Senpai Noticed You

17 August 2016

Joe Hasham and Faridah Merican, the artistic director and executive producer of KLPAC (Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre) respectively, talk about their experience developing young people in the arts in anticipation of the upcoming Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Fest 2016.

Ever since they founded KLPAC in 2005, Joe Hasham and Faridah Merican have worked on developing youth in the arts. Under their roof, youth-friendly programmes such as T4YP (Theatre 4 Young People) and Short+Sweet helped to nurture a steady supply of newcomers in the arts industry. This is in addition to overseeing the continuous stream of shows happening here.

They doubled down their efforts on youth development this year with Master+Murid, which is part of the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival 2016 (YSDAF2016) happening on 20 and 21 August at KLPAC. Under the programme, the handpicked students will be guided closely by a master in their discipline, which comprises of dance, comedy, jazz, butoh, and music conducting. Joe believes the master should be allowed to choose their student, instead of being assigned one.

“They’re the ones who know who’s best. For instance, if someone came to me and said, ‘Joe, I want you to be a master for an actor,’, I wouldn’t appreciate someone else telling me it’s got to be this actor. I’d want to choose my actor,” says Joe.

At the end of the mentorship, the students will have their showcase at the Gala Night of YSDAF. But Joe and Faridah hopes that their involvement with the students don’t just end there. Their doors are open, but it’s up to the students to continue training.

“They must be willing to give their time to be nurtured properly, so they can step into the shoes of people like Harith [Iskandar] and [Lee] Kok Leong (KLPAC’s resident conductor). It takes a long time, definitely,” says Faridah.

Their foundation in developing newcomers was laid out when The Actors Studio was still at Plaza Putra, Dataran Merdeka, pre-2000. They used to hold a monthly event called Happy Hours, aiming to train young comedians. One of the best known alumni to come through that was Harith Iskandar. Another alumni was a bit surprising.

“Even James Lee, the filmmaker was up there,” says Joe. James Lee was a comedian? Well, yes and no.

“He practiced going on stage, telling stories, funny stories, but his stories always pointed towards being a film director,” Faridah elaborates. “He always told stories of gangsters, killing—” 

“Everything was die, shoot, bang!” adds Joe. But Faridah considered that experience of going onstage to tell stories essential to James’ development as a director.

“Otherwise, how can you be a director if you can’t tell stories?” says Faridah.

Looking back, they consider themselves privileged to be able to see young artists develop and find their own footing.

“We are very fortunate,” says Joe, “We’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of people when they started out and see them grow.” One of them was Chris Ling, their previous director-in-residence who also helmed KLPAC’s T4YP programme.

Interestingly enough, the idea for T4YP was borne when Joe and Faridah first met Chris when he was still in secondary school, 20-odd years ago. They went to judge a theatre festival that he participated in and Joe, impressed by what the students made, wrote about them in his column which used to run in The Star.

This year’s batch of T4YP students had just completed a well received, sold out run of their showcase, Still Taming. The showcase was written and created by the students themselves, guided by director-in-residence Mark Beau de Silva, which Joe and Faridah thought was important.

“I believe young people have a voice, and this voice is important to be heard. If we give them a given text, then that voice that you are listening to is not necessarily theirs.”

One of their other development platforms is the Short+Sweet festival, which allows newcomers to hone their skills in a safe space to a welcoming audience. It is completely free to participate in; the only caveat is that you have to create completely original works to be performed.

“[Short+Sweet] gives the opportunity not just to the actors, dancers and choreographers but also writers and musicians and composers,” says Joe about the format.

Wrapping up, we ask them, “Looking back, was there anything you wish you knew when you first started?” They perk up at the question.

“Yes! I wish I knew how to get funding!” says Faridah. “I wish I was more of an accomplished businesswoman who knows how to get funding!”

“She doesn’t do too badly,” Joe quips, as we are after all, sitting inside the house they built through funding from YTL Corporation Ltd.

Joe just wishes he started doing what he did sooner.

“I wish that I had realised the potential of young people when we started The Actors Studio,” says Joe. “Even though we did concentrate a little bit on young people, it wasn’t our focus. And then we made a conscious decision to focus on young people, and that’s when everything changed for us.

“And for two old fogeys like us, it keeps us young,” adds Joe, offering the secret for them not looking close to their biological age.

After thanking us for coming, Faridah excuses herself as she’s late for her lesson. “I’m learning how to play the piano at the age of 75,” she says. She is now the murid, and a girl a third of her age is the master. The learning never stops.

YSDAF2016 is happening on 20 and 21 August 2016 at KLPAC. The festival is open to the public and free of charge. For more information, visit the festival site here.


By Ariff Kamil

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