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Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 8:40:59 AM
by dinesh kumar maganathan
On the go: ‘I’m not a sedentary person. I wasn’t born that way,’ says Lim Soon Heng.
For veteran stage actor Lim Soon Heng,
the body is an instrument to do wondrous things.
HIS heart was pounding vigorously. The pressure was mounting. He knew there was no turning back. Not now. Not when hundreds of eyes were watching him. He had committed to it and it had to be done. He looked out of the window. The drop was inevitable. He braced himself for the impact. He climbed onto the ledge, held his heart in his hand, muttered a curse under his breath for getting involved in this, and plunged.
Before he knew it, he had landed, flat, on the ground. The sea of people gasped. There may have been a scream or two, he could not tell. But he was thankful that the mattress was placed at the right spot.
“I have done gymnastics in school but even then, to do that in the dark and just dive and commit, I had to trust that somebody would put a mattress there!” exclaimed Lim Soon Heng.
That was the craziest and probably the most dangerous thing Lim had performed so far as a theatre actor (he had to pull off that stunt for Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros). Lim, who has just turned 60, shows no signs of stepping down from the stage – for good.
In fact, Lim enjoys plunging himself into the physical side of theatre, the type that exploits the body, as compared to the more naturalistic approach. To him, theatre is physical.
“I like physical theatre that is really physical. It’s about using your body to communicate. But I think theatre has become very naturalistic due to the influence of television,” Lim shared.
The radio host for BFM’s Resource Centre picked Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis directed by Chris Jacobs as one of the plays he enjoyed performing in.
“The first time I was involved with Chris Jacob’s direction of Metamorphosis, I got to play both the Chief Clerk and the Lodger. So within the same play, I had to possess two different physical characteristics, which were as different as night and day. The first was dark, bossy and intimidating. The latter, quite fey and precious, but in his own way menacing,” he explained.
Lim swims regularly to keep his body in shape and his stamina in check.
“I’m not a sedentary person. I wasn’t born that way.”
Lim first dabbled in the performing arts when he was a student majoring in English at Duke University, North Carolina.
“I acted for this director in a school production at Duke University. He was a lecturer at the theatre department and we did The Good Woman Of Szechuan by Brecht. I eventually got to know him and did my first paid production with him called Normal Heart after he started a theatre company called Manbites Dog Theater in Durham. This theatre company is still alive and well,” reminisced the avid fan of Sir Ian McKellen.
For Lim, it is hard to resist the allure of assuming the persona of another person, and walking through the turmoil and happiness that colour another’s life.
Indeed, many an actor dabbles in the arts for that very reason. There is something magical and otherworldly in being someone else on stage.
“The whole idea of getting under another person’s skin and having the opportunity to see the world through different eyes is very compelling,” shared Lim, adding that it was no mere accident that he became an English major as literature and plays expose one to different worldviews.
Lim has been involved in 45 plays and the notable ones are Rashomon, Empress Wu, Metamorphosis, The Fantasticks, Swamp Dwellers, Tartuffe, Hunting Cockroaches, The Owl And The Pussy Cat and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.
But he is better known for his involvement with Shakespeare Demystified, a local ensemble of actors who seek to make the Bard’s plays accessible to the Malaysian audience.
One only has to walk into a theatre performance to discover that not many actors of Lim’s age – and older – are gracing the stage. Lim’s answer to that is one that many actors are familiar with – money.
“Performing arts doesn’t pay and that is why most actors have a day job. Sometimes, these day jobs consume most of our time. Even in my job, if I am interviewing a writer of a particular book today, I can’t read the book in the morning and come in for the interview. It takes time.
“So, if they want to perform for self-gratification, I think they should do it. But if they are really serious about this and want to build an audience base, they are going to face many hurdles.
“They can perform for free but they still need to fork out their own money to rent rehearsal and performance space and what not. And this is true for many actors around the world,” Lim asserted.
But there is another problem. Plays like Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? or Waiting for Godot which feature older characters as leads, or plays that tackle issues pertaining to the golden generation, are rarely staged in our country.
“You don’t see that explored in the theatre because which 19-year-old will be interested in those issues? Shows are now out to entertain because the younger generation – the largest consumer group with disposable income – go for things like this.
“And theatre in Malaysia has gone about this by staging more musicals because musicals are entertaining. On the whole, we are not a culture that wants to sit down and think. People want to be entertained. For me, theatre requires a kind of engagement, it requires the audience to participate,” Lim stressed.
Lim’s passion for his craft has not diminished with age. If anything, his dedication to theatre will make him the antithesis of the “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more,” to quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Tags / Keywords:
Entertainment, Lim Soon Heng, theatre actor, senior actor, physical theatre, Shakespeare Demystifued
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