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Birth of a theatre

   

TimeOut KL, September 2009 

By Rosheen Fatima 

The Actors Studio is set to open a new space in the centre of KL. Rosheen Fatima gets the exclusive story on the new space, the promise it holds, the drama factor and what it means for the local theatre scene. 

On the night of February 28, as the audience members were tearing up, a small crowd gathered on stage. Made up of those who have played a part in the life of the Actors Studio @ BSC, those whose careers started on that very stage and those who helped it grow. With actors, dancers, singers, comedians, technical crew and previous staff mashed together on the stage; the emotional tension in the air was palpable. The audience became hushed as Dato' Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham stepped forward.

Clearly holding back tears, Faridah pushed the microphone towards Joe, and headed backstage. Joe thanked everyone for coming and told us to 'go home'. I didn't leave, how could I? I remembered each and every show I had watched in that space, and if I - someone standing on the sidelines, watching the event play out - was upset, those who had graced the stage in the past eight years must have been heartbroken. An era had drawn to a close, The Actors Studio @ BSC was no more.

(Yeah, I know, a bit dramatic right? But theatre is nothing if not melodramatic, and isn't that what we love about it?) 

Now two months later, another adventure looms on the horizon for Faridah and Joe. The talks are over, the plans have been drawn, the location selected and as you read this, the new Actors Studio is in the midst of being built on the rooftop of YTL's Lot 10.

Since the closure, TAS received about nine or ten serious offers from various parties. Joe and Faridah chose to go with YTL's offer, with Tan Sri Francis Yeoh as the driving force behind the plans. Having worked with him before on KLPac, the two had faith in the partnership because, according to Faridah, 'he understands what Joe and I are about. You do not make money from theatre. He already knows this and he trusts us to do what we do best. We've never said we want to do it for our own glory. We want to do it for the glory of the arts, and I think that's a message Tan Sri understands.' The team of Faridah and Joe, Mr Lau Eng Shinn - Operations Manager of Lot 10, Yuhkichi Kawai - Chief Executive Interior Designer of Design Spirits, Teoh Ming Jin, Ian Chow and Ang Yue May from KLPac, went through many meetings debating the look, feel and details of the new theatre before deciding on the final design.

The TAS @ YTL's Lot 10 space ups-the-ante on what Malaysian arts spaces can be if given the chance. The new space places the audience far closer to the action than the local arts scene is used to. 'We were limited in Bangsar, because the design was already there, whereas this one we started from scratch. This one is much more dramatic and extreme. And because we are working with Japanese designers, we are going toward a very minimalistic feel,' Faridah explains with Joe adding that, 'I came up with the idea of having an extended Hanamichi style stage. It's from Japanese Kabuki theatre, which makes it three-sided.'

A Japanese design, the Hanamichi stage in the new theatre will have a wide 'catwalk' extending from the centre of the background of the stage, giving it a 'T' shape. 'It's very dramatic, the space. So, some directors may have to be more creative in their thinking to be able to stage a play there. It's very challenging, and why not? If you are in the arts, this is what we want. We want to be challenged, because otherwise it becomes boring, right? So I'm sure people will want the challenge,' Faridah explains, 'It's intimate, their spit will fall all over,' she laughs.

Clearly excited for the new era in the life of TAS to begin, the two describe the differences that TAS @ YTL's Lot 10 will have compared to their previous spaces in Dataran Merdeka and Bangsar Shopping Centre; from the cushioned bench style seats, allowing a bigger audience in a smaller space, the decision to allow drinks into the theatre, giving the audience a more enjoyable experience, and the extremely high ceilings. 

More accessible than any of their previous spaces, Lot 10 has the Bukit Bintang monorail station directly outside the building. Certainly a boon to many performing arts enthusiasts, 'Lot 10 is very grunge and middle class, and the acting fraternity is very middle class, and a lot of them need public transport,' says Faridah. 

Affected, as we all are by the depressing state of the economy, Joe says that, 'this year and next year, the word to theatre practitioners is 'think cheap'. While we ourselves are willing to support with the venue and discounts, we ourselves have got to think cheap, because there is no money out there. We have to find ways of putting on shows, where we can have a win-win situation.' Yet the future seems bright for TAS, with the Lot 10 makeover also including a gymnasium, a pub and a restaurant, ensuring that the audience will come in droves. 

Scheduled to be opened in the third quarter of the year, TAS @ YTL's Lot 10 promises to add life to an already bustling city centre.





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