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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

What Am I Now?

So I was talking to a friend the other day, and the question of what we currently were came up, and I found the question interesting. Mainly because I have become so used to defining myself by my ideals, my aspirations, what I aim to be in the future. And I've written extensively about what I've done in the past in the form of those whole-year wrap-ups I do here on the blog. But rarely do I ever look at myself in the present and try to pick my current self apart in an honest and thorough manner, so I thought it would be an interesting exercise: to get down and dirty with my perception of my actual current self and see what's there, or rather: here.

So immediately what comes to mind when somebody asks you "what are you?" is to switch the question to "what do you do?" and that's an easy enough question to answer. I do many things (eat, sleep and poop, primarily), but in answering that question, it is common convention to answer with your full-time job, and so I am an online video producer for a digital media brand called Thelaki. I make (produce, write and host) weekly videos over there. I get paid to do it, which astounds me, since I have zero formal education in the matter. Everything I have learned in order to do what I do for a living right now, I have learned through experience, through doing, through trial and error. I have reasons to think that I'm good at what I do, and I also have plenty of reasons to think otherwise. I have a great team around me and we get the results that we do because of the combined efforts of everybody in the team.

Besides my full-time gig, I also do these other things on the regular, as readers of this blog might already know. I act semi-regularly. I have been involved in a handful of productions within these past couple of years in an acting capacity for me to be comfortable enough to say that I act. I am currently rehearsing for a play that will be staged in a couple of months, so I am a "working actor", so to speak. I would like to someday be a "full-time actor", but that will require more time, work and luck to be a thing. I don't know if I'm a "good actor", but I don't think that I'm a "bad actor" (not in my definition of "bad actor", anyway). I used to go to casting sessions more regularly, but nowadays I audition less and less. Maybe because I have a high failure rate as an auditioner (just like every other actor) and I take failure very poorly, so I don't audition so much anymore in order to save myself from all the heartbreak. But also maybe because the best acting jobs I've gotten so far did not come from cold auditions but from people knowing me personally and knowing what I could do and wanting me to do it in their productions. Maybe because I put myself out there on stage and on Youtube regularly enough for me to not feel like I need to go to audition rooms sangat, and value the exercise of building an audience organically, and trusting that if I gain enough of an audience people would want to work with me more because you never know who's watching.

I also play guitar in a band called Pasca Sini. We play pop-punk, and pop-punk bands are not most known for their virtuosity, which allows for my mediocre playing of the instrument to be passable. I play live in front of audiences every so often and the band has a small small following that I'm very grateful for. We're in the midst of recording our first full-length album that we're excited about sharing with everybody who's willing to give it a listen.

On top of that, I am an improviser. I feel comfortable saying that because I improvise in front of audiences semi-regularly, more often in the short-form format but also sometimes long-form, and I usually have fun every time. I don't think I'm a "good improviser", and I wish I knew how to accelerate my improvement in terms of ability to be funny at the drop of a hat, but I hope that with practice comes incremental comedic-ability gains.

So those were the things "I do", but it doesn't actually fully tell you and me what "I am". I could approach the question by saying who I am in relation to other people. I am grateful to be able to say that I am a husband. A flawed one, I think, in the sense that I feel like I disappoint my wife regularly. I let her down more often than I would like, and new days bring new challenges and shed light onto how I could be doing better as a life-partner. But I'd also like to think that I'm getting better at it. I think I'm a better husband now than I was three years ago, and that's something to feel okay about, I guess. I'm not a great problem-solver, but I think I do listen sometimes, and I learn from my mistakes, sometimes. I try to show my wife that I love her whenever I can, and I encourage her to be autonomous and live her life to the fullest, with or without me.

I am a friend. I'd like to think that a handful of people in this world don't mind having me around. I don't know if I'm a "good friend", but I try to be one in my flawed ways. I try my best to avoid being a "bad friend", however I understand the term. I encourage my friends to be their best selves, I avoid being a burden to them, I always try to be honest with them, I do my best to be wary of doing and saying things that make them feel bad, I apologise when I do, I pay for their food sometimes, I share jokes with them, I try my best to listen, I put in the effort to spend time with them. But I also find it hard to find words that are encouraging or motivational when they need it, I sometimes allow myself to get too busy to spend time with them, I forget to keep in touch, I am a terrible interacter in a group setting, I get distracted very easily, to name but a few of my shortcomings. But I am grateful that my friends exist and that they don't seem like they mind me existing.

But what am I when not in relation to other people? What am I as a standalone person, a solo-project? The format that makes the most sense to me in order to answer this question is the "I am [noun]", kan? I am a privileged Malay-Muslim guy living in Malaysia. I am a deodorant-wearer. I am a silly goose who is also a fan of silly geese. I am a disappointment. I am an ambitious MF. I am a lazy MF. I am an MF Doom fan.

But I can also approach this question with the format "I am [adjective]". I am tan. I am taller than the average Malaysian (the average Malaysian male is 164-168cm tall). I am affectionate but cautious with my affection. I am unfunny, but goddammit am I trying. I am flawed. I am sleepy, most of the time, and I am hungry a lot of the time. I am tired. I am forgetful.

