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T2

THEATRE

STARTWO, FRIDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2009

MUSIC

Take a bow

Explosive acts
The second edition of the
Sunburst Festival arrives
next month with Korn, Erykah
Badu and N.E.R.D. as the main
attractions. >6

TV

Magic and
mayhem
Merlin takes viewers back
in time to the days of
Camelots kings, knights and
magicians. >10

On the food trail


Friends Farouk Hussain and
Azrul Zaidi traipse around the
country in search of good food
on Warung Kita. >11

THEATRE

Stepping up
with skill
The Aswara student showcase
billed Stepping Out last
weekend demonstrated a lot
of potential. >14

PEOPLE

Dream start
The daughter of a school
principal and a
bank manager,
English Lit
grad Freida
Pinto makes
a dream
debut in
acting with
Slumdog
Millionaire.
>17

StarTWO

EDITOR: LIM CHENG HOE

CONTACT
email: startwo@thestar.com.my
tel: 03-7967 1388
fax: 03-7955 4039
ADVERTISING:
Peter Hoe
peterhoe@thestar.com.my
(03) 7966-8236
Jeanie Chiew
jean@thestar.com.my
(03) 7966-8224

Infinite
insights:
Shows like
2004s
Rashomon
(pic top)
and 2006s
Mobile fully
utilised and
transformed
the space at
The Actors
Studio at
Bangsar
Shopping
Centre in
Kuala
Lumpur.

The Actors
Studio in Bangsar
Shopping Centre,
Kuala Lumpur,
packs in its
final shows this
weekend before
it shuts down.
StarTwo pays
tribute to the
unique theatre
space.
By NIKI CHEONG
niki@thestar.com.my

O the layman, it was just


another theatre venue. For
members of the Kuala
Lumpur performing arts fraternity
however practitioners and audiences alike The Actors Studio in
Bangsar Shopping Centre (TAS BSC),
Kuala Lumpur, has been an institution.
Since it opened in 2001, the
venue has been home to producers,
directors, actors and stage crew
members, some of whom produced
the best works of their life in the
space.
And now, eight years later, the
curtain will fall for the last time at
TAS BSC this Sunday.
Sadly, the theatre doesnt quite fit
in with Bandar Raya Developments
Berhads (BRDB) idea for their
newly-renovated shopping centre,
Datuk Faridah Merican explained,
albeit positively.
Its not the end of the road,
Faridah said. Datuk Jagan
Sabapathy, the CEO of BRDB, has
said that they do realise that the
shopping centre is a popular location for the theatre. So all is not
lost. We will go on. Joe and I will
find something else.
The opening of the space on Jan
1, 2001, was a momentous occasion.
Many considered The Actors Studio
founders Joe Hasham and Faridahs

decision to open a theatre in a


shopping centre a stroke of genius.
Coming from Singapore, which
is also a shopping centre city, I was
shocked to find out that the theatre
was actually inside the shopping
centre, shared Singaporean playwright Haresh Sharma, who had
two of his plays staged in TAS BSC.
My first thought was: Why dont
we have theatres in shopping
centres in Singapore?
Local theatre personality Jo
Kukathas echoed his sentiments:
Historically, its (the venue) important. Its the first theatre in a shopping centre ... Shopping centres are
the closest thing we have in
Malaysia to a public space, she
said. It was important that Joe and
Faridah put a theatre in a shopping
centre and I congratulate them on
their tenacity. What they did was
important (because) it gave the arts
a certain visibility and made it
accessible. Art spaces should be
varied and I think we need more art
spaces that feel truly public.
Theatre stalwart Faridah, a longtime proponent of bringing theatre
to the masses, once shared that it
was her dream to see theatre being
performed at every street corner in
Malaysia.
For many people, however, it
wasnt just the uniqueness of the
location that was appealing.

Practitioners like Adeline Tan, a


former producer of The Instant Cafe
Theatre Company, who staged
many productions at TAS BSC,
found the location convenient.
I used to be so thankful BSC had
a supermarket and a pharmacy. I
always had to buy last minute
props, painkillers for headaches and
honey for sore throats! she shared.
Many will also miss the theatre
space because of the intimacy it
allowed. It didnt matter if you were
sitting right in front, or at the back,
TAS BSC had a nice homely feel to it
which encouraged a connection
between the performer and the
audience.
This worked wonders for directors, including Chris Ling.
The TAS BSC stage was a dream
to work in because of its threesided configuration. Thrust staging
(an open stage that extends into the
audience on three sides) is a particular favourite of mine as it
promotes a warm connection
between the audience and the
performer, he said.
This connection was no doubt
also felt by audiences. Theatre
aficionado Jermyn Toh said that TAS
BSC provided a certain intimacy
that is hard to find in newer theatre
venues.
The new spaces sometimes have
a large gap or chasm that needs to

