Welcome to KLPac

This is what KLPac looks like as you approach it:

  1. An angular contemporary structure with two 103-year-old brick façades
  2. A former train warehouse with funky glass walls
  3. A studio for exhibitionists and voyeurs
  4. A playground for kids of all ages under a big Malaysian sky
  5. A lantern in a garden

Technical director Mac Chan said that he was inspired by Setagaya Theatre in Japan, where the space was obviously designed by theatre people for theatre people. In other words, it was not designed by bureaucrats and politicians, and hence, none of those superfluous cultural frills that besieged many of the country’s facilities. KLPac was made with end users in mind. And walking around it, I know that their definition of end users also include the audiences.

Granted, the perfectly manicured garden around the 35-acre park, with its crystal clear lake and an International Kai Fish Centre next door, is all pretty surreal. This, as you might know, is part of the gated community YTL Corporation is trying to set up in Sentul West. But KLPac, I’ve been reassured, belongs to the public.

What’s inside KLPac:

  1. Pentas 1 – 508 seater proscenium theatre
  2. Pentas 2 – 200 seater experimental theatre
  3. lndiCine – 100 seater studio for independent films
  4. Academy – with 9 rehearsal studios
  5. Merchandise Shops
  6. Male & Female Muslim prayer rooms
  7. Cafe & Bar
  8. On site set construction workshop
  9. Green room (for performers to relax)
  10. Wardrobe room
  11. Laundry room
  12. Technical training studio
  13. Props store
  14. Costume room
  15. Venue technicians office
  16. Dedicated loading bays
  17. Administration office
  18. Conference room
  19. VIP room
  20. Lighting, sound & grand piano stores
  21. Production office
  22. Security office
  23. Technical workshop
  24. And a partridge in a pear tree

The KLPac has no “Malaysian identity” in its design, a tabloid reporter pointed out to a few of us during the media launch. “I am glad it doesn’t,” I said.

I love the way the glass walls of KLPac bring in the natural light during the day and embraces us all in its glow; in the evening, they let us see the stars. I also like the untreated concrete, tar, wood, bricks and other simple, raw material left exposed, the two theatres designed to draw audiences into a world shared with performers, disability-friendly facilities, and rooms for everyone from artists to carpenters to administrative staffs to security guards. These are signs of a truly democratic space. We need more spaces like this in this country.

KLPac embodies Faridah Merican’s vision to bring the arts to Malaysians from all works of life. It is a vision obviously shared by her husband and The Actors Studio artistic director Joe Hasham, YTL architect Baldip Singh, The Actors Studio theatre manager Teoh Ming Jin, technical advisor Mac Chan, KLPac general manager Margaret Chew, Academy administrator Nala Nantha, and even YTL head honcho Tan Sri Francis Yeah and First Lady Datin Seri Endon Mahmood. It is an infectious vision. Hopefully, it will permeate into all levels of government, corporations and businesses, into the streets, the slums, and the gated communities, into schools, home and other official cultural buildings around the country.

So, where’s the Malaysian identity? Certainly not where you can see it. Cultural markers on Malaysian public buildings tend to appear too monocultural, assuming that identity can be sealed in cement and hammered into walls and contained by big roofs. You cannot hold the arts back, just as you cannot keep an identity from growing. The success of KLPac will lie in its ability to set free not just a singular Malaysian Identity, but a whole multitude of voices that will represent our diverse, chaotic, pluralistic Malaysian Identities. Do not look for it on the outside, though it is a nice building enough. Ultimately, the identities we seek must come from what we put on the stages inside KLPac.

Any takers?


I asked some local theatre directors: What makes KLPac special for you?

Richard Harding Gardner: “Nine years ago I decided to relocate to Malaysia on a hunch that it is an exciting place to be. When I see KLPac, it feels like my hunch is vindicated. I feel affirmation.”

Zahim Albakri: “The two performing spaces. There’s nothing like these two spaces in KL. They are not trying to compete with anyone. They are just trying to give an alternative. For our population, we don’t have enough theatre spaces in KL, not enough venues for artistic expression. The size of Pentas 1 is just right. It is not too huge. I like that arena in Greek style theatre. It comes into the audience, so that the separation between the performers and the audience is not so defined.”

Low Ngai Yuen: “The Green Room! I’ve performed a lot of times and we’ve seen nice stages. But to have your own space that is huge enough, including the make-up room, to prepare yourself in before going on stage, it’s wow. Of course, it’s green and that’s a funny colour. But they have the room!”

Anne James: “I like how a railway depot has been transformed and how the present building retains the history of the original building. Especially when that history is carried into the proscenium space. To actually be able to touch that wall gives one a sense of the past, even while the modern part of building is a corridor into the future. Secondly, it’s the cost. The building itself is quite stunning. But they have kept the cost down to a minimum. The KLPac costs no more than RM30mil. lstana Budaya costs RM250mil.”

Kiew Suet Kim: “Now my car is under repair. And I have to take taxi. And it is very new for taxi drivers, so all of them don’t know, and I have to show them where it is. And I am very proud to tell them that this is our theatre. I hope one day all the taxi drivers will know it and they can bring the tourists and audiences there. Now the taxis have to go through the gelap-gelap roads, but then they come to this building out of nowhere. It looks wah, very happening. Like a hidden secret. It’s like ahh… !”

Loh Kok Man: “Here, there is a lake, a bookshop, a cafe, and it’s out of the city. It’s like a real art centre. You will feel like spending more time here, talking with friends.”

First Published: 03.06.2005 on Kakiseni

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