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Balancing Act – A (Dr) Shark’s Tale

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Many arts practitioners in Malaysia have day jobs to support their work in the arts scene. It’s just an accepted part of being in the industry, that sometimes you have to work outside the scene in order to be able to also work in the scene; the Malaysian version of an actress waitressing to pay the bills, if you will.

Often known as carma, which stems from the words cari makan which literally means to ‘find food’; the term is used to describe work outside of passion projects or those which satisfy some kind of artistic fulfilment, due to the pervasiveness of this practice. But seldom has an arts practitioner straddled such a different world as that of Associate Professor Dr. Shamsul Rahman Mohamed Kutty; Head of University Teknologi Petronas’ Civil Engineering Department by day, and arts practitioner and Tronoh Theatre Shop Theatre Adviser by night.

Dr. Shamsul, aka stage name: Dr. Shark, began his career in the arts in 1987 as an actor, and went on to be directed by the likes of Chin San Sooi, Faridah Merican, Fauziah Nawi, Joe Hasham, Jo Kukathas, and Kee Thuan Chye, as well as mime performances under Soosan Hoh.

He then went on to found Universiti Teknologi MARA’s Play-Play-n-Play theatre group under the university’s Centre of Preparatory, and Tronoh Theatre Shop in Univeristy Teknologi Petronas. “Most of the training is conducted after class time and [we have] intensive training till late night when closer to the production date,” explains Dr. Shark, on how he balances his time between the two worlds, “Hence, my time is mostly after work.”

Having received support from the government in the form of grants from Jabatan Kebudayaan Kesenian dan Warisan (JKKN) for their productions Bangsawan Tuah Hang JebatShark Attack Asylum, and Tok JanggutTronoh Theatre Shop then went on to stage the bangsawan play Istidraj Maharaja Beruk first in Univesity Teknologi Petronas (in their Tronoh, KL, and Perak campuses).

It was followed by a collaborative staging with Jogja Theatre in Yogyakarta in February this year. They performed in the 1000-seat venue Pusat Pengembangan dan Pemberdayaan Pendidik dan Tenaga Kependidikan (PPPPTK) Seni dan Budaya in Yogyakarta (where Tronoh Theatre Shop had previously performed for their 2014 staging of Asylum). The production was supported by JKKN and The Royal Arts Gala Fund, and saw Dr. Shark creatively leading the work together with Eko Santosa, an Indonesian theatre activist and instructor at PPPPTK.

Istidraj Maharaja Beruk became their biggest production to date and featured a cast of 30. For the Indonesian staging, creative designs were sent over to Indonesia beforehand to ensure that all props were designed to their exact specifications. “The play was well received by the audience,” says Dr. Shark, “[but we] had to deal with some unexplained incidents throughout our rehearsal in the theatre.” This included having to replace one of the actors who was unfortunately struck down with an illness and editing the script so that the Indonesian audience would be able to understand it.

Tronoh Theatre Shop focuses on more traditional performing arts with their work typically based in the bangsawan tradition, as evidenced by many of their shows inspired by its troupe-based style. Tronoh Theatre Shop has staged Dr. Shark’s Jalud for  KLPAC’s Short + Sweet Theatre 2016, and have plans to stage yearly productions in KL for 2017, and three productions in University Teknologi Petronas. Hopefully continuing to be inspired by the traditions of yesteryear, bringing them forward and balancing them in the world of today.

Main Image credit to Tronoh Theatre Shop

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