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Friday, December 27, 2019

Remembering 2019 (PART 2)

To read part 1, click here.

July


So in July we (Mozek, Farid, Prakash, Henry and I) did our first Pinball Monkeys show at The Joke Factory, under the guise of "Mystery Show" on a Thursday night (4th July). Pinball Monkeys do long-form improvised comedy, as opposed to the more familiar short-form improvised comedy that people have gotten to know through shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway and AIIA Improv. The Joke Factory has their own short-form improv comedy night (Wednesday nights), and I am more often than not part of that line-up, but long-form improv is not something very common in the Malaysian comedy scene (at least not through my observation of it). I have been a fan of long-form improv since I started listening to long-form improv comedy podcasts in 2014 such as Improv4humans, Comedy Bang Bang and Spontaneanation (RIP), and it had always been a dream of mine to do it myself, but I thought it would never happen for me in Malaysia because most people simply did not know what it was, and I'd always thought that I'd have to wait until I moved to Los Angeles and register for Upright Citizens Brigade classes for me to actually do it.


But thanks to the efforts of Mozek in pushing forward the idea, the long-form was tested out twice and finally approved to be a regular monthly show at The Joke Factory. It's been loads of fun learning how to do it well with semi-regular rehearsals and discussions about how to improve as improvisors, and even though no two shows are ever the same, they have all been well-received by the audiences. I still feel I have loads to learn in terms of being an improvisor, but I'm glad that I've been given the chance to do long-form improv in front of live audiences. I hope this continues to be the case, and grows in terms of frequency and scale.

In July, I also got to tick another thing I'd always wanted to do off my list, which was do a MaiTry Nasi Kandar episode in Penang. Making it with Mirza and Helmie was a lot of fun. We stayed at a Sekeping hotel in Georgetown, and we also got to shoot the MaiTry vegetarian episode punya main part at the hotel. We stayed there for a weekend, and since Penang holds a special place in my heart, the trip was a memorable one.

Pasca Sini performed four times in July, the first weekend playing ROTTW's Battle Of The Bands thing called Soundstage (we didn't get past the first round), the third weekend playing two shows (one at Rumah Api, one at Angkasa Cheras), and the fourth weekend playing at Angkasa Cheras once again. We were feeling pretty tight as a live band during this time, as we were playing a lot of shows back to back, and that felt good.


August



And feeling tight was very important and good for the show that felt like what we had been working towards throughout the year, which was the Naib Johan Music Festival at Impero Studio, Oasis Damansara. It was organised by my brother and Pasca Sini bassist, Boy, with his small team of dedicated people. The line-up was super impressive, full of some of the most exciting bands to come out of the underground music scene, and the show ended up being sold-out. It was definitely one of the highlights of the year in terms of shows that we got to play, and I think we'll always remember August 2019 as the year we first did Naib Johan and had a blast doing it in front of our friends in the scene.


Pasca Sini played two other shows later in the month at Livefact Kota Damansara and at Impero again, but I have very little recollection of what happened at those shows.

I also recorded an episode of Naurashares on the 7th of August. It was a live TEDtalk-like show thingy that was recorded for television, and I had to speak about my hardships in life and how I overcame them, in hopes of providing people with some inspiration to get through their own hardships. To be honest, I don't think I've had that difficult of a life. I'm a middle-class Malay Muslim man in Malaysia, how hard could life be with all this privilege, am I right? So the choice to have me on the show made me go "Me? Really?" But I didn't turn it down because as the Malays say, "rezeki jangan ditolak". What I'm most proud of about the talk was that I was able to make the audience laugh a handful of times throughout my fifteen-minute slot, so I guess that made it feel like it was not for naught. I haven't seen the finished episode on TV ever yet, and I don't plan on watching it ever either.


September



A lot of September was taken up by my acting workshop's Task 1, in which we were required to act in a play directed by a professional director (in this case, it was the great Chris Ling), and the play we staged was an original script by Arshad Adam called Playing God. I was cast as Tri, a male prostitute who because a national celebrity, and went on the talk show called Playing God to fulfil his mission in life. Anything beyond that would be spoiler territory, so I'll stop there. The process was tiring but fun. We had three weeks to get the production show-ready, and we hustled until it happened. Chris put us through a rigorous process for us to be able to truly pull off the show, and the end-product was quite the spectacle. Being able to work with Chris again was great, and sharing the stage with Kak Dzeelfa, Kak Tini, Abang Rahim and Kak Tria was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot in terms of using feelings and impulses that were familiar to turn into someone completely different to become Tri, and I value the whole experience highly.


In September, Mirza suggested we start a new show on Thelaki called Yeh Meh, which is basically our spin on the other Youtube show Dope Or Nope. It turned out to be rather well-received, and we've had fun doing it so far. My favourite episode is the one in which Helmie and Ijal are doing the hosting, talking about ten things we bought for them from DAISO. I had a blast being behind the scenes for that one, and it came out real good after editing too, so I'm glad about it. It's turning out to be our best-received series on the channel, so I'm very thankful that Mirza suggested this idea and that we went with it, because it's been great!

There wasn't much else that went on in the month, as rehearsing for plays takes up a lot of one's time, but Pasca Sini did go into the studio to record a live session that's not out yet, so I'm not at liberty to disclose what that thing's all about quite yet.


October



In October, Pasca Sini started going into Shaheir Jibin's studio to record tracks for our first album. The process already started with Pola Pikir Positif, but the rest of the record kicked into production in October. Recording new songs is definitely a tough process, both creatively and technically, and we're doing the best we can really. We hope that we get to release the album in 2020, and that enough people give it the time of day for us to continue playing music for people for years to come.


Thelaki was hired to make a travelog video of us going around Perak, so Mirza, Helmie and I got to go around Perak doing outdoorsy-type things that I would normally avoid (ATV riding, rock-climbing, white water rafting and caving), and I have to say that I had loads of fun doing it. Mirza and Helmie are fun people to hang around, and to be able to work with. It was a chill experience, and I appreciate that so much.

I also had a video shoot with my wife for a client I shy away from disclosing. We spent the day hanging out in and around KL, saw what sights KL had to offer while camera-people followed us around shooting our interactions with each other. It ended up feeling a lot like an extended date with cameras, and we had fun doing it, so that was cool.


November



I personally played two flagship shows at the end of November at AOR Fest in Alor Setar, one for Delude and one for Pasca Sini. At the beginning of the month, I was asked by Shaheir if I could play guitar for Delude at the AOR Fest show that was happening at the end of the month since Haikal (Delude's real guitarist) wasn't able to make the show, and I immediately said yes, because playing for Delude had been a dream of mine since 2007. I practiced guitar for the four songs setlist they sent me pretty much every day, and I was super pumped for it. At that same show, Pasca Sini were also playing, but Syawal (our vocalist) and Thoriq (our lead guitarist) could not make it to the show, so what the band decided to do was to assign me as the vocalist for the show and have Sahaq and Wish cover on both guitars. This was major for me as I had always wanted to be the lead singer of a band, but my not so merdu voice had always been the penghalang utama.


Three or four days before the show, it turned out that Faridzul (Delude's bassist) couldn't make it to the show too, so I was asked if I could play bass instead, so of course I said yes and on the 30th of November, I got to play as part of Delude and sing for Pasca Sini. It was such a great day, and I loved being able to do both things.


November was also the month in which the BMW Shorties were held. The BMW Shorties is an annual short film competition (held by BMW, I guess?) to highlight new local film-makers, and Taka and I were involved in one of the shortfilms submitted this year: Khairi Anwar's Ralat The Musical. Taka and I both had small roles in the short that featured Fimi Don, Tasha Shilla and OG Ahmad Daud, among some other theatre friends such as Mawar Roseka, Maza Maamor and Megat Adli, just to name a few. It was a big cast, for a short story with big heart, and it even won People's Choice Award in the Award show proper, so that's a nice thing to have been a part of.


I also hosted a few educational videos for Bahagian Teknologi Pendidikan in KL. I was approached by one of the producers for the show who happened to be a senior of mine from Kolej Sultan Abdul Hamid, and he asked if I would be interested in hosting some web-videos teaching secondary school kids some grammar, and I said I was down as long as I was getting paid, and we arranged for a couple of shoot days and they have been shot. It was interesting being able to see and experience how differently the BTP shot videos from how I had become accustomed to making them by myself and at Thelaki, especially in terms of scale.

December


At the start of December, Pasca Sini played a music school recital show as guest performers. At that show we got to see a whole bunch of kids take turns playing their chosen recital songs, either on drums, guitar or vocals. It was pretty cool getting to see these young people learning how to play instruments already, and they looked like they were having fun, so that was nice. I hope they continue to play and contribute meaningfully to the Malaysian music scene in their own capacities.


Pasca Sini also played two other important shows for the band: Rantai Art Festival and My Chemical Romance Tribute. The first time I'd heard of Rantai Art Festival was in 2007 or 2008 when Hujan played there with like hundreds of people in the audience, and somebody from like a storey above capturing that performance on video, making an impact on me about both Hujan and Rantai Art Festival. In my mind, they both became big deals. And this was the first time Pasca Sini played at Rantai Art Festival, and even though we played to a significantly smaller audience (probably around 20-30 people), it was fun to do and to be a part of.

