By Juliet Jacobs
‘Three girls in a play’ is your tagline for the event — sounds naughty. Tell us more! Who came up with the idea for this monodrama and seminar?
The three girls: Seok Chin, Felix, Oi Min — and I. In Chinese-language theatre it’s hard to find men. Women are the main force of today’s theatre environment. When there are theatre events, how many men do you see there? Hardly any, right? Look at the Kakiseni office. How many males are there?
True, Kakiseni is rather testosterone-challenged … Anyway, give us a brief background about each of the plays.
Seok Chin’s piece will only have three words: ‘san’, ‘zi’, and ‘jing’; Felix’s has no words at all; Oi Min will tell stories in a language the audience will want to hear.
What can the audience expect?
Don’t expect anything, just come and experience it for yourself.
Seok Chin, Felix and Oi Min have all returned from overseas stints. Tell us a bit more about them.
Amelia hasn’t grown enough, height-wise; Felix — well, I don’t know her very well, unfortunately; Oi Min hasn’t studied enough. I mean, she only spent 12 years studying in Japan …
What is it like working, with them?
Always a surprise.
Who is the most talkative among the three?
Seok Chin. She is an all-rounder theatre activist, and is my connection with theatre practitioners in Singapore.
Who is the least punctual to rehearsals?
Myself — I’m male, mah.
PingStage has been around since the early 1990s; it aims to promote Chinese-language theatre to the masses. What has the journey been like?
Pahit tapi manis, sedih tapi gembira. In other words: gila!
PingStage was founded on October 11, 1994. Since then, we have been encouraging other friends in theatre to produce more in Malaysia. Before this, we would only see two, maybe three Chinese-language plays a year. Today, we see nearly 20. We also have our own theatre awards, now: the ADA Drama Award, founded in 2001.
What kind of difficulties does PingStage face?
I do feel that the Chinese community in Malaysia, isn’t really attached to the arts. Arts education isn’t seriously encouraged — and, because of that, higher standards in art are not sought — or supported — either. The general public is supportive of the more easy-going plays — not so much the more ‘arty’ ones. Friends of theatre are a diminishing breed, for us. They have their own lives to take care. Most of us are volunteers -- whatever our talents, a lack of time as well as disagreements among each other are factors that work against us.
This situation is slowly changing for the better though, thanks to exposure from the media and such. Over the past few years, we’ve had schemes from the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage (KeKKWa) to apply for — which help a lot when we’re going broke.
Our luck comes and goes. Now, we don’t have a space for performing, training, rehearsals and shows — one that we can call our own. As it stands now, PingStage hasn’t made any future plans, because we don’t know where we’ll be able to settle next. We need a space very urgently.
But enough of the bad things!
Yes, on to the good!
We are a very close-knit group. We help each other out a lot. We train many students, from sekolah menengah to university level, and some of these go overseas — like Wong Oi Min and Tan Seok Chin — and come back brimming with ideas that we can use. Better future for us, ya? We’ve survived pretty harsh situations, and hopefully it isn’t always going to be like that!
You are the producer of PingStage. Tell us a bit more about yourself.
I graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Art’s Drama school in 1991. I don’t have a day job; I work full time in theatre, and no one pays me but myself. I try to do a lot of what I think is good theatre. I work on our theatre awards and PingStage’s newsletter, I organise seminars with lecturers from Taiwan, I work on productions with young directors. I conduct acting classes, act as a consultant to Chinese communities staging work, etc.
I act — but I’m always cast as an ‘older’ character. I’m acting in a children’s play this December — again, as an old man. Ai!
Only regret I have is that we haven’t been able to strike up a good connection and communicate well with the English-language theatre folk.
What is PingStage working on, next?
Getting money, or suicide.
What is irony to you?
Now you see funding, now you see nothing.
What’s your favourite place to go to in Malaysia, when you need to unwind?
First Published: 29.11.2006 on Kakiseni