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A director’s choices – Interview with Ghafir Akbar

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What attracts a director to a certain play? What goes into the decision to stage it? How does the director decide on the actors that will bring this vision to life? Ghafir Akbar, director of the upcoming The Language Archive gives his answers.

How long have you been directing?

I directed my first play in 2001. Although I trained as an actor, I managed to dabble in directing throughout the years.

What have you done besides acting and directing?

I think many theatre artists will find themselves doing more than just what they set out to do. Theatre is a collaborative and inclusive community. You always end up doing a little bit of everything as well. Aside from acting and directing, I’ve been a writer, adapter, producer, stage manager, choreographer, teacher, arts manager, front-of-house, and on and on…

What do you like about the theatre?

I don’t think I can ever do this question justice. Theatre and the performing arts have become so much part of my life since I was 18. To be without it is unimaginable to me. Even to say I merely like theatre would be an understatement. Theatre allows us to be in communion with each other in a darkened room, to be moved, to be inspired, and to look at the world in a new way.

How do you choose your plays?

Many things influence the way I choose a play. More often than not, I am responding to the world I live in. I often ask: what should be performed here for our audience? Would the play resonante with our audiences today? How can this play change the audience?

"Would the play resonate with audiences today?"

“Would the play resonate with audiences today?” Photo credit: Wan Izhar @ ODS STUDIO

Then there are personal reasons on choosing the play: is it challenging? Does the play have creative merit? Am I inspired by it? Does the playwright possess a strong and unique voice?

Ultimately, there is a producing consideration: do I have access to the talent it would take to stage this play, do I have the support and infrastructure for the requirements of the play, what kind of budget do I have to stage it.

It’s a long and complicated process to choose a play and often times it takes months or perhaps years before I make the choice.

How do you choose your cast and crew for a particular production?

"[A]ctors whose professional and creative skill will enhance our mutual experience"

“[A]ctors whose professional and creative skill will enhance our mutual experience”. Photo credit: Wan Izhar @ ODS STUDIO

The process varies from production to production. Commonly in Malaysia, the director and producer will collaborate on the team assembled for the production. I personally have a group of actors and designers that I collaborate with frequently and have built a creative working relationship over the years. But I also enjoy discovering new acting talent or work with other actors I have always admired. The key is to bring together a combination of actors whose professional and creative skill will enhance our mutual experience of the play. Same goes for the production and design team. I always enjoy working with a production team that come from a very eclectic work and creative experience. This keeps them relevant and there’s always a sense of excitement in creative meetings to learn about how their experience can contribute towards our new endeavour.

In October you will be staging The Language Archive by Julia Cho. What about this play appealed to you?

I first saw [The Language Archive} during it’s New York premiere in 2010 and I find the use of language to be particularly excellent. The playwright crafted a story in a language that combines everyday conversation into beautiful poetry. The characters in this play are also complex 3-dimensional characters with wants and needs that are similar to us. This makes them relatable and very exciting to watch.

"[C]haracters with wants and needs that are similar to us"

“[C]haracters with wants and needs that are similar to us”. Photo credit: Wan Izhar @ ODS STUDIO

How did you make your casting choices for this play?

I had worked with each of the actors in various other productions. I performed with Sukania Venugopal in my first professional production and I have gone on to direct her in other productions, so she has a special place in my heart.

Zahim Albakri needs no introduction – I have been looking for the right opportunity to work more closely with him even though we have crossed paths in many other projects.

Gavin Yap comes from a very eclectic background and I have shared the stage with him along with many great conversations. I find his talent and view of the world to be very inspiring and felt he will contribute a lot to this show.

Anitha Hamid and I have never shared a stage but I have been lucky to direct her and watch her perform in KL over the years – her humility and hard work is incomparable. Her talent shines effortlessly on stage!

Finally, I have seen Farah Rani grow as an actor over the years and with her recent return from New York, she has grown leaps and bounds. I would be an idiot to not work with her talent and generosity. Long story short, I have a cast who are some of the best talents in KL and I think they represent the KL theatre scene very very well.

What about the play will appeal to audiences?

I feel that the audiences will respond to the humor and the human foibles of this play. The characters go through something we all have gone through – falling in love, breakups, and even death. We all go through our daily lives making great effort to get through it with humor, companianship, and hopefully a dream that we hope will one day come true. The Language Archive is a bitter sweet play that lives in between the genre of comedy and tragedy – just like real life.


About Ghafir Akbar


Photo credit: Wan Izhar @ ODS STUDIO

Ghafir is an actor, director, and educator whose work have been seen in Malaysia, Singapore and the United States. The Language Archive runs from 5-9 October at KuAsh Theatre.


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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.