The My Chemical Romance Tribute show was played in front of a significantly larger audience (the show sold out Angkasa, so like 300 people were there). It was a big deal because for as long as we have been able to play guitar, we have been playing My Chemical Romance songs as a band regularly. When we're in the jamming studio and we don't know what we want to play, our default had always been I Don't Love You. Whenever I was alone, I would play Cancer. When we heard MCR were getting back together, we introduced Teenagers into our set list. So even though I wasn't able to make it to the show (I was at a family vacation trip and Sahaq covered for me on guitar duty), watching the videos from the night made my heart explode. So much love, fun and energy throughout the night, all united by their love for a band that changed our lives (MCR). It was a very important night, and I'm glad Pasca Sini were able to be a part of it, so I am grateful for Ze Spooky for inviting us to play jugak.

We have one more show to go. On New Year's Eve we'll be playing at Impero again for Underground Music Festival. Lots of bands, three stages, lots of fun also, so if you'd like, come on down and hang out.

In December I also got the biggest news in my acting career up until now, which is that a short film that I acted in will be screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The short film is called Benevolent Ba, and was written and directed by the very talented Diffan Norman. If you'd like to watch the trailer, click here. The short film was shot in August last year, and I didn't receive any update about it whatsoever until the day the film poster was made public, which was on the 11th of December. I was super surprised by it, and to this day I'm still kinda riding the high of realising that moving images of me will be shown in Salt Lake City Utah for a bit next year. I'm very grateful for Diffan for having me on for the project, and for everyone who was involved on that set for making it as good an experience as it was.

Besides that, I also got cast in a small role in a web-series thing that'll be published some time next year. I am unable to disclose what that project is, specifically, but I will say that it was my first time playing a doctor, and the script was silly and it should be a real fun watch when it comes out.

***

A thing I would like to add at the end here is that I played in weekly short form improv shows called Making Shit Up at The Joke Factory a lot of times this year (maybe, like, thirty or something?) and they're always fun to do, and I am grateful that I get to keep doing it and keep getting called back to perform it for people.

I also formed deeper friendships with people I started to get to know last year, so that's been great. They know who they are, and I am very grateful for their continued friendships with me.

And that's it for this year's wrap-up. It's been a whirl of a time, and I look forward to what other adventures I get to go on in 2020.

Cheers.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Remembering 2019 (PART 1)

So here we are again, with the year wrap up. I did this first in 2017 and continued in 2018. I have grown to like this activity very much because it will allow me to convince myself that I didn't just sit on my ass and do nothing for 300 days straight, as my mind would have me believe. It allows me to see where I have fallen short, and where I have done okay, and be grateful for all of it. I also get to be thankful for  all the people that have been responsible for making the things happen, and that counts for a lot. To look back at my life with both a critical and a kind eye is something I aspire to, and this exercise is an attempt at fulfilling that aspiration.


1. Write three short plays. I certainly did no such thing. I instead found myself writing weekly current-events-type things for Thelaki Show, in which would include two short skits that were aimed at making people laugh, or at least lol in our direction. Do I feel bad that I didn't end up writing three short plays? Totally. But did I end up feeling like this whole year has gone by without me ever writing anything? Not exactly. I wrote for work, and it was hard, and a lot of the things I ended up putting on the page and on the screen I ended feeling pretty okay about, so I'm not too bummed about it really.

2. Submit short film for Short and Sweet. It's laughable how not done this ended up getting. I didn't even end up being in the theatre category for anything (although I was offered a role in one play that I had to turn down because of scheduling issues). Short and Sweet ended up being so far back in my list of priorities this year, that I absolutely forgot that it was a thing I wanted to do langsung. Again, I sooth myself from this failure by reminding myself that I did end up writing, producing and acting in a handful of online ads for clients (such as this one or this one) who hired Thelaki to make videos for them, and that kind of feels like making short films (albeit less narrative-driven, more iklan-like). They all felt very DIY in the sense that our team was tiny tiny (all of three people including myself, usually) and we usually were not allowed a whole lot of time to make these videos (typically less than three weeks from conception to upload), and I wrote scripts and made storyboards and everything, so that's something to feel okay about, I guess?

3. Act in more things. I did not put in a whole lot of effort in going to auditions for stuff throughout this year (because I guess I've had my heart broken too many times by the process, revealing that I am a fragile fragile boi), and all the acting gigs I did end up acquiring were stuff with people who were already familiar with my work and wanted to work with me. I also feel like I acted a lot for the stuff I was doing with Thelaki, particularly the odd sketch or two in certain TLOGS, if not for the Thelaki Show stuff. I was part of stage projects that were great, such as Playing God, Syyy! and Nadirah, and short films that were great such as Ralat and Benevolent Ba, all of which had great directors at the helm, so I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute.

Now that those three things have been addressed, let's take a look-see at what 2019 actually had in store for little old me:

January

I kicked the year off by being part of Pasca Sini's music video shoot for our latest single called Pola Pikir Positif. We (as in our bassist and my brother, Boy and our band manager Arep) rented out a nice-ass house in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and we spent the whole day there just recording the music video for that. I wasn't too tight on the git-fiddle when it came to playing that song, but by the end of the day of recording that music video, we had played it so many times that I ended up being able to play the whole song with my eyes closed. It turns out making a music video for a song really makes you practice the song many, many times. It was our first time recording a "proper" music video in the sense that we hired an external music video director to shoot and edit it, rented a location to shoot it, hired make-up and set designers (thank you Hannah and friends), so it was all in all a fun albeit tiring experience. 

Pasca Sini ended up playing two shows this month: one at Rumah Api (our first ever at the legendary venue, to an underwhelming reception if I may say so myself) and one at LiveFact, so that was cool beans.

Over at Thelaki, two notable videos ended up making somewhat of a splash by our standards, which were the Maitry Burger Lembah Klang video and the first Maitry Cabaran Jangan Gelak video (which ended up being our most viewed video of all time as of December 2019 at 264k views), so that was cool. I remember pitching the idea of a Try Not To Laugh Challenge video to our Brand Lead and him saying "okay, cool, go ahead", and being surprised at how well-received it ended up getting like months after it had been published. This video alongside the Lelaki Tengok Kpop video taught me that a video can reach its audience later in its life than intended, as I had previously thought that if a video didn't take off within a week of being uploaded, it was a flop. Rupa-rupanya tidak. It can gain lots of viewers even after months of being online, and that views for certain videos comes in waves, as long as those videos are not really time-sensitive.

February

For a significant part of February, I tried not eating rice at all for a month. It had always been something I was curious about but afraid to try out because of my overwhelming love for rice in all its edible forms. I finally did it this month because I thought it was a good video idea, like one of those Buzzfeed-type do-a-thing-for-a-month-and-see-what-happens type videos that tend to gain a rather large viewership. I started in the final week of January and finished in the final week of February, and recorded the whole journey (although the video did end up being uploaded in March). I was glad that I did it, although I didn't have too much fun doing it as I was missing rice a LOT. I learned a lot through the experience, and the video did end up gaining a decent viewership, so I guess it was worth it.

Pasca Sini played the Hacktick showcase, where I got to witness first-hand for the first time just how amazing Hacktick were on stage, and how much their supporters truly loved their songs. Their EP was one of my favourite records from 2018, and getting to open for them was a great experience. I dare say that it was one of the starting points for a wonderful friendship between the two bands. Pasca Sini also played another show at ATASbyBijanFX later in the month. 

I also went bungee jumping for the first time in my life on the 4th of February 2019. I did it for a MaiTry video and we did it at Sunway Lagoon. It was just as terrifying and fun as I had expected it to be, even though we grossly over-estimated how high the jump actually was after the fact (we thought it was closer to 50 metres, when it was actually around 20 metres ja sebenarnya). The video didn't do too well in terms of views, but man did I have fun doing it.

I also went with my wife to a DopsTV video shoot, in which we talked about being married to each other with an old Youtube friend, Aiman Azlan. The actual recording was a whole lot of fun, as I got to get silly as much as I could, but the published version had cut out A LOT of those silly parts, I guess in service of staying true to the DopsTV brand, which is not known as a channel that promotes a whole lot of silliness. We recorded for about an hour, and only 35 minutes made it to the final cut.

March

I enrolled in an intermediate acting class run by Revolution Stage at the start of March, and classes were on Sunday mornings. There were initially five people in the class, but as the months went by, it ended up being four, and it was a nice class to be in, coached by Revolution Stage's own artistic director and founder Abang Wan. The class was chill, but I ended up learning loads.

I played my first show in Ipoh with Pasca Sini on the 2nd of March at Insider Satellite, opening for Tell Lie Vision from Singapore (if I'm not mistaken). It was a band-tengok-band show, mostly, but we ended up having fun anyway. I got to eat nasi ganja Yong Suan for the first time, so that was very nice.

