The blossoming of a performing arts star

*This article appeared in Malaysian Reserve in April 2015. But I love it, so here is it again!

AFTER six years of intense theatre work, since her staging of Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa — A Swashbuckling Epic Adventure!, pint-sized Marina Tan is thrilled to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 12th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.

“And blessed and happy, but still with disbelief,” says the former New Straits Times journalist of her first nomination.

Marina is vying for Best Actor In A Supporting Role in Shear Madness, with a prize of RM1,000, against Amerul Affendi for Asrama-RA AllStars, Swei Ang for Just Kidding, and Pekin Ibrahim for Matderishkolaperlih

A scene from Shear Madness

Kuala Lumpur theatre-goers may have caught Marina’s performance in the entertaining 2014 play, Shear Madness, for which role she has been nominated.

“I auditioned for it, and had fun. Got tarted up, wore false eyelashes. It was a nothing-to-lose audition. I think I made them laugh,” recalls Marina. Shear Madness was the first time Marina had worked with Richard Gardner and wife Chae Lian, “and I learnt much from Richard about theatre and the genre”.

Marina’s theatre debut as writer and director in 2009 with Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa at Istana Budaya’s amphitheatre went down well with children and adults alike. In fact, it won the Boh Cameronian Audience Choice Award in 2010.

“I love classical tales, mythology and you know when you are gung-ho even when you don’t know much? Yes, that was me. I was very intimidated that it was Istana Budaya but the people were so welcoming and very supportive,” says Marina who holds a bachelor degree in journalism from West Virginia University in the US, and a masters degree in education from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia.

After leaving journalism  in 1999, she worked with children in various capacities. “I liked working with children, I liked storytelling. I know a lot of people who cannot do this,” says the Kuala Lumpur native. Subang girl, she clarifies.

Known for her voiceover work, “which helps pay my bills”, Marina also started going for short courses in acting, completing a script-writing course at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Australia.

On her move out of journalism, she says: “I love writing profiles, but writing about successful people, on how happy they are… They say believe in yourself, fulfill yourself. So, writing about how happy other people are, I started to wonder, is it only for other people? What about me?

“I didn’t chose to do theatre. I feel it chose me, and I decided to stop fighting it. I get to express myself better in theatre,” she reveals.

She’s a regular participant of annual Short + Sweet Festival, organised by the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre and was named Best Supporting Actress (Theatre) for 2011. “It has a huge audience, and where else will you get to perform where veterans can see and comment?”

This late bloomer in theatre recently made audiences sit up with her portrayal in Leow Puay Tin’s A Modern Women Called Ang Tau Mui.

It was co-produced by Chintan Theatre and Muka Space, and held at Dama Orchestra’s intimate Theatre Lounge Café in Sri Hartamas. The play was bewitching not least for the talents of both Marina and Amelia Tan, as well as the music of Lin Dai, Hong Kong’s legendary movie star who inspired Leow’s title character.

“Ang Tau Mui is the first instalment of Pamda’s Malaysian Theatre Series. It’s a drama archives project, with seed funding from MyPaa (My Performing Arts Agency). Where are the local plays and how do we get them for staging? It is a depository,” she explains, adding that she is working with a Singapore agency in this matter.

Next in this Malaysian Theatre Series is a play by Jit Murad, she adds.

When chosing her scripts and characters, Marina says she is drawn to “human relationships, family dynamics, class systems, personal perceptions… thoughtful, provoking material.  Theatre is a reflection of our society.”

With Shear Madness to be restaged by Gardner&Wife in May, Marina reflects that “my taste is sharper now after all these years”.

“I now know more. Theatre is tough. I can’t say I can make art and not worry,” says Marina who was a judge for the Junior Theatre category at the upcoming Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.

While Marina is still hugging her first Cammie nomination close, she will be in presence of some of Malaysia’s performing arts pioneers from the 1980s whose contributions in that decade, helped to shape the stage as we know it today.

They are playwright/director Chin San Sooi, KLPAC executive producer Datuk Faridah Merican, Five Arts Centre founding member Datin Marion D’Cruz, sports commentator/director/actor Datuk Rahim Razali and artist/educator Normah Nordin.

And in this milieu of 44 awards is Kakiseni’s newest category, the Junior Cammies. The Cameronian Technical Awards and Junior Cammies was presented at Makespace by Kakiseni, Quill City Mall, Kuala Lumpur on April 15.

For the Juniors, The Fortunettes, presented by Sri KDU Secondary School (Selangor), got six nominations while Cempaka Schools (Selangor) garnered four nominations for The Wedding Singer, Musical Comedy.

Meanwhile, the largest number of theatre nominations — five each — were garnered by Instant Cafe Theatre (ICT) Company and Cake Theatrical Productions’s Raj And The End Of Tragedy and Circus’s Just Kidding.

Dance doyen Aswara (National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) won four nominations for Enter/Exit  (which was presented in its Jamu 2014) while Raymond Liew’s Cut The Clouds (at d’Motion 2014) saw three nominations in the Dance category.

Supermokh The Musical leads in the Musical Theatre category with eight nominations, while Hands Percussion’s stunning Tchaikovsky On Gamelan received six nominations in the Music category.

Also in the Music category is The Canticle Singers who swept the Best Group Performance (Vocal) for “Mai Phen Rai”, “Sweeney Todd Suite” and “Circle of Life”, all in Bravissimo.

The 12th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards ceremony will be held at Soju, Sunway Pyramid, Petaling Jaya, Selangor on April 26, 2015.

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