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Decades of Diversity

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With over a hundred productions under their belt and a revolving ensemble of 13 members, Five Arts Centre has held court in the Malaysian theatre scene with their ever innovative stagings of stories central to the Malaysian psyche since their it was founded by Chin San Sooi, Krishen Jit and Marion D’Cruz in 1984, From theatre to dance, exhibitions to site-specific productions; Five Arts Centre recently made inroads into the literary world with the publishing of Staging History: Selected Plays from Five Arts Centre Malaysia 1984 – 2014.

Part of Five Arts Centre’s tenTenTEN programme, spanning 2014 and 2015 in celebration of their 30th anniversary and as a memorial to the 10 year anniversary of the passing of Dato’ Krishen Jit; Staging History highlights 15 productions staged by Five Arts Centre over the last three decades and is edited by art critic and Kakiseni co-founder Kathy Rowland.

The book

Having staged over 100 productions, whittling them down to only 15 for the book became quite a process. For the selection, a matrix based on four criteria was used to analyse: the significance of the play (its artistic, historic, social and cultural impact, and the number of times it was re-staged); the stature of the playwright (to select a good mix of senior, mid-career, and new playwrights, as well as ensuring some gender parity); different production styles (to highlight a mixture of genres and forms to represent the wide range of Five Arts Centre’s work), and; a good representation of plays from each of the three decades.

June Tan, Producer at Five Arts Centre, said that they hope that “readers will get a sense of local theatre history. We hope they will discover or rediscover some great, iconic works by local playwrights, and we hope it makes them want to read, watch and stage more local plays.” The final 15 productions chosen for the book include work by such theatre luminaries as Leow Puay Tin, Krishen Jit, Faridah Merican, Marion D’Cruz, Nam Ron, and Huzir Sulaiman; and are further complemented by two roundtable discussions, an essay by Singapore-based Japanese arts practitioner and advocate Ken Takiguchi, and a visual essay of 16 more Five Arts Centre productions.

The Stagings

– That Was The Year 2007

Also under last year’s tenTenTEN programme, Five Arts Centre presented a theatre conference – Unfinished Business – a Conference on Krishen Jit’s Performance Practice and Contemporary Malaysian Theatre; and staged two theatre productions – Cakap Dapur: R&D Stories (written by Leow Puay Tin, and directed and performed by Chee Sek Thim) and Cheras, THE MUSICAL! (written by June Tan and Directed by Chee Sek Thim).

In fact, Cheras, THE MUSICAL! took Five Arts’ programming in a different direction – in terms of size and scale – perhaps a glimpse of things to come, with their recent productions becoming larger, more logistically advanced, and international. “Cheras, THE MUSICAL! was a little unusual for Five Arts in terms of the staging scale that we have been involved in for last 5 years,” explains June, “We had also co-produced Liew Seng Tat’s Projek Angkat Rumah and the logistics in that was different and big for us. In 2015 – 2016, we toured Mark Teh’s Baling in seven different cities, so the audience reach and geographical scale for us was pretty big and different.”

Programming for 2016-2017 includes “an artist-led archive project that looks at theatre and arts education within a specific timeframe of Malaysian performing arts history,” says June, “We will also be staging Tiga 2, which is the follow-up from last year’s Tiga, our platform for emerging practitioners.” Created as a means to bring emerging arts practitioners together, Tiga – first staged in April 2016 in Kotak, Five Arts Centre’s TTDI studio – focuses on an emerging scriptwriter tasked to write three short plays based on 3 distinct objects. The first edition saw theatre practitioner Sharifah Aleysha work with three up-and-coming directors to stage a trio of scripts based on a bed, a chair and a knife; and will be tasked with selecting the three new objects for the next edition. Also, continuing their foray into the publishing world, 2017 will see another Five Arts publication based on last year’s theatre conference Unfinished Business, and production to be staged both in KL and Penang.

Over the years, Five Arts Centre has been supported by “several national level grants under the National Creative Industry Policy, facilitated by Kakiseni,” explains June, and that Staging History, in particular, “was also supported with a grant from the Royal Arts Gala Fund, which is under the National Department of Culture and Arts, facilitated by My Performing Arts Agency (MyPAA).” This year also saw Five Arts Centre receive tremendous support in the form of the prestigious 2016 Praemium Imperiale Grant for Young Artists this past September. Certainly a well-deserved nod of appreciation and approval for an organisation that has spent over 30 years dedicated to telling local Malaysian tales.

Have an even smaller budget to work with? Read how playwright Ridhwan Said self-publishes and sells his work as zines. 

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