It was a particularly busy six weeks for me, starting from the third week of February up until the very last day of March because of Thelaki work, Pasca Sini stuff and theatre work all coincided very closely with each other. I was involved in two plays staged in the same month, which was Nadhirah (13-17 March) and Syyy! (27-31 March), so rehearsals were pretty much every day, if not for Nadirah then for Syyy! then for Pasca Sini. I got very little sleep in this month, but it all ended up being fine and we managed to pull it all together in the end.

Nadirah was great because I got to work with some great people in the production (cast was great, director was cool, stage manager was great), and I got to act in an Alfian Sa'at play, which is a big deal for me as I had directed an Alfian Sa'at piece just last year (The Optic Trilogy). I even got to perform it in front of some pretty big deal people, such as Sharifah Amani, Redza Minhat, Farah Rani and Iedil Putra (they came to watch because they had staged the play too, at some point in the past). I don't know if they particularly liked our version of it, since they didn't tell me if they did or not. But I'm glad we got to do it!

The Syyy! play was a Hatta Azad Khan piece that directly inspired the hit series Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu. I got to play the role played by Imuda called Budin, probably because I was the most Northern Boy of the cast. We had fun doing it, and the people that bothered to come watch seemed to have a good time watching the play, so that was cool.

April

Pasca Sini played one show in Melaka, and that one also felt a lot like a band-tengok-band show. We played as a three-piece, as Thoriq wasn't able to make the trip. My brothers Aiman and Ainul were able to make the trip though, so we got to hang out for an extended amount of time, which was cool, since it was rare for the four of us to hangout at the same place at the same time.

The start of April was also the start of rehearsals for the 16th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards (BCAA). The BCAA was the equivalent to the Tony's in the US, so when I got the call from the director Chris Ling to be one of the hosts for it, I lost my shit and said yes straight away. The BCAA was an awards show that celebrated the stage arts in Malaysia, so the hosts had to put up a musical of their own, so this was also coincidentally my very first musical to be a part of. The rest of the cast were like legit theatre people, legit singers and dancers (Tria Aziz, Kai Chalmers, Nave VJ, Melissa, Jia Xi), while I was a puddle of farts, so I definitely went into it feeling super insecure about all of me. I was definitely 6th of 6 in that list of talent, and felt it every day. I cried multiple times in the bathroom while on breaks during rehearsals because of how bad I felt, especially in the dancing department, as I was terrible at it.

But all the cast members were super professional and un-judgemental. They were there to do their jobs, and do it well, and that was also expected of me too, so I did the best that I could. Chris was super super supportive and never allowed me to believe that I was less-than anyone, and always reminded us and me of why we were doing what we were doing, and that was super important. I was moved to tears while singing and dancing in that rehearsal space in TTDI because of his reminders. Our choreographer Kenny Shim was also such a supportive sweetheart, and believed in me enough that when I was finally able to do the dance steps, he was like "see? I knew you could do it!" and I was like "aww, thank you so much Kenny! Okay now don't cry don't cry we're rehearsing now, don't cry".

I put in SO MUCH hard work and time to get even close to the level at which all the other hosts were operating at, and by Award night itself on the 28th of April, we had as close to a flawless show as I had ever been a part of, due to the efforts and competence of everyone involved, from the Stage Manager (Michelle Yip) to the musicians (Nick Choo and his team) to the technical team to all the people on stage. All came together to manifest the vision of Chris and had a ball doing it.

I also got to act in an online advertisement that never saw the light of day (or at least, not that I'm aware of). It was still a fun shoot though, and it was my personal first time working on the same set as The Ming Thing brothers, so that was cool.

May

The first of May was an important date for Pasca Sini, as they had won an online contest for bands to see who could open for Mayday Parade when they came to Singapore on the first of May, and Pasca Sini won! Unfortunately for me, the news came too late as I had already booked myself for an ad shoot on the same date, so they boys went there without me, having the wick-edly talented one and only W/SH covering for me. 

The shoot was for a Raya ad for Traveloka, and can be watched here. I had only gotten three hours of sleep the night before the shoot, so I was sleep-deprived throughout, but it ended up being a fun shoot anyway, and we got a lot done within the time that we had on location. The video itself turned out okay, and I dare say that I'm not too embarrassed by my performance in it.

In May, I also directed a play called Kenapa Tak Tukar Nama. It was a twenty minute script about the struggles of a Chinese Malaysian wanting to convert to Islam in Malaysia without wanting to change her name. I worked with two actors for this, namely Natasha Mohdali and D'Zulhakem (aka Akem), and it was kind of a breeze. The actors were cool, got their work done in a timely manner. My directing of it was minimal, particularly in regards to the set. We staged it at Revolution Stage. I made surtitles for it, which is rare for an RS play, and got my brother Aiman to be the surtitle operator on the show days. Audiences seemed to be okay with the performance, and it was my first paid directing gig, so okay lah at the end of the day the actors were happy, the producers were fine with it. Cuma the writers ja I didn't feel like they fuxt with the staging too much, so that made me feel a lotta bad for a little bit, but hey, whadaya gonna do, right?

Pasca Sini also played shows at Merdekarya (to an audience of four people, I think?) and at Impero for a buka-puasa potluck-type show, which was cool and alright.

For Thelaki, we shot and uploaded a sahur video that was super fun to make. The not fun was of course the waking up in the crazy early hours to shoot them, but we ended up having fun eating together and making jokes. I even ended up cooking at home for Mirza and Helmie for the video, which was a fun thing to have done, so that was cool.

I think we also shot an iklan for Giant during May, since the video was uploaded in June. I conceptualised, wrote, storyboarded and produced the video, and it turned out okay enough, I guess. Storyboarding was really a thing I learned to appreciate a lot this year, mostly as a time saving tool for when we go to shoot a thing. At least with a storyboard, we're not figuring out a shot while we're shooting on location. With a storyboard, we already have a good idea of what the shots are going to look like, and how many of them we want/need to take, so I've really come around to liking storyboards a lot and appreciate storyboard artists.

June

The 18th of June was my very first time doing stand-up comedy. I went to The Joke Factory's open mic and put myself down for a three minute slot on the night, was nervous as all hell, got on stage, told my jokes and stories, and left the stage feeling okay about doing it. I'd been wanting to do it for the longest time (probably since 2017), and I finally got round to doing it, and I haven't done it a second time, mostly because I have not written anything to go on stage with, so that's not great, but at least I've done it ONCE.

Pasca Sini played three shows in June, once in Publika for Fete De La Musique, once in Nilai for an international school's sport's day thing, and once at Impero again for a Raya get-together type sitch. It was chee.

Yeah, June was a rather chill month for me, I guess, filled with more Hari Raya-type activities, and also going to my wife's band's album launch. It's called Hikayat Gundik Berirama, and it's one of my favourite albums of the year. It took five years to make, so be sure to try and give it a listen however you can (I would recommend getting it on their Bandcamp page).

***

And that's it for the first half of the year. I'll get on writing the second half soon enough. Until then, 

Cheers.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Happy Birthday Anwar

I always feel a bad-kind-of-weird whenever my birthday rolls around (I think).

I remember feeling really shitty on my birthday a handful of years ago, and what I did to overcome the feeling was writing on the back of a receipt I had with me at the time the things that I felt thankful about. It was a good exercise, I think, and it helped curb my spiral at the time.

A couple of years ago I reread that receipt-list-thing (I think) and cracked a smile. I was a small bit proud of my younger self for taking care of himself in such a way. How nice of him.

I find myself not feeling great again tonight, which is why I have turned to the blog to duke it out with my thoughts here. My wife isn't here for me to kacau (she's in her final week of her second European tour), and besides, I really don't want to take up anybody else's time with these unclear feelings and thoughts.

I have two "happy" memories when it comes to my birthday. The first was the time my parents got me and my brother small foldable tables that were green (and I think there were pictures of Batman and Robin on the things) for my birthday. My parents don't typically get me or my brothers anything for our birthdays beyond a nicer-than-usual dinner, so this memory kind of sticks out in my mind.

The second memory is from my first year degree at Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Pulau Pinang. The other TESOL boys pranked me on my birthday (I think I wrote about it in this blog, I can't be bothered to check at the moment) by saying that one of their motorcycles had broken down and asked me to help. When I arrived on the scene, they pelted me with raw eggs (as opposed to hard-boiled eggs, I guess) and threw flour at me. We had a good laugh and took pictures (or at least that's how I remember it).

Every other birthday doesn't really register in my brain. I know that my father got me my first camera on my 20th birthday (I think), but I don't know why my brain and self have not tagged it as "happy" per se. It's just there. Every other birthday was either meh, or a variation of what I'm feeling right now, a feeling of dread and anxiety bordering on crisis.

I've been saying "I think" a lot in this post so far. This is because they are statements made with my memory as the primary (and singular) source, and I cannot be sure of what my brain chooses to retain and/or modify. Malcolm Gladwell has a couple of good podcast episodes about memory and how it's weird on his podcast "Revisionist History" (the episodes' titles are "A Polite Word for Liar" and "Free Brian Williams"). Those two episodes changed my relationship to memory, particularly my own, and I think it'll never be the same again.

