Writer’s block is an awful thing. It’s no fun to run out of inspiration, or to be stuck in a creative rut, unsure of where to take a particular story.
While a writer suffering from this may have an awful time, imagine how his characters would feel, unable to move on because of the block. Frozen in time, trapped in a story that refuses to move forward – what an existential nightmare!
It is this surreal situation that takes centre stage in Teater Normcore: Stereo Genmai, a dark, psychedelic adventure play written and directed by Ridhwan Saidi.
The show is presented by Moka Mocha Ink, which is Ridhwan’s publishing house.
“The play’s about a novelist who has to go into this dream-idea space to confront his unfinished character. The novelist is a bit lazy, and the character decides to become an idea for another novelist. It’s a relationship story, but a bit weird because it’s between a writer and his work in progress,” says Ridhwan, 34, during a recent interview in KL.
Stereo Genmai is based on a novel written by Ridhwan in 2012.
The two-act play, which is performed in Malay, tells the story of novelist KM Raslan (Ani Aziz), who goes in search of one of his unfinished characters, D (Hannan Barakbah). He also encounters two figures from his subconscious, namely imaginary friend Delia (Nyna Roslan) and maternal figure Flores Chin (Sandee Chew).
Ridhwan has written five other novels; another one of them, Mautopia, was also adapted into a play during this year’s New Play Project by The Actor’s Studio.
It leads to the obvious question: Raslan and Ridhwan are both novelists with names starting with “R”... is the main character of his play based on himself?
“It’s maybe 50-50,” says Ridhwan candidly.
“Because Stereo Genmai was my fourth novel. Having worked on the previous three, I was more familiar with the process that novelists go through by then.”
The play is presented in a “normcore” style, which refers to a deliberately simple, unpretentious look; the word is a portmanteau of “normal” and hardcore” and comes from the fashion world. So expect a minimalistic stage, albeit with surrealistic touches. Much of the atmosphere is created to be dream-like, explains Ridhwan, and because the play revolves around novelists, the set plays with the "texture and quality of paper".
According to producer Nurul Aizam, the play was conceived after she and Ridhwan received a grant from Finas (the National Film Development Corp) to make a screenplay of his novel. The idea, she says, was to find the best way to bring the story to life.
“To create a good screenplay, we wanted to make sure it resonated with actors. To bring it to life, we needed to hear the script being read out, and find the voices of the characters. So going down the theatre path seemed the easiest and most obvious way,” says Nurul, 33.
This means, if things go well, Stereo Genmai could very well be a novel adapted for the stage and for film!
Actress Nyna Roslan, who plays Delia, describes working on Stereo Genmai as quite a challenge. The actress says she usually acts in modern and comedic plays, and having to come up with a more minimalistic style of acting in a surrealistic production was a new experience.
“My character is a student that – to me, anyway – is very cheeky. But she has strong ambitions. If she wants something, she will go all the way to get it, and she’s a bit of a rebel. But I think she also has a loving side. She wonders if what she’s doing is really her ultimate goal,” says Nyna, 24, giving her take on Delia.
“It’s an experience. I’ve never really carried off a character like this, who is a bit more serious.”
Stereo Genmai shines a light on the creative process, and will probably resonate with writers and artists. Peppered with elements of light surrealism, the production also explores theological themes – it is, after all, about a creator who has to deal with a creation that rebels.
It is, according to co-producer Tan Cher Kian, 39, a rare story to be seen on the Malaysian stage.
“It’s very different. The theme is very unique, and Ridhwan’s style is very distinct.
"If people have read his book, well, they have to come and see how it turns out. And if they haven’t, then even more they should come. Maybe it will help spark their reading interest,” says Tan, with a laugh.
Teater Normcore: Stereo Genmai is on at Kotak, Five Arts Centre (No.27, Lorong Datuk Sulaiman 7, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur) from Oct 19-21. Shows are at 8.30pm, with extra 3pm shows on Oct 20 and Oct 21. Tickets are RM38. To buy tickets, visit stereogenmai.peatix.com.