be crossed and that is a little alienating, he opined. At TAS BSC, if


you sat in the front rows, you were
right up front with the performers.
But even if you were seated at the
back, there was still a wonderful
intimacy.
Gardner & Wife Theatre, a
company run by husband and wife
duo Richard Gardner and Chae Lian,
also frequently used TAS BSC for
shows.
Even though the space belonged
to The Actors Studio, it felt very
much like our home, said Chae. It
was a living, breathing space and
we felt very welcome.
Gardner & Wife had brought in
numerous international artistes
over the years and all of them loved
the space.
Very often, in Malaysia, we tend
to think that we cannot compare to
London or New York, for example,
but every artiste we brought in
loved TAS because it was very intimate and there were great people
to work with. There was a real,
vibrant energy about the place.
Chae said that they would sorely
miss TAS BSC. I dont think that
Gardner & Wife could have existed
without the space. Weve come to
realise that our ability to survive is
so dependent on the space and that
is very scary indeed for our future,
she shared.

STARTWO, FRIDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2009

THEATRE

T3

Memories linger
EIGHT years may not be a long time, but for
many, The Actors Studio at Bangsar Shopping
Centre in KL was a neighbourhood theatre
space ... a second home. It was where many
started their careers or first took interest in
the performing arts.
The closing of the space will no doubt leave
a void in the local performing arts scene, and
many are hoping that founders Joe Hasham
and Faridah Merican will be able to find a
substitute as unique and captivating as TAS
was.
Theatre personalities share their thoughts
about the special theatre space:

January Low, dancer

I have grown
up watching
so many
shows The
Actors Studio
at Bangsar
Shopping
Centre (TAS
BSC) had to
offer. There
were so many
productions
that I enjoyed,
from
Metamorphosis
to Jit Hits the
Fan and many
others. It will
definitely be very sad not to have TAS BSC
around anymore because I wouldve loved to
bring my own children (someday) to watch
the shows just as my mum had done with me
when I was younger.

Haresh Sharma, playwright


(The Necessary Stage Singapore)

The Necessary
Stage has
presented
two plays,
Mobile and
Fundamentally
Happy, at TAS
BSC. I have
several fond
memories.
First, of course,
is the hospitality of the
people working at TAS.
Secondly, I
loved the audiences. They engaged in our
plays and were ready to stay back to ask questions and share their views and comments. I
also have fond memories of taking short
escape-breaks; when it was getting a little
too tense or stressful before the show started,
I would sneak out and walk around the shops
to quell my nerves.

Wyn Hee, production manager/


stage manager

The space allowed for a wide range of


performances to take place. I was assistant
director for the Cantonese production Sam &
Jet, and later joined Dramalab as production
and stage manager for many of its productions there. The last time I visited the theatre
was when I performed in Five Arts Centres
Bunga Manggar Bunga Raya in 2007.
TAS holds many fond memories for me, and
its closing really feels like its the end of an era.

Michael Xavier Voon,


dancer/choreographer

Spring in KL was memorable


because half of the production
and performing team were
Japanese. The collaboration was
nothing short of exhilarating
and the venue truly became a
space of a world in itself. My
best memories are of the
community both practitioners
and audience. I would like to
thank Joe and Faridah and the
countless people with TAS BSC
who helped make KL a growing
audience for the arts.

Rubin Khoo, editor

Jit Murad, actor/playwright

I have so many memories standing ovations, hysterical laughter ... But Ill never forget making my entrance
two to three minutes late as Henry VIII (in Man for all
Seasons) and finding my co-actors, respectfully bowing
onstage and saying awkward ad-libs like, Im sure His
Majesty is on his way! Joe Hasham (who directed the
play) didnt talk to me for a whole day.
The closing of the space is like getting evicted from
your home, your haven, your playground, and then
finding out they were going to build a highway over it.

One show that sticks out in my


mind is Re: Lady White Snake by
River Grass Dance Theatre. I
think its because the stage is
usually quite a distance from the
audience with dance productions. But this one really felt like
the dancers were interacting
with the audience and you felt
like you were drawn in.
As for TAS BSC, I loved the
fact that it offered a whole lifestyle package; one could meet
up with friends at BSC for
dinner and then go for the
show and have drinks after.

Jo Kukathas, actor/director

The favourite show I performed at TAS


BSC was probably Instant Cafes The
Bolehwood Awards. We did it twice and
there were so many of us involved that
we had to improvise a makeshift backstage in the corridors. But actors decorated it and brought lamps and fabric so it
looked really rather fabulous.
Also, my role was as the host Ribena
Berry so I could watch the rest of the
show every night from the offstage wings
close to the audience and I could feel and
sometimes hear their reactions, which
was very special.
One of my fondest memories is seeing
the finished set and lighting and multimedia for Hero (which I co-directed). It
was no longer the same space. TAS is
very distinctive so it is hard space to
transform but we managed to.
I love it when the familiar theatre disappears like that and something else
appears.
There are many buildings in KL and
Selangor with fully equipped auditoriums, which are home to mosquitoes and
dust balls. I hope that buildings come
forward and offer these spaces to the arts
community. As you can see from Joe and
Faridahs example in BSC it can enrich
both the building and our cultural landscape.