Back to my birthday and me. I think about why I feel this certain type of way when it's my birthday. Is it because I'm, like, getting older, therefore closer to death, therefore less time to do the things I want to do and achieve the things I want to achieve? Is it also another reminder of how I'm still not where I want to be in my life as a actor/writer/musician, and so I feel bad about how little I have done and how I haven't really made anything I could really be proud of yet, and time is running out and I'm not even improving my skill-set and at this pace I will die not having achieved my versions of "success" after having taken into account how much privilege I was born and continue to live with and will forever be remembered as a disappointment, not only to my parents (because that's a given) but to everyone else too?

And then I think, am I only doing this to myself? Could it be possible that I don't have to think these thoughts, but I choose to think them anyway, only to justify to myself why I'm feeling shitty? And when I have told myself why I'm feeling shitty, I can continue feeling shitty because there's a legit reason to feel shitty, and I get to feel sorry for myself and wallow in that self-loathing and hate? And while I'm wallowing in the pits of despair, I have an excuse for not working on myself to becoming a better actor/writer/musician/friend/brother/person, because hey, who could be a decent person under this much pain and anguish, right? So am I just giving myself an excuse to be a shitty human being?

I don't think people care about me. But people prove me wrong. Some people, anyway. And I don't think I'm worthy of people caring about me. I oscillate between thinking "Why doesn't anybody care about me??" and "These people are wrong for caring about me!" pretty steadily. But I do understand that these are just my thoughts and my thoughts cannot be trusted, at least not a hundred percent. I also have to believe people when they say they care about me, and when they act in ways that show that they do. I have to believe their words and actions, because they can't all be liars, right? I'd like to think I have nice people around me. I really do think they're nice people. And that's nice.

But I do have to somehow take care of myself jugak. Care about myself jugak. Fight the voices that say "I'm shit" that come from my brain jugak. I am not only the voices in my brain. I contain multitudes, and I am valid in this multitudiness. I have to believe that, if not for my own sake, then for the sake of the people that love me.

I feel like I have to do the gratitude thing again. Here goes:

1. I am thankful that my wife is also my best friend. I am thankful that she's an amazing person, and that she cares about me very much. I am thankful that she finds some joy in my existence, and my co-existence with her in time and space.

2. I am grateful that I the band IDLES exist and make wonderful music, perform it with such vigour and energy, and are playing in my head currently.

3. I am thankful that I get to make Youtube videos for a living currently. it's definitely not something I hate, and I don't think I absolutely suck at it (most times, although sometimes it's a seesaw).

4. I am grateful for books and my continuing to read a wide array of them. I do wish I read more books, yes, but hey, I read books every now and again, and they have helped shape me into the human I am currently, for better or for worse, so there's that.

5. I am grateful I get to perform on stage semi-regularly as a theatre-actor, an improvisor and a musician. The times that I am performing are the times that I feel most alive and most useful to the people around me, and I am thankful that I have the opportunities to do those things.

6. I am grateful for the podcasts that I listen to regularly. I love them. They give me life. They are as follows in no particular order: The Anthropocene Reviewed, Freakonomics Radio, Good One, RadioLab, The Valleycast, Welcome To Our Podcast, Comedy Bang Bang, Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend, Dear Hank & John, Delete This, Dynamic Banter, Off Camera, R U Talkin' REM Re: Me?, Threedom.

7. Thank God for jokes.

8. I am grateful that I have enough resources to be doing what I am doing right now, which is taking my sweet time typing away at a laptop, not having to care about how I'm going to pay rent, or the car's next payment, or where my next meal is going to come from. I am grateful.

9. I am grateful that I have this blog as a punching bag for me to figure out what's going on in my brain.

10. I am grateful that I have found it within myself to write this blogpost. It has helped, somewhat.

I was actually planning on getting some reading done before turning into bed tonight (I am currently on Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, after being blown away by his other book, Sapiens), but midnight is fast approaching, and my least favourite version of me (besides sick-me) is sleep-deprived-me. Maybe that's why I'm currently feeling shitty. I had a late night last night, as I do most Wednesday nights when I perform short-form improv at The Joke Factory at Publika.

Maybe one or two pages and then get to sleeping, yeah Anwar?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Trade-Offs

So in trying to write this post, I went back to read my past three start-of-the-year blogposts (2016 - Looking Back Looking Forward; 2017 - Achievements, Failures and Rethinking; 2018 - Floating With No Direction), and what I've found is that I've been doing a variation of looking back at the things I've failed to do in the past, trying to explain to myself why I failed, setting myself some goals for the year that was to come and planning on how I was going to not fail this time based on what I've learned from the reflecting I just did. Always failed anyway.

I don't think the reflection bit is at fault. I'm always glad I do those, and I kinda wish I did it more often, since it gives me a sense of clarity that is evasive when I don't write. It's the follow-through that I always have a hard time with. Making sure that I fall into a habit of consistently doing things that will help me in achieving the things I want to achieve in the long-run has always been one of my biggest weaknesses. I am more prone to doing things that feel nice in the moment, as is the propensity for most humans, I assume. So instead of writing those things I said I wanted to write, I take a nap. Instead of studying script-writing, I swipe through instastories. Instead of spending the time to memorize guitar scales, I take a second nap. I have always been my own biggest burden.

I recently watched a John Green video entitled How To Make Goals, Not Resolutions and in that video John explains that in order to do the things we set out to do, we have to be ready to make certain trade-offs. The example John cites is if he wants to spend more time with his family, then he needs to spend less time doing other things (such as make videos, write books, record podcasts, etc.). And those trade-offs aren't the easiest of things to make for him, since doing those other things brings a lot of people happiness and/or enjoyment of some sort, and he'd like to not disappoint those people. Not to mention that those other things help put food on the table for him and his family, so there's another dimension to it. The whole video is worth a watch and I like it a lot.

He also speaks about the importance of making those trade-offs consciously. And I guess what I've been trying to do with these start-of-the-year posts is an effort towards making those conscious trade-offs. But looking back, I guess my writing of those trade-offs have always been one-sided. I've always said what I wanted to do more of, but I tend to not think about what I want to do less of in order to make sure those trade-offs make sense. I seem to say "write more!" without bearing in mind "sleep less!" I tend to want to have my cake and eat it too.

Having this in mind, I play the scenario of the perpetually-sleepy me coming back home from work and mustering up the will-power to sit in front of the laptop some more just to put some words on the page, and I kinda don't see that happening. Me at home is the person who wants nothing else to do than watch some Netflix (I just started watching Ozark, Jason Bateman me likey) and fall onto the bed, scroll through some tweets before sleeping. I don't see myself changing to my workout clothes and going to the apartment gym to kayuh the bicycle for twenty minutes when I know that an episode of whatever-it-is is just waiting to be watched there on the couch.

Deep in the recesses of my heart, I know what I want to do this year. They are as follows:

1. Write three short plays, give them to three directors to put up on the same stage (probably Revolution Stage, Bandar Utama). Ever since I started watching plays more regularly in 2017, I've been intrigued by the idea of writing something for the stage. Teater Modular by Ridhwan Saidi in particular is a big inspiration in this regard. The challenge is pretty straight forward (I think): most plays that I've watched tend to happen in one setting. I'm not denying that multiple settings do happen too, but I think limiting myself in the setting department will allow me to challenge myself to write something specifically for the stage. And I think that limit will have me answer the "where?" question only once, so I can get to filling in the other blanks sooner. I have a handful of director friends now that I've gone through last year's directing workshop, so I look forward to collaborating with them again.

2. Write, shoot and submit a short film for Short and Sweet: Short Films category. I just found out that Short and Sweet also has a Short Films category last year when I was acting in the theatre category, and I immediately thought I would want to make something to submit there. But of course I have to write and produce it first, which will prove to be a huge challenge, since I even find writing on this blog challenging enough.

3. Act in more things. This one is kinda out of my control. What I've found is that the life of an actor isn't much in terms of autonomy. Even though I love doing it, I still have to depend on other people to choose me to do it in order to do it, which is more than a little disheartening, but as they say: that's showbiz baby. All I can do is put myself in positions where people might see me and my capabilities better, and hope that they see me fit to play in their productions.

But what do I trade-off in order to do these things? That's the real question.

Cheers.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Remembering 2018 (Part 2)


To read Part 1, click here.

July

The first week of July was the first week of me working as a Branding Executive at IDTG Asia. I joined a small team of 4 people who managed the social media pages of a handful of brands, and was in charge of writing the copy for whatever content they had to publish. I also wrote press releases, came up with pitches and helped out with IRL events the clients needed help with. Most days I was at a desk, staring at my laptop, trying to come up with words to post as Facebook and Instagram captions. Sometimes I’d get to go out of the office to help setup booths for people to try out a client’s products, while taking pictures and Instastories of what was going on.

