The Not-So-Glamourous Life of Acting


  • The Gratitudist
  • Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Appearing as Dulcie Doily, one of four characters I portrayed in Matt Cameron's 'Ruby Moon', directed by Christopher Ling and staged at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in 2013. Photo: Shi P'ng Ch'ng @ shipng.com

I AM typing this on location of a shoot for a series of web commercials. I am playing a Malaysian banshee, wearing false nails that hinder my typing, draped in unwashed robes and a heavy wig that are clinging to my skin in jungle humidity, and getting sucked dry by mosquitoes. It is the fifteenth hour on set for the third day in a row, with another day to go tomorrow. I am hungry and falling asleep in between takes, even while the makeup artist paints my face.

Yet, I would not want to trade my position with anyone for anything.

For the longest time, I found myself evading the term 'actor' to refer to myself. It seemed other-worldly, a duty taken by beautiful beings of symmetrical features and unsurpassed artistry who live in decadence and have the power to be granted any request no matter how big or absurd. I am now comfortable with being called an actor, because I know that there is a huge distinction between the fairytale image that the media endorses, and the reality that I and most other actors share.

Opportunities as an English-speaking performer are few and far between in Malaysia. I don't have an agent nor a manager, neither is there a union for me to join to protect my rights. Contracts are rarely drafted. I've been exploited, humiliated and have had physical accidents on the job. I yearn for things to be better here; for my financial earnings to justify my efforts, to be for once called something other than 'up and coming', for acting in my country to be treated and acknowledged more as a legitimate profession. There have been so many times where I could and should have walked out on a project because of a lack of respect for what I do. If I ever do that, I may close the door to a huge chunk of future possibilities because the industry is tiny, and ruled by ego.

With so many drawbacks, I am still in it, for fourteen years and counting. I first discovered it in my school days as a great excuse to be someone else, someone who was funnier, louder, braver and more celebrated than the shy, socially awkward kid I remember myself to be. Over the the years, what started out as a form of escapism has taught me invaluable lessons in diligence, discipline and most strikingly of all, empathy. Acting has taught me how to connect with people, how to feel more, how to give more, and how important it is to never stop learning. It has been one of few things I could count on to keep me going when I was losing myself.

I am noticing two things on the set that I am currently on. One is what a great bunch of people I continuously have the honour of working with. My director is a force to be reckoned with in his field, and happens to be an important person from college years who saw me grow into the well-rounded person I am today. Some of my co-actors are people on set are old friends and/or talented individuals whom I was cast alongside in the past, others are great new people worth knowing.

Secondly, I am being reminded that every once in a while, it is still worth entertaining controlled budgets to be part of a production where every single person involved is dedicated to their respective craft and the final results. Here I am, my levels of mental and physical comfort dipping by the minute, and being surrounded by a crew who woke up earlier, will probably leave later, only took a quick break for lunch, and remain committed to getting the lighting, camera angle, audio and every other aspect exactly right, with a positive attitude to boot. This production is not about me dreaming about having my own trailer. This is about telling a story, and telling it darn well.

Starting next month, I will be embarking on an exciting new career in broadcasting. It seems like acting may have to take a bit of a back seat, but knowing me and my inclination to find my way around things, I have a hunch that it won't be for too long.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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