I’m in the Papers!

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Janet, Zedek and me
That's me with Zedek and Janet at Bakerzin, Bangsar Village. Photo taken by the Star's photographer.

WHEEE! For the first time ever, a proper interview. Not a solo one lah, but it's no less wonderful that a bunch of us young 'uns get to have our say on why we do what we do, and reach out to those who are thinking of getting their feet wet in theatre productions.

Cheh wah, as if I'm a veteran... :p

Update: Han reminded me that the link to the Star's article will expire after a few weeks, so I'll copy the article and post it here for posterity.

Engaged to the stage


At what point did the stigma attach itself to the performing arts? Traditional storytellers, whether they’re the Tok Selampit from the east coast or Native American shamans, were treated with the reverence they deserved. However, running off to join a Bangsawan troupe about 40 years ago would probably have gotten you disowned.

Even when you join a theatre group today, you’ll probably be asked why ? and then advised to get a proper job. Cheeky! True, it doesn’t pay very well – if you’re talking about money, that is. But there’s a growing group of young people getting involved because they know it pays dividends no pay packet ever could.

Youth2 talked to the cast and crew from Aroma Theatreworks and M! The Opera to get their take on just why theatre might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them.

The Players
Aroma is a theatre club founded by theatre enthusiasts from Multimedia University (MMU) who’ve since graduated but continue to produce plays independently (i.e. for little or no money). Their goal? To introduce “affordable, intelligent theatre” to all layers in the community.

Aroma brought you Tat Nenas, which won several awards at the 2004 Kuala Lumpur Theatre Festival, including Best Performance and Best Director. Recently, they staged two short plays at the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage’s Taman Budaya in KL – a series of excerpts from Eric Bogosian’s Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, and Toast – a dark comedy.

From Aroma:

Malik Taufiq (27) is an MMU graduate who has appeared in various Actors Studio productions (Shakespeare Schizophrenia, A Man for All Seasons). He starred in Aroma’s Wake Up, donning saffron robes and a blonde wig, and putting on an insane number of accents in the process.

Abdul Qahar Aqilah (23); when he’s directing (Butterflies are Free, Tat Nenas) or operating sound booths (at the ComedyCourt and Actors Studio), he’s usually performing. In Toast, he played the very Chinese Mr Lim, appearing alongside Redza, Renuka and Farrah ‘Aini.

Farrah ‘Aini Lugiman (24), another member of the MMU gang, was named Best Supporting Actress for Tat Nenas. She appears both on stage, screen and radio periodically, and would like to share a stage with her actress mother someday.

Renuka Veerasingam (33) is a finance director for a post-production company, and has appeared in productions like the Vagina Monologues (Actors Studio) and A Flight Delayed (Dramalab).

Shahredza (Redza) Minhat (25) works in media relations, and seems to be Aroma’s resident playwright (A Girl from Jalan Burmah, Tat Nenas, Toast). He gets a lot of inspiration from late night mamak sessions with friends.

David Lim (25) is kinda shy, but after some digging you’ll learn he studied acting at the Atlantic Theatre Company Acting School in New York City and the Moscow Art Theatre School, as well as film directing at the New York Film Academy. He directed Toast.

This seems to be the year of big productions, for fast on the heels of Puteri Gunung Ledang the Musical comes M! The Opera. M! brings together the award-winning talents of composer Saidah Rastam, writer Jit Murad and director Jo Kukathas in a funky, fusion, fashion-world fable.

From M!:

Michelle Ho (24) is a research assistant in an asset management firm, a regular with the Canticle Singers, and part of the ensemble of M! On a given Saturday night, you might just catch her performing capoeira (the Brazilian martial art/dance developed by slaves in chains) on Bangsar Baru sidewalks.

Zedeck Siew (20) is currently pursuing his ‘A’ Levels at HELP University College and is Michelle’s ensemble-mate in M! In his spare time, he sings tenor in the choral group Cantus Musicus, writes fiction and contributes articles to Off the Edge and online arts-zine Kakiseni.

Artistes, not elitist
Don’t get discouraged by misconceptions like: getting involved is difficult, theatre is highbrow, it’s only for the posh and well connected.

Redza: “We’re trying to come up with affordable theatre for everyone – something that’s not expensive (tickets for Aroma’s last performance were RM10 apiece), and something that’s intellectually affordable as well, because it’s easy to understand.” Not that they’re dumbing down, but as Redza puts it: “How do you send a message across when people are sleeping and nobody understands?”