The format I'm most comfortable with, is (I think) "I am [verb]". I am trying to be a better person. I am working towards having more empathy for people. I am learning how to better be of service to those around me. For the most part, I keep my thoughts to myself, unless I'm writing on this blog. I am trying to be more compassionate, considerate, and generous. I am trying. Sometimes I fail, and sometimes I succeed, but most of the time I'm just trying.

I am human. I am dancer.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Starting With Why

So I just finished reading a book written by Simon Sinek called Start With Why (2009). I think I remember hearing one of my favourite internet people, Mike Falzone recommending people read it in one of his podcasts (alongside another book called The Creative Curve, still on the lookout for that one), so when an office-mate of mine shared that they had the book in their possession, I asked to borrow it for a while (leel crocodile), and I managed to get through it in two weeks and a half (hooray).

I don't often write about the book I've read immediately after reading it, or at all, as the archives of this blog can attest. But I ended up having jumbled thoughts after reading Start With Why, so I turn to this blog to figure my thoughts out.

Basically the whole book can be summed up in a TedTalk he did around the same time jugak. If you've watched the TedTalk, you've basically read like 80% of the book. Simon argues that successful businesses are successful because they start with and continue sticking with why they exist in the first place. Simon elaborates it better and I have no desire to regurgitate what he has already spoken about at length, so if you're really interested, go ahead and watch the video.

I like the idea. The idea that you go in to any venture or endeavour with a core belief, a foundational philosophy. It sounds nice. It reminds me of when I first learned about pholosophies of education back in teacher training and how important it was to have not only a national philosophy of education but also a personal one, and how having one immediately empowers a teacher in their efforts within the classroom and school. It provides teachers focus about why they're doing what they're doing. It enables teachers to be clear about their role in the bigger scheme of things.

A lecturer of mine (Madam Mariah) helped me and my fellow TESL classmates come up with our own individual philosophies of education, and I treasure that exercise very much. Unfortunately the only copy I ever made of it was sent in to Madam Mar and has been in her possession since, so I haven't been able to revisit it.

But Simon Sinek was talking mostly about business, and why business-people and entrepreneurs needed to start with why in order to be successful at what they do. Maybe that's my first dislike about the book. I am such a non-business-person (or at least that's how I perceive myself to be). I do desire a comfortable life that is free from financial turmoil, but I have no desire to be a millionaire. I do not want to be a CEO of anything, I do not want to be a boss, I don't like the idea of being "at the top of the food chain". I like making stuff, I like telling stories and I like making people happy. So this book is already not a great fit for me, since I have no admiration for successful businesses and how they got that way. 

The book talks at length about how great Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Herb Kelleher and the like are, in a way that rubs me the wrong way. It read to me like Simon was trying to say: hey, here's why these people are billionaires and you aren't. He didn't put it in those words, but that's what it felt like. And I have zero love for billionaires, so it's very easy for me to dislike any person who tries to espouse messages that sound like "billionaires are good". I am of course not denying that their contributions to modernity are great. And on the surface, how Simon argues that they got there sounds alright, but he of course only talks about part of the picture, parts of the picture that support his thesis statement, as you are wont to do in a book that tries to argue for something. It doesn't take into account or even address the positions of privilege these people had in their lives to be able to do what they did. It didn't elaborate on how these people were/are problematic in their ways. It all sounds too "from zero to hero-y" for me to be able to take it without a bunch of salt.

But at the end of the day, it is a self-help book, not an academic book, so it has no imperative to be more critical than it has to be in order to make its arguments sound sound. Its main aim is to inspire, not inform, so whatever information that doesn't help with the inspiring bit would be edited out of the book, I'm sure.

Which was why I was surprised by the bit that tried to sound academic when it tried to draw parallels between brain anatomy and his argument of start with why. He talked about how his golden circle was similar to how the brain is built, how the why was the limbic part of the brain and how the hows and whats were the neo-cortex. That part sounded so psuedo-sciencey to me, it was hard for me to take it very seriously at all. And he tried to argue that parallel by himself essentially, not even bothering to quote any actual scientist or brain researcher person for the argument to try to carry any weight.

And I guess the part that disappointed me the most after reading the book was that it never laid out any real instructions or road-maps for his readers to be able to figure out their own WHYs. There wasn't a list of questions, or a set of steps or anything in that vein that would allow a reader to gain clarity of how to figure out their own why. He did vaguely talk about how he came across his own why, but I never really felt like he helped guide me around that question. What was my why? By the time I finished reading the book, I didn't come closer to it than when I started. I knew that I had to find it out. I just didn't know how. And I really thought the book would tell me. But it didn't. And I'm disappointed. Now I have to do all this hard work in figuring it out for myself, and I'm fundamentally a very lazy person, so I will most probably end up just not figuring it out sampai ke sudah. I wanted my hand to be held through the process, tapi dia takmaw pegang my tangan, and I'm sad.

Maybe the omission allows him to sell his seminars. "How To Find Your Why by Simon Sinek". Thousands of dollars for two hours. Boleh kaya oo. 


Maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe the book was good at bringing out my cynicism. Maybe I've just turned into a cynic at one point and refuse to take active steps towards self-improvement by pointing out how everything else is wrong and how I cannot take steps towards self-improvement until everything is perfect, which will never happen because perfection doesn't exist.

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.