Choosing to go against the grain

IN TODAY’S fast-paced lifestyles, it has become the norm for fresh graduates and those in their mid-twenties to complain about work issues, including long hours and impossible workmates. 

However, some in this age group have shied away from the conventional and carved their own niches in society.  

Mark Teh, 24, is one such person, choosing to avoid the well-travelled path of “attending a good university, getting good grades and working for an established multinational company”.  

Upon completing his college diploma, Teh took a year off to try his hand at theatre and the performing arts, something that captured his interest after attending numerous plays for the sake of English Literature classes. 

Teh (second from left, white shirt) conducting a community arts workshopwith children from Taman Medan.

That one year turned into five and Teh is still heavily involved in theatre and performing arts at the Five Arts Centre, and he has almost crossed out university from his list of things to do.  

“In a way, Five Arts has been my ‘university’ for the past few years.  

“I would much rather have hands-on experience with theatre and see immediate results than studying it for a three year course,” he explained.  

Teh currently uses the skills and knowledge he has picked up to tutor on Malaysian Culture and Society at the One Academy of Communication Design.  

Teh is unabashedly frank about his school days at Garden International School, describing it as a time where he “lived in a protected bubble, immersed in my own clique and blissfully unaware of any going-ons outside.” 

“I enjoyed my time there, but once I finished high school, I was arrogant and thought I was really smart, which of course, wasn’t a good thing at all,” he explained. 

Once out of high school, Teh realised how little he knew about his country.  

“When I got to college, I realised that I had no clue about the history or current issues of Malaysia,” he said. 

Teh found that he could learn, discuss and debate these topics through watching theatre plays that his English Literature lecturer encouraged the students to attend.  

“Theatre was the last thing on my mind when I went to college, and look where I am now.  

“I really don’t like trying to predict the future,” said Teh when asked if he had plans to continue his studies in the future.  

Teh said the one subject he would consider studying was psychology, largely because of its relevance to the community arts work he does.  

He has been, and is currently, working with young people at the Taman Medan Community Arts Project with facilitators from Five Arts Centre.  

“We use arts as a tool to address issues these kids face. Besides theatre, we do visual arts like comics, t-shirts and video production,” said Teh. 

Teh is currently conducting preliminary groundwork to run similar arts workshops for children of the Lorong Haji Taib community in Kuala Lumpur.  

According to Teh, the project would also focus on raising awareness about HIV/AIDS. 

“Ideally, we would like to train the kids we work with, so that they can act as facilitators for the younger ones,” he said. 

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been able to happen.  

“The kids are interested, but understandably, for income they have to start working in factories or shopping malls after Form 5, making it hard for them to find the time.”  

Juggling several projects at one time, Teh feels that running community workshops challenges his problem-solving skills.  

“It can be volatile as our programme doesn’t usually go according to plan, especially since our workshops are conducted outdoors and we have to constantly use our imaginations to adapt.” 

In spite of his acting talents, Teh is adamant that he will not take to television acting. 

“I did not get involved with theatre to be a famous actor. I do it because theatre is effective at transmitting messages to audiences; it is an immediate way to deal with current issues,” he explained. 

Ultimately, Teh would like to make theatre accessible for everyone; with plans to do more community arts theatre outdoors, like Chinese opera and wayang kulit

His latest project was a one-day workshop with juveniles from Henry Gurney School, Malacca, organised by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. 

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