Tears flow as curtains fall for the last time at The Actors Studio in Bangsar

LAST Saturday, I entered The Actors Studio (TAS) at the Bangsar Shopping Centre (BSC), Kuala Lumpur, for the final time to watch the last performance to be staged in that space.

It was sort of a variety show; TAS founders Joe Hasham and Datuk Faridah Merican had brought together a bunch of performers, including Douglas Lim, Harith Iskander, the young KL Singers and Lee Swee Keong, to stage an extravaganza to close the venue with a bang.

The curtains at TAS Bangsar came down that night for the last time to make way for other developments in the shopping centre.

As the performers took the final curtain call, Joe and Faridah both took to the stage with tears streaming down their cheeks. They were not alone; many others, performers and audience members alike, too, wept as they stood up, applauding and bidding the space farewell.

Those who cried, yours truly included, did so for different reasons. My friend Kimmy was lamenting the fact that she, like many of us, had seen two spaces (the first being TAS at Dataran Merdeka, which was damaged in floods in 2003) “taken” away. Others were sad because it was at TAS Bangsar that they had kickstarted their careers.

My theatre “career” kicked off at the British Council back in 1998 as assistant stage manager for Jit Murad’s Gold Rain and Hailstones. My involvement was accidental: in 1996, I had watched The Storyteller, directed by Datuk Zahim Albakri and the late Krishen Jit. I remember getting very excited when I noticed an email address to Zahim and Jit’s theatre company Dramalab.

This was in the early years of the Internet having come to Malaysia, and I took the opportunity to write in, asking for opportunities to help out in future productions. It was only two years later that I got a response to my email, which led to my involvement in Gold Rain.

Another significant milestone for me personally was my debut on stage. It was in 1999 at TAS Dataran Merdeka, in A Flight Delayed. Needless to say, I, too, was devastated when that location was forced to close.

While many of these moments were not at TAS Bangsar, the theatre space in BSC still held a special place in my heart. I had been involved in theatre for less than two years when I left to further my studies in Australia. Upon my return, TAS Bangsar was the location for shows and, as such, I have many fond memories of the space. In the eight years since its opening, I have worked at the space in a variety of capacities – assistant producer, stage manager and front-of-house assistant, among others.

One major part of what I will miss about the space is its location. Never mind what a great idea it was to build a theatre in a shopping centre; the theatre was situated in Bangsar. I have, many a time, written about what a convenience it is living in Bangsar, and I suppose the same could be said for a theatre as well.

Most significantly, however, is that I live – literally – just down the road from the shopping centre. Which, in the world of low-budget theatre productions, made my house the ideal stop to borrow props.

Over the years, our TV set and furniture have appeared on stage, our standing fans have kept the backstage area cool and our music CDs have been rushed over to the stage just seconds before shows began. When the bathrooms at the space were not working, cast and crew would pop over to my place for a shower and rest.

Re­­cently, my second sister, ee che, found a bunch of old photographs while spring-cleaning. Some of these photos were taken with various theatre personalities – Jo Kukathas, Patrick Teoh and Jit, among others – during various productions with which she had helped out, years before I got involved in theatre.

Our oldest sister, tai che, was a college-mate of stage manager extraordinaire Pat Gui, who recruited them to help out with ticketing and ushering for some productions. I was still in primary or lower secondary school then, and as such, was not allowed to join, much to my disappointment.

My parents also deemed me too young to watch the shows, so I never got a chance to meet any of those thespians (who, in my innocent eyes, were famous rock stars!). I still have a programme book from one of the productions that my sisters got for me. Patrick had written in there: “Sorry you couldn’t come to the show. Don’t listen to your sisters.”

My sisters are no longer involved with theatre, although they do watch the occasional show. Still, as ee che sorted through those photos and related some stories, it sounded like she had a good time.

It’s a good thing that I, too, have photos from the many shows in which I was involved at the various theatre spaces that have since closed, such as TAS Bangsar. Maybe one day, while cleaning my room, I, too, will discover some old pictures and recall the good memories I have of the space.

* Niki Cheong blogs at www.nikicheong.com/blog and Twitters at www.twitter.com/nikicheong.

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