I felt incompetent at this job as well. Almost as much as I felt when I first started teaching. I didn’t feel like I was writing at all satisfactorily, and I felt like I was letting everybody down. The people who were working there were nice people, and they were patient with me. So much more patient than I was with myself. Additionally, through this job I learned that I didn’t really like social media all that much. I liked writing, but writing for other people’s products didn’t really give me the sense of satisfaction that I was looking for in my life, the sense of satisfaction that I had every intention of looking for when I decided to resign as a teacher. Maybe it was because it was the kind of writing that I was undertaking that didn’t jive well with me, or maybe it was plain incompetence on my part. I started dreading going to work pretty early on in the process, because I felt like I had to go through yet another day of what a failure I was.

Towards the end of the second week of working there, I received a call from the director of Theatrethreesixty, an English theatre company who was well established within the local theatre scene. Chris asked me if I wanted to act for him in a play that would be staged a month later. The first thought that ran through my head was “I have to resign from my job,” followed by “say yes, Anwar,” and I said yes to Chris. 

I took some time to mull over whether or not I wanted to resign from IDTG, because I didn’t want to make a reckless decision. I knew that rehearsals would take up a lot of time, and memorising my lines couldn’t be done at rehearsals. I knew that I had to put time aside outside of rehearsals (probably three or four hours a day) just for memorising my lines, and I couldn’t do that at work, since my workdays were pretty packed with writing copy. And I  knew I needed a sufficient amount of sleep, or else my mental health would completely go out of the window. So I had a decision to make.

It was during a client’s event that Friday that I became sure of my decision. I was doing copywriting work at a Gloria Jean’s at Dataran Maybank, waiting for the client’s event to wrap up, when a friend of my brother’s ran into me and sat down to chat with me. I wasn’t too familiar with the dude, but I was feeling talkative, since I had a lot going through my mind regarding whether or not I wanted to resign. I don’t know how, but while talking his ear off about it, I stumbled upon a sentence that went something along the lines of “kalau aku nak buat kerja yang aku tak suka untuk dapat duit, baik aku continue jadi cikgu ja.” That sentence kinda hit me like a tonne of bricks, and I became sure about wanting to resign after that. 

The following week was my last week at IDTG Asia. I worked there for three weeks and a half in total, and my boss Shane was great, but I had to say goodbye in order to pursue what I resigned teaching to pursue, which was acting. I took the IDTG job to put food on the table, but I wanted to act to feed my soul (try not to cringe challenge 2018). 

We started rehearsing Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku (written by Khairunazwan Rodzy and Khairi Anwar) in the second half of July. I played the character Agus Darman, an iron-fisted headmaster who would stop at nothing to ensure that his high high academic standards are met by all the students at his school. I got to reunite with Roro on this project, as she was acting in it as well, alongside Andy Poon, Amirul Syakir, Tria Aziz (replacing Nana, who faced vocal problems halfway through rehearsals) and Acad (replacing Anwar Pisang, who had unavoidable day-job duties halfway through rehearsals).

When rehearsals started, I became glad that I didn’t have a day-job anymore, since it meant that I could commit more time and energy to delving into my character and making sure that I memorised my lines. I needed every minute of it (and probably even more). We rehearsed at Lot’ng for a little bit, then moved to a space in Mont Kiara to make space for another play that was going to be using Lot’ng for two weeks.

Pasca Sini played at ROTTW’s Soundstage, their annual battle of the bands thing, and this year it was held at Publika’s Black Box. We played one recorded song and an unrecorded one, and I think I underrehearsed that new song, so I didn’t play as well as I wanted to in that show. We didn’t get through to the final, which is fine. It was a cool experience for us nonetheless, to be a part of an ROTTW show was a big deal for us and we are grateful for the opportunity.

This month also saw the end of the weekly First Time Director Workshop’s classes. From here on out, we only had one more task to get done, which was stage a full-length (hour-long) play as a director. I started looking for a script and found one that I liked on the internet called Tape by Stephen Belber, and proceeded to worry about whether or not I’d be able to obtain permission to stage it from the playwright, since he was all the way in the US. I also worried if it was going to cost a lot, since script royalties are a thing (and rightfully so). 

Besides that, I signed up for another weekly Revolution Stage workshop, called the First Time Playwright Workshop, under the tutelage of Cikgu Siti Jasmina. I signed up because it’s always been one of my dreams to be a scriptwriter, so I thought this weekly class would help me towards achieving that dream. It started in the second half of July, and was more formal than the directing workshop we had attended with Abang Wan. With Abang Wan, we sat in a circle on the floor, munching nuts and chocolate while Abang Wan or other were talking. With Cikgu Siti, we sat on chairs with tables and had notebooks and homework and all that, which was different, but cool nonetheless.

August

I started August by going to a preview of a play that was going on at Lot’ng called “House Of Usher” and after that play ended, I was stopped outside the black box by Axyr, who was one of the ensemble cast members of the play. He asked me if I wanted to act in a Short & Sweet play that he was directing, and I immediately said yes with no further questions your honour, since I had always wanted to be a part of S&S ever since I learned about it in 2013 in Penang (I just never knew how to join), so that was a pleasant surprise. 

Rehearsals started at the end of the month, and I found out that the ten-minute play was called Cin(t)a Buta, written by Lenny Wan, and I joined fellow cast members Vithal Narula, Asher Au and later Nicole Kiew in shaping the play for the short play competition that would be held in October at KLPAC.

Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku was staged from the 16th to the 26th of August (with a three day break in-between). It was a great experience, playing Agus in this play. I’ve made friends with the cast and Chris, the director. The stage managers Farisha and Wyman were also very good at their jobs throughout the rehearsal and staging process, I felt really taken care of. They were also very patient with my lame attempts at jokes, so for that I am grateful. I thank the whole CDSA team for allowing me to be a part of the journey of telling the story.

At the end of the month, I acted in a short film written and directed by Diffan Norman. I don’t think I can disclose much about the project just yet, since it’s not out yet, so I’ll just wait until it’s been published to talk in further detail about it. I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Diffan for having me on set and being so great in the process. I felt that I was in such competent hands and around such distinguished company, I am honoured to have been a part of it.

Pasca Sini organised and played in a gig at Live Fact, Kota Damansara. There weren’t as many people in the audience as we would have liked, but it was the first time I played with a new guitar (a white Cort KX5), which I bought because I felt like I needed a guitar that had humbuckers (instead of the single coil on the Squier Tele I’d been using) to play the new Pasca Sini song that were being cooked up for the new album (or even the old songs, for that matter). Senang sikit nak main lagu drop C.

September

In the first week of September, I was involved in my first MingThing video, where I sat at a table with Ming Han and Harvinth and we just talked about our struggles with racism in Malaysia. I particularly talked about how I felt like I was still had racist tendencies because of the way that I was raised and taught to see the world, but that I was working towards noticing these tendencies of mine better and calling myself out whenever I did or said or even thought of anything that was prejudicial or racist. They made the video as part of a larger Youtube campaign called Creators For Change. Click here if you want to see the finished video.

I went to watch a Californian band called Movements play at ATAS by BijanFX, and it was loads of fun. I had been listening to their debut album Feel Something for about a month at that point, and was able to singalong to most of the songs they played. By the end of the show, I was absolutely drenched in sweat and went back home a happy emo boi.

On the 18th, I started my job as a video producer at Thelaki. About two months before this, I had sent my resumé to FlyFM after seeing a poster of theirs on Twitter that was looking for online content creators. A couple of weeks after not hearing from FlyFM, I got a call from Alif, who said he had found my resumé in the FlyFM pile and wondered if I would be interested in the project that he was heading at Media Prima Radio Network instead (I would later find out this was Thelaki). 

I continued to stay in touch with Alif and met up with him a couple of times in the following weeks. He told me about what they wanted to do, which was start up a new online media brand that made content for a specific section of society, and that they were interested in hiring me to be a part of the team. I agreed to taking on the job because it was what I had been doing for a while now (video making), so I felt like I could do it. Plus, this time I got to work in a team, which was something that I had always wanted to do. Plus, I was being paid. 

I reported for duty at Sri Pentas and was able to shoot my first video with them towards the end of the month (click here to watch that video). I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that a theatre friend of mine, Maryam was interning there in the same building. It was nice to immediately have a friend to go out to lunch and make lame jokes with. I continued to bother her at random times of the day until she ended her internship in December. I continue to work at Thelaki to this day. A big thank you to Alif, Zura and Adam for taking me in, and thank you to Maryam for tolerating me.

October

By the start of October, I had already settled on a script that I was going to stage for my final task for the First Time Workshop, which was The Optic Trilogy. This was after attempting to gain permission to three other scripts for this purpose. I decided against using Tape by Stephen Belber because I had no idea how to reach Mr Belber, and apparently neither did Google. I tried asking permission to stage Jit Murad’s Visits after buying a book of his collected play scripts, but after receiving no reply in two weeks, I started looking for a different script. I then tried my luck asking Adiwijaya Iskandar if I could stage his script Mixtape For Maz, but he said that it was already in the works to be staged at around the same time as I wanted to stage it, so he couldn’t give me permission to stage it. I then borrowed a couple of books of collected scripts by a Singaporean playwright called Alfian Sa’at, and really liked The Optic Trilogy. I sent him an email, and to my relief, he allowed me to stage it.

