INTERVIEW: Filipino Musical Theater Actress Sheila Francisco On Playing Empress Dowager, Staying in Singapore, and Her Filipino Upbringing


Initially delving into the world of advertising in the beginning of her post-college career, never would have Sheila Francisco imagined landing international gigs as a musical theater actress.

Pursuing one’s passion should not be dictated by age or ethnicity as Sheila proves that it’s never too late to start doing what you love.

Starring as the Empress Dowager in the return of Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress, Sheila shares with us her undying passion for music, growing up in The Philippines, and reprising her role in the upcoming musical.

  1. We’ve heard that you were initially in advertising before pursuing a career in theater. What prompted you to finally follow your passion?

That’s right I was in advertising for most of my early years. I started out as a Broadcast Producer in J. Walters Thompson then opened a post production shop Proville where I was VP for Operations. During my advertising days I also doubled up as voice over talent and jingle singer which pretty much opened doors for me to do gigs as a singer. It was in one of those gigs that a theater director offered me a part in a musical called Joseph The Dreamer. The moment I stepped on that stage, I was hooked and knew in my heart that this was what I wanted to do.

  1. The Philippines is known as one of the most “music-obsessed” countries in the world. Can you share with us some fond musical memories of you growing up that you still treasure up until today?

My father was a huge influence in my love for music. He introduced me to the greats – Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland… I just found myself leaning towards singers who “told stories”.  I remember I would sneak out of bed in the middle of the night, turn on the stereo and pretend to be Liza Minnelli or Barbra Streisand. I’d be so carried away, I would wake  the whole household.

  1. Out of all the roles you’ve played, which role is the most challenging yet rewarding for you?

Two years ago, I had the chance to play Violet in Tracy Letts’ award winning play, August: Osage County. It has got to be the most demanding role I’ve ever done. The character of Violet was very complicated. She was damaged, vindictive and manipulative.  The process in discovering and understanding without judgement why she was who she was, was an incredible journey for me.

  1. How did you land the role as the Empress Dowager in Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress?

In 2002, I had just finished doing South Pacific at the National in London when I heard that SRT was holding auditions. I went for it and got the job. However, It wasn’t till the run in 2003 that I played the role.

Photo Credit: Singapore Repertory Theatre

Sheila Francisco as the Empress Dowager. Photo Credit: Singapore Repertory Theatre

  1. We know that it’s not your first time playing the Empress Dowager. But what preparations did you still have to do for the role for the musical’s return?

It’s been 11 years since the last time I played the Empress so I had to read up on her again.  She endured so much pain and suffering but persevered and fought for what she believed in and ended up ruling for 47 years. A woman truly ahead of her time. She made mistakes as well and paid for them. Now that I am older and have amassed my share of challenges, I believe that I have a better understanding of what she went through in her life. She was as human as you and I. And in this run, I intend to highlight more of her humanity, more of her heart.

  1. You’ve done a great deal of travelling for work. But what do you like most about staying in Singapore?

The FOOD!!! I love that Singapore is bustling with the arts. So many things happening in the arts scene.  Theater is alive, galleries filled with wonderful exhibits and the whole city lends itself to an atmosphere of creating.  I started my international career in Singapore in “Chang And Eng” so Singapore will always be special in my heart. I love my theater family here. And yes, did I mention the FOOD?

  1. Growing up in a Filipino household, there are certain stereotypical beliefs that one must pursue a career in Mathematics or Sciences in order to be successful. What advice can you give to young Filipinos who want to pursue a career in the arts but are held back by this stigma?

Oh please please go for your passion. Your happiness depends on pursuing your passion not your obligation. I started in advertising and for 15 years I thought it was THE career for me. I had position and was financially secure yet something was lacking and I didn’t know what it was till I discovered theater. It was a leap of faith and one I took with much prayer. I believe that God has specific plans for each one of us and it is His desire that we live in it.



Preview Show (8 – 10 Aug 2017)
Standard: S$108, S$78, S$68, S$48
VIP: S$118
Premier Box A & B: S$118
Restricted View: S$28

Tue – Thu Evening / Sat & Sun Matinee / Sun Evening Shows
Standard:S$118, S$98, S$78, S$58
VIP: S$128
Premier Box A & B: S$128
Restricted View: S$38

Fri & Sat Evening Shows
Standard: S$128, S$108, S$88, S$68
VIP: S$138
Premier Box A & B: S$138
Restricted View: S$38


Family Package of 4

15% savings for Sat and Sun matinees shows
[Valid from 26 Jan 2017 onwards]
[Applicable for Cat 1 & Cat 2 only]

Watch with friends Packages
Plan a great evening at Forbidden City for friends, colleagues or family – and you will come as our guest. Special “Watch with Friends” packages available for groups of five and more for all shows.
[Applicable for Cat 1 & Cat 2 only.]

Buy tickets HERE: 

Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress is brought to you by the Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.


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