Getting involved isn’t really that formal. According to Redza: “It’s more of a ‘friend’ thing. It’s like hey, dude, I need your help, and he’ll/she’ll just come and help. It’s like multi-level marketing. Every year, we keep meeting new friends. There are younger and younger people (coming in) now. One guy brings another guy and it goes on.”

Zedeck: “The assumption people have is that it’s difficult to get into the arts unless you know someone. That’s true, but that’s true about almost any field. The only way you’re going to get involved in any circle is to go for events, go for stuff (auditions, workshops), get to know people. There’s really no two ways about it.”

Michelle: “The good word that comes from someone else just gives you credit – that you will do what you say you’ll do, that you will have the commitment or the heart for it. That’s about all they can do for you. You’ll still have to prove yourself in the audition.

the cast from Toast and Coffee
Complete ‘Toast and Coffee’ set: (from left) David Lim, Redza Mihnat, Renuka Verasingam, Farrah ‘Aini Lugiman and Abdul Qahar Aqilah.

“The theatre community here is pretty small, we’re always on the lookout for new people. There’s never an over-supply. If you’re thinking it’s very hard to break into the scene, it’s not. But it would take effort and guts.”

Why is theatre so great
Qahar feels that theatre bonds audiences and performers together in an almost-holy communion: “We all somewhat become like one, interdependent. One gives, one shares; one takes in and responds. At that moment in time, you see the world from a different perspective. To see that happen, that’s what makes theatre such a wonder.”

Malik: “It tells me what I’m good at and what I’m bad at. I’m OK at acting, I hope (laughs). It’s just more of a personal fulfilment, to gain self-actualisation, and just learn different techniques, styles, ways of doing things, and to not be so rigid.

For dedicated performers like Zedeck, any stage experience is invaluable: “I’ve just grown more aware about what it really means to be a performer. A large group of us (in M!) come from choral backgrounds and different disciplines of the performing arts. For M! we were forced to do things like spend an hour just learning how to stand. Although some of us questioned the utility of this, it really helped us in establishing stuff like stage presence.”

Everyone agrees it’s a fantastic learning experience.

Redza: “Qahar has his ways, I learn from him. Our stage manager has worked with productions with Actors Studio and Dramalab, our assistant stage managers learn from her. Faisal (Aroma producer Tuan Faisal Azmy) has been producing for a while; he recruits someone new every time, and over time they try to do sound, lighting et cetera. So everyone learns new things.”

Renuka: “You don’t have to have a set interest because there’re so many things you can do. And you learn simple things like time management and things that are going to help you respect another individual, just by getting involved because it’s such a team effort.”

Michelle on learning to perform with her whole self and character development: “When you’re born, you’re given this whole body, your voice, your intellect. And it’s just dawned on me I’ve spent years learning how to sing, but now I’m using the rest of me as well. When you get on stage, you can’t afford to have self-consciousness. Once you get over the initial barrier, it’s very liberating. And everybody can do this, it’s just a matter of getting used to the idea, of breaking out of what you consider status quo.

“And once you get down to the intricacies of finding character, you start learning what it is about yourself that you can inject into the character, and what you have to absorb from the outside – learning to observe people and draw your own conclusions about how people are and how they react to different things.”

Thinking of getting yourself involved
Qahar says to ask yourself: “Does it make sense to your life? If this is something you gotta do, you have to do it, then do it-lah. Scrape your savings-lah, whatever, just do it.”

Farrah ‘Aini: “If you’re interested, go for it. If not, don’t! But even if there’s the slightest bit of interest, try it because it’s pretty fun.”

David: It’s not easy because it requires a lot of sacrifice – as a person, your emotional strength, your sanity even, at times, and you also get ridiculed by people. But if you’re willing to undergo all that, by all means, do it.”

Redza: “If you have passion for it, just do it. Even if you don’t want to give up your life for it, if you want to just do it as a hobby, it’s a good thing. Try and experience it. It’s one of the ways you can spend time with your friends, and it’s not like you’re wasting time. You’re trying to achieve something.”

Faisal: “Do not be afraid to approach any club. The community is very small and everybody will welcome new faces. Join a club that you think suits your interests (English? Malay? Experimental-oriented? Realism-oriented?) and vision (Theatre for everybody? Bridging inter-racial gaps?). Go to plays to learn more, and if you can’t decide, just join any production. Eventually, you will get to know what suits you.”


#1Gravatar imagekOtAk says:

cheh wah, someone famous oredi… hehehehe 🙂

see you Friday night….

#2Gravatar imageserena says:

i wish i could go!!!!!

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