I casted Amelia Chen and Alfred Loh to play the two roles in the play, and we had two reading sessions before Amelia pulled out because she wasn’t too comfortable with playing the role. I respect her decision, and I thanked her for telling me up front as straight forwardly as she did. Alfred suggested I approach Amanda Ang for the role, as he had been working with her consistently in the past couple of years, so I reached out to her and I was thankful that she said yes. I also met my very first Stage Manager as a director, and her name was Fifa. She didn’t have a lot of experience in theatre, but was willing to work hard and do her best, so I was happy to have her on. We would resume rehearsals in November.

On the 10th, I performed improv comedy in front of an audience for the first time in my life.  I was invited by Mozek to do it at The Joke Factory as part of their weekly show Making Shit up, and even though I had my doubts, I said yes. I watched Who’s Line Is It Anyway all the time when I was a kid, but I never thought that one day I’d be able to do something very similar on stage, alongside Harith Iskander no less. I started having the desire to do improv comedy when I started listening to the podcasts Improv4humans and Comedy Bang! Bang! back in 2014, and I was able to perform improvised drama a few times in 2017 as a part of TheatreMob thanks to Umar. I was finally able to do improv comedy in 2018, and I’ve continued to be accepted on The Joke Factory stage every other Wednesday since, so I am very thankful to Mozek for inviting me to do it in the first place, Harith Iskander for continuing to put me up on stage, and all the real comedians for saying yes to my on-stage shenanigans. 

I also acted in my second short film of the year in a short that was written and directed by Ashraff Mokhtar. This one is also not out yet, so I hesitate to talk about it in too much length, but I do want to thank Ashraff for having me and Taka in the short film. Any opportunity for me to be in front of the camera playing characters is one that I take with a lot of gratitude, so thank you Ashraff.

We staged Cin(t)a Buta at KL Performing Arts Centre on the 24th to the 27th. It was my first time performing there, and it’s been one of my ambitions to act there, so it was a big deal to me. We even made it to the gala night, which was the finals where the top ten of nineteen plays got to perform one last night before the winners were announced. Even though we didn’t win anything, it was a valuable experience to have, and I’d like to thank Axyr, Vit, Asher and Nicole again for having me in the play.

November

November was primarily a month of rehearsing for The Optic Trilogy. Amanda was kind enough to let us use her living room as a rehearsal space, and she always had fruits to serve us during the rehearsals. The rehearsal process itself was a relatively pleasant one for me. Watching Amanda and Alfred work on their magic night after night was a delight, and added to it was a script that I really liked, so every time we rehearsed I got to watch a nice show. Fifa was a great help too, and I could rely on her for most things.

I was also given an opportunity to be a DJ for FlyFM for two weeks in this month. I was to fill in for Hafiz who was going on leave, and I was to do the morning show alongside Guibo and Ili. I remember wanting to be a radio DJ since I was a teenager who was listening to JJ and Rudy on HitzFM back in the day, so I was excited for it. I ended up making a video of this experience, so click here if you’d like to watch that one.

Besides that, I also got invited to deliver two talks, one in UniKL MIIT all by myself, and the other in IIUM with my wife. The UniKL one was real nice because I felt like it was so chill, and they laughed at some of my jokes, so that was cool. I was answering questions from the audience, which is my favourite thing to do at talks, so I felt like I was being helpful (felt ja la). The IIUM one was part of their Humanity Night, and we prepared for it and had slides and everything. I think we ended up having fun on stage, so that was cool.

Pasca Sini also performed at Gaslight Cafe, Bukit Damansara as part of their Goodnight Gaslight series, which was a string of shows to usher the closing of Gaslight Cafe, a very cafe that has been very receptive and supportive of the local performing arts scene, whether it be poetry or music. We played with Jetcetera, and to a crowd that was sitting down, which felt a little weird, but people seemed to be able to bob their heads to our music, so at least there’s that.

December

The Optic Trilogy was staged at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre from the 7th to the 9th of December. I was satisfied with the show, as the audience seemed really receptive towards it. They laughed when jokes were made, and some eyes watered when it came to the more sombre parts. Alfred and Amanda did a great job, and Fifa was just wonderfully helpful in all the ways in which one could be helpful. She recruited Zikri to operate the lights, Ron to jaga the audio, and Alziq and Kechik to be the stage hands. I am very thankful to the whole team for everything they’ve done to successfully put up The Optic Trilogy on the stage and in front of audiences. On the last day, I wrote letters to Alfred, Amanda and Fifa, telling them how grateful I am to have had them be part of the journey. I have now directed a whole hour-long play, and those three people made that process such a joy.

At Ripple (formerly known as Media Prima Radio Network) there are monthly meetings that all the employees of the company has to attend called town-halls, and in the December town-hall, Thelaki (plus Esther, the music producer) got a special recognition award from the CEO, Seelan Paul for our work in making a rap battle video for a client (Jabatan Zakat Selangor). That felt nice, because I wrote the video, the lyrics to the song and performed half of it. The whole team deserved it though, as Mirza was the one who shot, directed and edited the video, Helmie put his vocals on it, Ijal acted in it, Mok lent his voice in it, Esther provided the beat and Alif green-lit the whole thing. Thank you to everyone in Thelaki for being awesome. If you’d like to see the video, click here.

***
So that was my 2018 wrap up. On a more personal note, I’d like to thank my wife for being patient with me during this topsy-turvy year. I have departed from stable ground into unsure territory, and she could not be more supportive. She’s the real MVP for that, and I will continue to support her in her pursuits towards world domination as well.

I’d also like to give a shoutout to all the directors that have now graduated from Revolution Stage’s First Time Director Workshop: Kak Dzeelfa, Adit, Lea, Za, Siti, Qiu, and Bung Remi. Thank you for being a wonderful bunch of people, and I hope the friendships we have formed continue for years to come. I know that I’ll certainly make an effort to go check out all of your future artistic endeavours.

Here’s to 2019.

Cheers.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Remembering 2018 (Part 1)


So 2018 has been an interesting year indeed. Not only did I manage to neglect my blog the most I have ever neglected it since its inception, I got to do so many things that I would never have expected myself to be able to do within just a year. So here I shall reflect on most of those things. I'll probably forget some things, and embellish on some others, but that is to be expected of your old boi Anwar.

January 2018 Goals Revisited

So I went back to the first blogpost of 2018 on this blog and I definitely feel like I was in such a different headspace back then than I am now. This is to be expected, of course, since one wouldn't expect to stay the same person after twelve months, but it's interesting to see what I was concerned about back then and compare them with where I am right now, and how these to moments connect to each other in interesting, fun ways.

The first thing I wanted to (fail to) do was write and record my final two book reviews on my personal Youtube channel, and wouldn't you know it, I actually didn't fail to do that. Sure, it took me a month to get it done, but I got it done, and it was fine. I think the last one where I talked about Anarkis is one of my favourite reviews to rewatch, simply because I got to act in it a leel bit more than any other book review video I made. Still doesn't change the fact that I dislike the book. I still think it's not a good book.

I also said I wanted to write a fictional zine. I finished 2017 by writing a non-fictional zine called 0307 which contained five stories from my adolescent years (one story for each year from 2003-2007, hence the title), and I guess I thought I would continue to write stories into 2018, but my gosh was I wrong. I totally failed at writing anything in terms of creative fiction this year, and that is a doo-doo on my part.

The last thing in that early-year list was that I wanted to learn more about script-writing. I did end up signing myself up for a theatre script-writing class around July (I think), but acting and directing commitments made me have to pull out of that class after three months, because I simply wasn't focusing on that class at all, not to mention my terrible attendance record of the class. I skipped more classes than I went to, so that was definitely a sign that said "yo, you should definitely do something about this", and I ended up just menarik diri from that one. Maybe I'll rejoin a version of it in the near future, but we'll see how it goes.

I also reread the last time I did this year in review thing, and I went from month to month, and I think I like that format for now, so I'm going to do that. It's a good thing that I was a lot better at putting things I was supposed to be doing in the calendar in my phone than I ever was, so that makes it easier to go back to all the stuff.

January

The first notable thing I did in January was sign up for and start attending Revolution Stage's First Time Director Workshop, a six-month training programme that aimed to teach amateur directors how to direct theatre. Classes were held every Saturday morning, and I even wrote down five entries in this blog talking specifically about what I learned in each of the first five classes I attended. It was a new and strange undertaking for me, but I so desperately wanted to get my foot in the door of local theatre, and I saw this class as a way of doing that. Two hundred ringgit a month was an investment I was more than willing to make in order to immerse myself more fully into theatre.

I remember the first few classes, being a stranger to pretty much all of the other students in attendance and keeping relatively quiet a lot of the time, being afraid to speak out of turn or of revealing the corny human being that I actually was deep down. I didn't exactly know what I was getting myself into, but this decision to sign up for this workshop is definitely one of my favourite decisions this year.

