Theatre gets down-to-earth with Kent Tan’s I Hate My Job

THEATRE director Kent Tan thought about committing suicide once upon a time, like four years ago, and has drawn on such personal experiences to come up with his original play, I Hate My Job.

“I thought about jumping off from the building, just go for it. I was taking my work too seriously; I felt people were not appreciating what I do. Thankfully for me, I found a balance in life, and learnt to enjoy life, like hanging out with friends and family members, going out to do other things, not work-related. And doing theatre is therapeutic for me. It’s a relief from everyday work.”

From talking about his life stresses with his friends, the 35-year-old from Penang found that his peers had the same kind of woes. “From engineers to teachers, doctors.  Basically, I realised that if I have thought about these things in life, and encountered such obstacles in work, then others have too.

“Riding on the LRT or going to malls, I see the looks on the people – and I see a hopelessness, a dullness about them. They must work 12 hours every day. They ask, ‘can I help you but their faces show something else. It’s so ironical. I know what they are feeling about their lives, because I went through it too.

“So, I have put those thoughts and emotions in I Hate My Job. But it’s a serious comedy, still a comedy. “This play is about Malaysians, from all walks of life,” explains Tan who is currently an assistant theatre manager with the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.

The 75-minute show, I Hate My Job, with six performers, encompasses five main sketches, each 15 minutes long, and a featurette. I Hate My Job features a young cast aged 22 to 33, who are hazril Harith, Charles Roberts, Nabilah Hamid, Ping Khoo, Mun Hann and Kimchee Ron.

According to the production notes, it will show what it takes to conquer Kuala Lumpur, the city of opportunities. It will remind you of those days when you struggled at work or the times spent crying hysterically in the toilet cubicle because your so-called self-esteem had been hurt by your ridiculous superior.

A show that will definitely reflect your inner love-hate relationship with your job and giving voice to the unspoken stress you experience on a daily basis.

“The stories are inter-related. Auditions for actors were held through Facebook while some performers were invited to join. I named the characters, and their roles, and wrote them down on slips into two boxes.

“The performers drew out their characters, and then the roles. I gave rough outlines about the characters, and the actors then worked out how they would perform.”

I Hate My Job will be a stress-free show. You can bring your own drinks and snacks, and you must clean up after yourself. You can join in the performance on stage, if you want, and make remarks if you want.

The play, in Cantonese, Bahasa Malaysia, English and Tamil, will have bilingual surtitles.

Another interesting point is the ticket – a watch first, pay later format. “If you don’t like it, you can pay only RM1 and leave. I place angpow packets on the table at the entrance door, so no one can see what you put in.

“I did this format last year for a play with two monologues, and someone paid RM1.80. A strange number, don’t you think?

“But that’s all right. Theatre should be for everyone. It shouldn’t be treated as an elitist enjoyment. It shouldn’t be expensive,” adds Tan, who has fully funded his own play.

Tan has been in theatre since 1997, and has staged about five plays a year since finding his passion these past 16 years. He’s not just a director, but producer, actor and photographer too, with his own production company, Allcan Productions.

“That’s why Allcan! But I am stereotyped when it comes to acting,” he says with a laugh, the blue streaks in his hairstyle catching the peek-a-boo streaks of sunlight as we chat in a corner coffeeshop in Bangsar. “I am not good-looking so I have very few acting offers. Always gangster roles or the villain. But girls feel safe with me when we are going out at night.”

Has it always been theatre? “Yes,” says this hardworking son of a small coffeeshop operator. “From a baby, I would be taken to the shop as my parents had to work. In those days, there were comic books lying around the tables for the patrons. I would read them. I think that’s how I got started in thinking in visuals.  The comic books were from Hong Kong. In high school, I joined the drama club, and then I started staging my plays,” says Tan who has done television dramas and movies as well.

“I do theatre because I love it. No matter how tired you are, you will do it because you love it.”

** This article appeared in The Malaysian Reserve.

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Subhadra Devan

A journalist who has been writing about culture, arts and heritage since the 1980s. She is herself gobsmacked to have started the Sunday arts pages for English newspapers in Malaysia, in the new millennium. The passion for these genres rages on.

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