Telling Malaysian stories, the Masakini way

IT’s a ride through Malaysia, only told through the play of shadows. Touted to be the finale to a four-part series, Masakini Theatre Company’s upcoming production called Wayang: Malaysia Kita will spotlight local traditions, places around the country and iconic buildings, woven together by a simple story.

“It’s about a couple; they quarrel; and then they get back together, and there might even be a wedding! The story takes them on the road, on a train and plane all around Malaysia,” says Masakini Theatre Company founder and director Sabera Shaik.

The Wayang series began with Wayang in 2011, followed by The Story of Kuala Lumpur followed by Malaysian Stories staged at the Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur last year.

Shadow theatre is one of the oldest forms of theatrical storytelling. It has its roots in the ancient art of shadow play and puppetry in Asia. It is engaging for both adults and children.

Sabera, 65 come October, has shown her versatility in the performing arts over the decades with solo dance dramas, and leading theatre roles on stage and screen.

“I want people to feel again with this show. I am inspired by what is going on in our country. We are so involved in what is going on around us, with issues which I feel are separating us.

“I want, through this show, to get people to think about what we really have – a beautiful country. It starts with the opening of the show, shadow play to the NegaraKu.

“I am also hoping it will make people say, hey, I haven’t been there, or this is interesting,” explains the Kelantan-born theatre doyen come October.

Wayang: Malaysia Kita will see a 17-strong cast, including Dua Space Theatre dancers. The choreography is by DST’s directors Anthony Meh and Aman Yap.

Says the show’s co-director Ashrin Azim: “This is the biggest cast for Wayang so far.”

Ipoh-born Ashrin, with an engineering degree, is with Sanggar Theatre Fauziah Nawi since 2005 but has been taking part in the Wayang series from the get go.

The actor, who is trying her turn at directing, says of the show: “It’s more beautiful now, with a lot more play with lights, colours and shapes.”

The duo emphasise the physical training that go into the shadow play.

Says Sabera: “The best place to learn about your body is with shadow play. We train for an hour before we start playing with lights. There are pools of sweat on the floor.”

The training and rehearsals are taking place at the MTC studio at Kenny Hills, Kuala Lumpur. The demanding training is due to the use of the human form for shadow play. There is a certain level of contortionism which requires a supple body.

This is evident to those who have watched the Wayang shows, where the precise movements by the actors is timed to perfection to the beat of the music.

In Wayang: Malaysia Kita, there will be nine songs, including the national anthem. Unlike previous shows, there will be no surtitles.

Staging any performing arts show is never an easy task. Sabera points out that the show has no sponsors, while some fees have gone up. The fee for the DBKL hall is now RM6,000 a day, up from RM2,500 last March. I am appealing for a reduction, else I will have to come up with RM42,000  for venue rental alone.”

While used to the being at the mercy of the vagaries of economics when it comes to theatre productions, Sabera ponders about Malaysians’ propensity to admire only what’s abroad.

“It’s not just Asia which has talent but Malaysia too,” she says, referring obliquely to the reality talent show which first season winner was a Filipino shadow play group.

“Come see what we can do!”

Wayang: Malaysia Kita will be held at Auditorium Bandaraya from March 30 to April 2 at 8.30pm and 3pm on April 3, and then at Seremban at JKKN Auditorium D’Sury on April 8-9 (Friday and Saturday) at 8.30pm.

Tickets are RM83, RM53, RM23  at RM52 for the Kuala Lumpur shows and RM23 for the ones in Seremban.

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** This story appeared in the New Straits Times, march 30, 2016


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