I was still a teacher in January, and in the middle of the month I found myself involved in bringing the school touch rugby team to a tournament nearby. To my surprise, they lasted until the last day, albeit only getting to the finals of the Bowl category (the third best category after Cup and Plate) and ultimately losing. My role was not much more than the teacher who drove the kids to the tournament, looked after their belongings when they were roaming the school they were not a part of, and occasionally telling the kids to put on their shoes because their game's coming up. I am not a good coach at all, I have found, and I have zero patience and zero drive to get these kids to play better rugby. I was just there to make sure that none of their flip flops got stolen, and in that I was successful (I think).

Also, Pasca Sini played two shows in January: the first was opening for Gurryshang at their EP Launch at IntunNation TTDI, and the second one was a show at Impero Studios, Empire Damansara. We also shot a music video for the song The Best Sides around this time. That was fun, as we got to sneak our equipment up to the rooftop of Boy (my brother)'s apartment building and record some footage before being told to leave by the guards of the building. The video's up on Youtube now, and there's also a brief shot of the aforementioned guard in the video at minute 1:59, if anyone cares to watch.

February

I don't know if I've ever said this on the blog, and I can't be bothered to go back and check, but I was the Setiausaha Agung PIBG of my school for a whole year since early 2017. And February 2018 was when I was to step down from that post and hand it over to a more able person (a monkey smashing a typewriter would be a step up from me as secretary, if we're being honest).

I absolutely despised my time as a Setiausaha Agung PIBG. I honestly believed that I was the worst person to have the role from the one hundred plus teachers who were teaching the school at the time, and probably the worst person in Selangor. I did not like secretarial work in the slightest, and having to go attend monthly PIBG meetings was unpleasant at best.

I was terrible at paying attention, and paid more attention to the kuih-muih and teh tarik at the back of the room than I did to what the PIBG actually discussed. All of the people in the PIBG were wonderful people doing Good Work for the children and the school, while I was the slacker there who was looking at his phone 99% of the time. Not only did I not know how to prepare a competent meeting minute, I couldn't write letters, nor keep track of important documents. Iw as terrible at keeping in touch with the YDP, NYDP, Headmaster and Treasurer, and I think I did more harm than good at the end of the day. I was terrible, and had a terrible time doing it.

I was absolutely relieved to relieve myself of those duties when the Mesyuarat Agung PIBG 2018 came and went. I don't remember who the baton got passed to, and frankly I don't really care. I'm sure anyone who got that role was automatically a million times better at it than me, by virtue of not being me.

I also found myself starting to attend meetings at Bahagian Pembangunan Kurikulum in Putrajaya in this month. I was part of a team of education practitioners that were responsible for helping make LINUS a better programme. I have zero idea why I was part of that team, since I was and continue to be an incompetent education practitioner, but the people there were cool enough and they let me eat their snacks and invited me to breakfast and all that, which was cool.

I think I started listening to "R U Talkin' REM Re: Me?" during one of my trips to these meetings. The podcast was a continuation of Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's last music-related podcast "U Talkin' U2 To Me?", and I'd already loved the U2 one, so I knew that I was in for a great time in the REM one too.


Pasca Sini also shot and published another music video in February, this time for the song Untuk Mereka Yang Tidak Berpeluwang. We had been playing weekend touch rugby at Taman Rimba TTDI, and on one of these outings, we brought our instruments and camera equipment along to shoot the video there, so you can see people playing rugby in the background of that video pretty consistently.

March

March was when I started the bookmeets. So earlier this year (in January, I think?) I started talking about organising a bi-weekly book club sort of thing, where a handful of interested people could gather in real life and talk about books they've agreed to read within those two weeks. Each of those gatherings would be called a bookmeet. Attendance to each bookmeet was not compulsory, so members could pick to attend the sessions they were interested in, and not go to the ones they weren't. Each bookmeet's book would be suggested by a different member of the book club, so everyone got a turn to talk about the book they really wanted to talk about.

I wanted it to be small scale so that it would be more manageable. I limited the number of members in the book club to 15 people, and all of them had to live close to Shah Alam, since the main place we were going to meet was Shah Alam's Section 13 library called Perpustakaan Raja Tun Uda. I put out a call on social media for a person who would want to help me organise this thing, and a person by the name of Alia popped up, and she was great. She helped a tonne with making sure that things kept moving and bookmeets were happening.

Our first bookmeet was in March at the aforementioned library, and I moderated the session, choosing to discuss John Green's latest book "Turtles All The Way Down". If I remember correctly, six or seven people came, and we rented a study room in the library to hold that bookmeet. All in all, we ended up doing seven out of a planned ten bookmeets throughout the year, and it's not that bad, I guess. The project kinda just fizzled out after June, and I don't think anyone was really super disappointed by it not continuing. It was an attempt by me to get together a group of people who might be interested in the same thing (books) and allow for a safe space for these people to be excited about the same thing together at the same time. I don't regret that I attempted it, but I do wish it kinda went a little better.

But how could it have been better, Anwar? Thank you for asking. It could have been better if the book club members ended up being friends with each other. I kinda feel like for most of the group, we gathered for an hour and a half and then just went our separate ways until the next one came up. I don't know. I kinda also wished that it didn't just kinda fizzle out, y'know? That people were still excited about the next one, and continuing the project. But it wasn't an exciting enough project for that to happen, and I get that, and I take responsibility for that, since it wasn't really a main focus of mine. I filled my time with looking for theatre and music things to do, the book club became more of a back-burner project for me, and thus it couldn't have been as successful as I wanted it to be, because I didn't put in enough attention into it for it to be that.

But maybe also it was just not a good undertaking to begin with, maybe? People are busy, and schedules change all the time, and people have lives to attend to and service, and who really has the time to go meet up with a bunch of strangers once ever two weeks to talk about a book you half-read, kan? Lagi baik they spend their time with their loved ones, friends or with other books. Or maybe it's not anybody's fault. Maybe the idea was alright, but the timing was off. Maybe it was destined to fizzle out, since all the people involved were not in the most stable stages of their lives. Maybe the only thing that this bunch of people (myself included) shared in common was their interest in books, and not much else, so there would always have been a barrier to the group being friends with each other? I don't know.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank Alia for all her help during the short-lived Shah Alam Book Club's life. If it weren't for her, zero things would have happened at all. She went to more bookmeets than I did, so committed was she to the project, so I owe her a big thank you.

Another thing that happened in March was I met The Ming Thing for the first time. I went to their office asking for a job, since I knew that I would be out of a job come April. I knew it was a long-shot, since I did not have too much skill to offer, and they're like super successful and all that, but I felt that I needed to at least ask for it. It would have been better to receive a "no" after asking than to not have asked at all. If nothing else, I got to meet two of my favourite local video-makers in the flesh, and that would make me plenty happy already.

I went to their office and talked to them for about an hour. They're super nice people who are busy all of the friggin' time, so them clearing an hour to talk to me meant a huge deal to me. They heard me out and let me down the nicest way possible, and I left the meeting just being glad that I got to talk to some real cool guys doing real cool things.

Besides that, Neck Deep came down to The Bee, Publika and I got to go watch them. I am relatively new to being a listener of Neck Deep, and I'd only ever listened to their 2017 album The Peace And The Panic, and I only listened to it because I knew they were coming to Malaysia and my brother Boy got us tickets and I wanted to have a good time, so I ended up knowing only about half of their set that night, but it was a fun time nevertheless.

Pasca Sini played at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa for an event called MATi 2.0, and we shot some footage there to use in the music video for the song I'm Not Good At Being Alone Anymore, which is up on Youtube right now (man, we put out three music videos in three months. Not too shabby at all). It was a nice show, where we had to bring our own backline (drums and amps). I think people ended up enjoying it, but I can't say for certain, since I collected no feedback forms afterwards. Thanks to Umar for having us for the event!

We also played our EP launch show in this month on the 24th at the Impero Studios rooftop to celebrate the release of the physical copy of our double EP "Hardly Do I Find Myself Speechless, But You Have Rendered Me So / Everything Looks Cooler In Japanese". It was a super nice show, with more than 60 people in the crowd, and we served overcooked barbecued chicken and drinks. It was a fun time. It felt really nice to have our friends there singing along to a lot of the songs and having fun together. It helped with our self-esteem as a band, since some people seemed to actually care about the band and the songs enough to take the time to learn the songs, come to our show, and sing and dance along with us, so that was super cool. It kinda said to us: not only do we like the songs, other people do too; and that felt validating. A super big thank you to everyone (and I mean everyone) who came to have a good time with us. You all made that night possible.

It was also my last month as a teacher. There was nothing particularly memorable about it. I remember being asked by so many teachers about my resignation, whether or not I could even do it (some people even doubted the legality of my resignation), why I would do such a thing, about my future plans, et cetera. That was a bit of a chore, but ultimately it helped me become more and more sure about my decision to leave the profession. When I was justifying my resignation to all these people, I was also re-justifying it for myself, and it was nice to hear to certainty from my voice when I talked about wanting to resign. It felt reassuring.

