work going now? Would you change anything about it? 

Being a new mother, my work pace has indeed changed. I have to prioritise the type of work I take on and focus on areas I can grow and improve. The Young Artist Award has given me a vote of confidence to focus on some selected areas of growth.

Do you feel pressure to have a successful career, or to earn more money? If you do, is it mainly internal or external pressure?

We are the generation of women who are told we can do anything the boys can, or even better. There are external and internal pressures to do well in my career and the family to be a super mom. But sometimes, we put too much unnecessary pressure on ourselves – it’s okay to be just “enough”.

We are the generation of women who are told we can do anything the boys can, or even better.

Guo Ningru

Has your career impacted your relationships with other people? 

The odd timings could have an impact on family life and our friendships. While most of our 9-5 peers can go out for dinners and weekend gatherings, these are also the times that my industry is at work, so we do end up with mostly only friends from within the industry. Family gatherings can also be tricky if we are working during those times. But we make things work!

Do you feel stressed out by your work? If so, how are you managing it? 

Lots of coffee and wine! I’m kidding. But I do conscientiously take time off work to focus on my home and family. I love gardening as well and that helps keep me grounded.

What are some of your long-term plans?

I would love to continue pushing for more immersive audio capabilities in live performances and also explore more compositional and music work.

Anything else you would like us to know? 

If you choose an unconventional career path, make sure you work hard and become good at it!