So through participating in this play that I’m in the middle of getting ready for, I’ve been able to meet actors that have been in theatre for a lot longer than I have. One has four years of experience, with more than twenty plays under her belt. Another has been involved in theatre for six years. How I got to find out these things is by asking them. I have found that I have been curious about other peoples’ experience in acting. And through asking them about their experiences, they have asked me about mine, because they’re good at having conversations. And so I’ve had to answer that question more than a couple of times now, and I still struggle with my own story. In this post, I shall write my own story with theatre and the stage, so that my own version of my own story is clearer to me.
I don’t remember exactly how, but when I was in Form Five I found myself involved with some older people who had experience in Kelab Kebudayaan. They were Form Sixers who were from a different school. I think they were the ones who got an acting coach to come to our school and conduct acting classes. This was my starting point. I struggle to remember what my thoughts were at the time, but I do remember being enthusiastic about it. I also remember there being very few people who shared my enthusiasm. If I remember correctly, the training sessions were held weekly, and we started with nine people, and as the weeks went by, nine turned to seven. Seven turned to six. Six turned to four. I guess people didn’t see the point of it all. After about a month or two, the coach stopped coming, and understandably so because there were just too few people who were interested.
I was partly to blame for that as well. I remember training sessions were from 4pm to 6pm, but I would bail halfway because rugby training started at 5pm. At the time, rugby was definitely more of a priority for me. I had people who depended on me, and as a senior who was also the coach’s son who was also the team captain, I held a lot of responsibility in that team, so I gladly went. But of course that meant that the few became fewer. And I could only imagine how not-fun it was for only two or three people to be around for theatre training. I wouldn’t blame any outside coach seeing it as a lost-cause to drive all the way to a school that apparently doesn’t care.
I continued about my life after that without thinking about theatre or acting all that much at all. Until a couple of years later, when I was in teacher training. A lecturer of mine wanted to stage a play and asked for people who were interested to audition. I knew that I liked being on stage from all the English Club and literature activities that we consistently had during our foundations, so I was excited to have a go at it. I was pleased to find out a couple of weeks later that I got cast as one of the male roles in the play. I played the older brother of the lead character, and I loved it.
Through getting ready for that production, we were exposed to acting training and workshops to help us put on the play successfully. By the end of the experience, I had fallen in love with theatre. My lecturer was very supportive and coached us all very well. She made us believe that we could do it, and defended us against some criticism thrown our way. I’m very thankful to her for presenting me with the opportunity to explore that realm.
That was my first experience staging a play. I wanted to immediately start working on another play after that. I had one more year before heading off to Macquarie University. There were whispers of there being a musical theatre in the works. I even went for an audition for it. But it wasn’t meant to be. The play fell through, everyone got busy with other things and I didn’t pursue it outside of campus either. I started having thoughts of participating in Macquarie’s theatre club when I got there.
But when I got there, I got scared. I passed by the theatre everyday to and from class. But I never went in. I never inquired. I never put in a serious effort to try out for anything. I didn’t even go to any staging of anything. I got scared, and I stayed in my comfort zone. I hung around people who didn’t want to do theatre. I didn’t seek out any opportunities to allow me to find out more things about theatre. I just stayed away, because I was scared of being the only Malaysian there. Of being around strangers, first language users, people who were probably already friends with one another. I didn’t want to put myself through to awkwardness of being the “new guy” who was also a foreigner. For two years, I was scared.
I came back to Malaysia and spent my final year of teacher training being busy with what final year students are busy with, and by this time, I had been out of theatre for so long that I didn’t spend any time thinking about it at all. I still found myself going to the Penang Performing Arts Centre a couple of times to watch some shows, but overall I didn’t make the time to be a performer at all.
My next opportunity came at the end of my second year as a full-time teacher. A whatsapp group that I was a part of posted a call to audition, and I jumped at it. I went for the audition and got the role. Rehearsals were weekly for three months, and we were getting paid for it as well, so that was good. However, by April I had to end my involvement with the production without ever staging the play because I needed my weekends back, as well as I didn’t feel comfortable with the script. Not because it was against my morals or anything like that, but more like I felt like I didn’t fit in the role at all and it wasn’t a story that I felt very passionate about telling.
After that, I remained out of theatre until this AMUK play came about. I found out about it through an call for actors to audition on twitter, I went to audition and am now part of the cast. If this play gets staged, it will be my first time acting on stage since the first time I did it in 2009. Eight years separate the two experiences. That’s a lot. Too much. I hope the next experiences will come at a much higher frequency. And I’ll work towards making that a reality.
Here’s to theatre and experience.