On the last day of school, the KL Shakespeare Company came to do a performance at my school. I went to watch during the periods that I didn't have classes to go watch, and it was great. They did a modified version of Macbeth using puppets, dance and song to get the students to participate in the story-telling process. It kind of felt like a sign, that what I was doing (transitioning from education to entertainment) was the right thing to do, even though it's most probably just a happy coincidence on the part of the universe.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the good people of SK Raja Muda for being patient with me as a teacher there. They must have seen my incompetence and decided to tolerate me anyway, which was very kind on their part. They were friendly and accommodating. They still invite me to hang out at the school and outside of it every now and again. I was not allowed to leave the sesi petang Whatsapp group because it was a friend group, not a work group. It just so happened that 99% of the people in the group were working as teachers, that's all. I'd like to thank Puan Jamaiah in particular, for being very nice to me and humouring me whenever I drop silly joke attempts. She listened to my concerns and I felt very much that she wanted me to succeed. It's always nice to have someone like that in your corner.

The last week of March was my first show as a theatre director. It was a monologue called Matte Love, a story told in six fifteen-minute monologues, and I was assigned to direct two wonderful actors (Alang and Own) to play one role interchangeably, depending on the show days that they were available to perform on. Working with them was when I saw just how good one had to be to be a professional actor, and the bar was really high. These two actors were amazing, and I felt like we collaborated to put up the show together. They learned the lines very quickly and put on stage such wonderful performances that I have become fans of theirs. It was good that my last days of being a teacher were filled with rehearsals. I wasn't able to dwell in any mushy feelings about missing school or whatever because I had work to do, a show to put up. I ultimately had a great time directing that show. Thank you Alang and Own for that.

April

I started April with an acting role for the play Mayat, written by Hatta Azad Khan and directed by Akid Jabran. The cast consisted of the students of the First Time Director's Workshop, and it was in this play that we really started to bond with each other, I think. We had to rehearse together for hours in the night, and afterwards we would just lepak at the mamak, sharing stories about each other with each other. It was a short play (less than 40 minutes) and we had a short time to rehearse for it (about a week and a half). We got through it, and we got to learn from a really good theatre director, Akid Jabran by acting for him. He was a chill dude who stayed chill throughout the rehearsal process. He was punctual, and didn't drag rehearsals for very long. I admired his chillness and self-confidence. It seemed infectious, and I seemed to get some just by being near him. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Akid.

I also went on a trip to Banjarmasin, Kalimantan on the first weekend of April with my wife and my in-laws for a distant relative's wedding. It was the first time I had ever gone to that side of Indonesia, and we got to see what a wedding over there looked like (a lot of Jasmine flowers were involved). We also went on a river cruise there, where we got to see a lot of people who lived on the riverside waking up and taking their morning showers by the river. It felt weird, watching people go through their morning while we were touristing right by, but they must be used to it by now. A big thank you to my in-laws for letting us go on that trip.

The second half of the month was taken up by delivering talks at three higher learning institutes (one in Melaka and two in Penang) and rehearsals for my second task in the Director's Workshop, which was to be staged in early May. In this task, each student director had to choose a 15-minute script by themselves, look for their own actors, and have the show ready to put in front of audiences by the first week of May. I chose the script Malam Pertama by Ridhwan Saidi. I sent a direct message to him on Instagram asking for his permission to use the script and he was gracious enough to allow me to put up the show for a small small fee.

I chose that script because it was one of the first short plays that I remember liking, having seen it only a year before. I chose my friends Airah, Iman and Qayyum to act in it, and they were wonderful enough to agree to doing it and commit to the rehearsal schedule that I had set. We had fun rehearsing and I got to hangout with my friends in the process, so that was great. They were also very patient in the bump-in and the staging process, so to them I am very grateful.

I was also casted as an actor for another student director's play that would be staged on the same night for the same show (it would end up being called Teater Kompilasi, since there were four shows being staged in one night, one after the other). I was the male role for the play Kopi Tiga Suku, adapted to the stage by Dzeelfa Zainal from a short film script written by Nadia Khan. I got to act alongside Roro, a very talented actress, who was the lead of the play, and the experience rehearsing for this play was also a fun one. I got to bond with Kak Dzeelfa and Roro, and we remain friends to this day.

May

The first week of May was the run of shows for Teater Kompilasi (which the student directors modified to Teater Komplikasi because of the things we had to endure to put that show up). It was energy draining and it was great fun. My wife got to watch me act in Kopi Tiga Suku and was very critical of my performance, which was good because it allowed me to want to be a better performer. She also became a fan of Roro while watching her perform with me, so that was good. Thank you to Kak Dzeelfa for casting me as an actor for this one, and thank you Roro for being wonderful.

And of course, 9 May 2018 was voting day. I wrote all about it in a previous post, which I'll link to here. I guess I'll just reiterate that I am grateful that I was a part of this historic moment in a small small way, and I hope the Malaysian people continue to take power into their own hands and make the people in power more accountable for their actions.

I also delivered a few more talks this month, at Global Movement Of Moderates (RIP), UiTM Skudai, UiTM Shah Alam and UiTM Segamat. The GMM one in particular was interesting because I was there to teach people how to make videos, so it was like an IRL tutorial session of how to shoot and edit videos. I also got to talk to Syafiq Yusof, since he was there to deliver a talk with his father, Yusof Haslam. Syafiq seemed like an introvert who was keen on observing, but we didn't really talk too deeply about anything in the ten minutes we were able to chat. Thank you Raja Azraff for inviting me to that event.

I had two plays to rehearse for in this month: as an actor in We Speak Of Love, written and directed by Remi Eldhani (one of the directing students) and as a guitarist in After Earl, written and directed by Jude James. My acting partner in We Speak Of Love was the aforementioned Airah, and she's always a delight to work with. Remi is an enigma with strong visual sensibilities, so to be a part of the set he made for that play was great.

After Earl was the first time I'd worked with a theatre company outside of Revolution Stage, which was Kudos Production. It was an English theatre company, and they were staging the show at The Gardens Theatre in Midvalley Megamall. All I had to do was sit near the front of the stage and play my guitar when instructed, and that I did. I ate a lot of Family Mart sandwiches during this time, since it was also Ramadhan and rehearsals started right after maghrib, and those sandwiches were the quickest thing to get and consume mess-free.

Pasca Sini played a show at IntunNation again for Jack-It, and it was a lot of fun. A small crowd, but we got them to stand up and move to the music, so that was cool.

June

The first week of June was the staging of We Speak Of Love. Not a lot of people came, and some people who did come weren't too happy with the show in the end, and we absorbed all of that feedback and moved right on along. All in all, I was just happy to be performing with friends, and hanging out was cool. Thank you Airah for being patient, Remi for letting me act, and Roy & Wawa for being great.

My wife departed for her band's European tour around this time, and I continued to be the guitarist for After Earl. Hari Raya Aidilfitri came and went and I spent it in Kedah with my family, for the most part.

I invited a few friends over to my house for a bookmeet/open house type thing, just because I wanted to, and we hung out, talked about the book The Power by Naomi Alderman which was suggested by Hajar, and after that we played Settlers Of Catan which was brought by Mozek, who also brought super nice cookies (he never makes meh cookies, all of them are always fire-emojis-for-days). That was a fun day. Thank you to Mozek for helping out that day, and thank you to all the five people that came.

Later that night I went to the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards at Hilton KL on the invitation of Remi Eldhani. I got to get all dressed up with a blazer and tie and all that, eat hotel food and meet a whole bunch of arts practitioners. I sat two rows behind Sharifah Amani and her crew, and they were stoked af for their friends who were nominated and won awards throughout the night, particularly Kandang, which had Ashraf Modee Zain, who ended up taking away the Best Performer Award for his role in that play.

I learned that I was still largely ignorant about 90% of what Malaysian Performing Arts had to offer. I only knew about two or three shows that were talked about that night, and it made me realise that I had so much more to learn if I wanted to call myself an arts practitioner in Malaysia. Thank you to Remi for bringing me along to attend the Award show.

Also, throughout May and June I had been sending out my resumé to companies that might be interested in hiring a writer, copywriter or a social media person. I had been going to a handful of interviews here and there within these two months. Towards the end of June, I was interviewed by a small branding and marketing company based in Kelana Jaya called IDTG Asia, and they were interested in having me on as a social media copywriter. I went for a meeting with the CEO, Shane, and she was a pleasant person to talk to and seemed like a cool person to work with. It felt like I was out of a regular job for a while now and I wanted to get back on that daytime-job-having horse, so I was keen on joining the company, as they were keen on having me on board.

The final weekend of June was the run of shows for After Earl. I got to perform at the theatre at The Gardens, which was the nicest stage I had ever gotten the privilege of performing on, and I played the guitar for all the five shows. I had to buy myself fingerless gloves because of how cold it was inside the theatre space. It was a cool experience, being the musician for a stage performance. I've always looked longingly towards the musicians of any stage performance, and to be one in this production was great. Thank you Kudos Productions for having me.

***

I shall continue writing about the months July through December in part 2 of Remembering 2018, which should be up in a few days. Until then, take care.

Cheers.