Enlightening talk on Malaysian theatre

  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 11 Mar 2015

Teh says it is the non-theatre practitioners such as dancers and artists who are trying out new things in theatre. AZMAN GHANI / The Star

Theatre educator Mark Teh visits The Star to share an overview of the local performing arts scene with journalists and editors.

Writing about the performing arts is undeniably a thrilling experience. Cultural and artistic ventures can have that effect on you. But sometimes, history and a contextual background on the whole subject matter is necessary. It bequeaths the writer a proper grounding and encourages objectivity.

As such, Mark Teh, lecturer at Sunway University’s Department of Performance and Media, was invited to offer a group of Star2 journalists and editors an overview of contemporary Malaysian theatre, from the 1950s to the present.

In his breezy presentation, the 34-year-old theatre practitioner introduced and discussed the main developments in Malaysian theatre, from sandiwara during the pre-Merdeka era, to the rise of modern drama in the 1960s, the heady experimentations of the 1970s, right through to the deconstructed theatre of current practices.

Most interesting in Teh's overview was how the search for a Malaysian cultural identity led early practitioners such as Usman Awang, Noordin Hassan, Syed Alwi and Krishen Jit to experiment with subject and form, often staging productions which left audiences of their era baffled, while at the same time laying the foundation for what most of us now take for granted as contemporary Malaysian theatre.

Even then, says Teh, theatre is ever growing and a cross between the other disciplines of the performing arts is keeping the scene vibrant and interesting. “It is the non-theatre practitioners such as dancers and artists who are asking the right questions and trying out new things,” Teh reckons.

Teh has been involved with the Five Arts Centre since 2000 and has directed several plays including Dua, Tiga Dalang Berlari (2007) and Gostan Forward (2009). He was also recipient of the Promising Artist Award at the 2002 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.

“The talk was highly enlightening. I found it particularly interesting how events in Malaysian history shaped the development of our performing arts.

“Also, as someone whose exposure to theatre mostly started in the late 2000s, learning about the creative minds and ground breaking shows in the early days of Malaysian theatre was eye-opening,” says Terence Toh, who writes about performing arts.

Marjorie Chiew echoes Toh and adds that as someone who is not particularly a theatregoer, the session helped her on “growth of performing arts in Malaysia. Theatre is no longer just a stage drama but become more interactive what with site-specific productions.”

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