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NATIONAL DAY

StarSpecial, SUNDAY 31 AUGUST 2008

Telling Malaysian tales


Among the
host of exciting
things happening
in the arts scene
is the rise of a
new generation
of writers in
theatre.
By NIKI CHEONG

ALAYSIAN theatre
appears to have had a new
spark of life over the past
few years. While the industry
remains relatively small, there is
little doubt that works have moved
on by leaps and bounds over the
past couple of decades.
For one, the faces have
changed. The generation hailed as
pioneers that of the late Krishen
Jit, the late Leslie Dawson, the late
Kuo Pao Kun, Datuk Faridah
Merican, and Chin San Sooi have
already passed the baton to a new
Local flavour: The 2006 hit musical Broken Bridges, created by Teng and Lim, is set in Ipoh and deals with how people respond to progress
generation of heavyweights.
These thespians Datuk Zahim and the changes it brings.
Albakri, Datin Seri Tiara
Of course, the attention given to closest effort would probably be
Jacquelina, Jo Kukathas and Jit
Jits The Storyteller back in 1996.
performing arts of late has to be
Murad, among others began their largely attributed to Tiaras efforts
But it is efforts by these elders
journeys almost 20 years ago but
that seem to have lit the path for
in producing what was arguably
have finally taken over the mantle
the new writers.
the biggest local theatre producand become elders of sorts.
We need original text and stotion the country had ever seen.
Now it appears that we are facries that Malaysians can hold on
The adaptation of her awarding yet another renaissance, and in winning movie Puteri Gunung
to, says 30-year-old Shanon
the driving seat is a generation of
Ledang (PGL) to the stage in 2006 Shah.
new writers who are determined to has sparked a wave of large-scale
I write plays not because of
bring Malaysian stories and Malay- musical theatre productions,
people like Arthur Miller or
sian voices to the stage.
Tennessee Williams. I write
almost non-existent before. The
because of people like Jit Murad.

Finding a voice
Indeed, Shanons first play, Air
Con, debuted last month and has
been hailed as the breakthrough
play of the year by aficionados, not
only because of the solid performance, but also because the story
struck home with the audience.
The play was essentially in
Bahasa Malaysia and English with

Changing
Malaysia
We've come a long way in
terms of democracy,
especially in recent years. I am
waiting for the day that we
are not classified
as Malay-IndianChinese-Others
when filling
out forms.

Lisa Lui, 23
Engineer

Shanon: I write because of


people like Jit Murad.
a bit of Chinese thrown in. Even so,
many of the characters speak
Bahasa Malaysia with a Kedahan
pelat, and accents like those are
unique to our country.
If I had never watched Jits
shows, I would never have realised
that I can have my own voice,
Shanon opines.
It is this local sensibility that
seems to be driving them on. While
many will agree that there is the
need for a balance of both local
and foreign scripts the problem
Malaysian theatre is facing is the
lack of original text, what more text
that is thought-provoking.
My problem with Malaysian theatre is that there is too much focus
on shows that are just entertainment, shares Mohd Fared Jamaluddin, 23.
Fared, or Ayam as he is fondly
known, is a recent graduate of
Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan
Kebangsaan (Aswara).
Among the productions he
worked on while still a student
were two critically acclaimed ones
Tanda and Waktu: Experimental
Merdeka, both last year.
He adds: Its okay to be entertaining, as long as the show has

Teng: PGL - The Musical has


led to a big momentum.

ilmu (knowledge). Teater sepatutnya mendidik, menghibur dan boleh


buat orang fikir (Theatre should
educate, entertain and make people think).
The good news is, with writers
like these, things are bound to
change. Then there is also a whole
new generation of theatre practitioners who are emerging, thanks
to the many education options
available now, apart from Aswara.
That said, there is still a need to
educate people in specialised
areas, and efforts are being made
last year Tiara organised a musical
theatre boot camp, and the duo of
Teng Ky-Gan and Lim Chuang Yik
have similar plans. Teng and Lim
created the 2006 hit musical
Broken Bridges.
PGL The Musical was a really
massive production, and is probably a turning point in Malaysian
theatre ... it has led to a big
momentum for musical theatre,
Teng says, referring to the flurry of
musicals over the past couple of
years including M! The Opera, P.
Ramlee The Musical, Rose, Rose
I Love You, Tunku The Musical
and the recently staged Ismail
The Last Days.

NATIONAL DAY

StarSpecial, SUNDAY 31 AUGUST 2008

The problem, he says, is that


there is a lack of musical actors,
directors, conductors.
Its not just a learning experience for writers but also for actors,
producers and directors, Teng
says.
Of course, with more attention
given to theatre, comes higher
expectation.
And because the stories have
been so localised, people want to
watch more productions that speak
their voices.
Naturally, the writers will have to
lead the way with this.
I think (Malaysian theatre is
like) rojak, ice kacang, and the
ever-changing ingredients in ban
chang kueh.
If the ingredients and recipe are
right, then you will get a very special and delicious dish. If you dont
do it right, it wont taste good and
you wont want to eat it, Koh
Choon Eiow shares.
The 36-year-old Koh, who has a
background in Chinese-language
theatre, is currently based in
Taiwan, where he has just completed his Master of Fine Arts
degree from Chinese Culture
University's Theatre Arts
Department, majoring in playwrighting and directing.
His latest play has been translated recently by a theatre company in
the Philippines under the title Ang
Dalawa Niyang Libing for a local
audience at the Virgin Labfest festival.
In Malaysia, we have a unique
mixture of different races.
And I trust that there'll be more

Thoughtprovoking:
Shanon's Air
Con looks at
teens in an
all-boys
schools
coming to
terms with
sexuality,
bullying and
social
prejudice.

Koh: I trust that there'll be more


opportunities for collaborations.
opportunities for future development and collaborations, across
races and across languages, Koh
adds.

Building bridges
This seems to be an opinion that
all four writers share.
Theatre in Malaysia has long
been fragmented until recently,
most collaborations between the
different languages were isolated
productions.
There seems to be a conscious
effort to collaborate most significantly the 2006 Break-ing (Ji Po)
Ka Si Pe Cah, a multi-lingual joint
effort between Kukathas, Loh Kok
Man and Nam Ron, respected within the English, Chinese and Bahasa
Malaysia language theatre communities respectively.
Just look at the works of Low
Kok Man, who has been trying to
narrow the gap between the races

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and to overcome the language barrier.


I believe we will see more of this
kind of style and trend, and experimenting by mixing different languages together, observes Koh.
Fared feels that the solution
comes from sharing an audience.
If we can share the crowd, then
these people will help change
Malaysian theatre, he says.
Take Air Con for example it
was predominantly in Bahasa
Malaysia but it still attracted the
English-theatre crowd.
Where the future takes us is, of
course, uncertain.
As we move ahead over 50 years
since Merdeka, there is an increasing call for a more united Malaysia
and one that sees beyond race.

Performing arts has a history of


pushing socio-political boundaries,
so who is to say that it cannot lead
the charge to a new Malaysia too.
These writers seem to be paving
the way.
That said, change may not come
so quickly but at least the current
practitioners are attempting to
blaze the trail.
It doesnt matter if what I do
now doesn't have a big impact,
Fared concludes.
We are providing a platform for
the next generation and hopefully
they can see the path.
The likes of Zahim, Tiara, Jit and
Kukathas have already continued
the legacies of the pioneers before
them and it seems that this tradition is set to continue.

Fared: We are providing a


platform for the next generation.