Standing Ovation1 Aug 2011
You take a look at the calendar on your refrigerator. What’s that long stretch of boxes highlighted in green? You don’t recall gliding the tip of your highlighter across so many days; weeks even as you turn over to the next month. Suddenly the red marker etchings in the first box catches the corner of your eye... “S-U-M-M-E-R H-O-L-I-D-A-Y-S”. Alarm bells shriek— Code Red, Code Red! No…!
But of course that mise-en-scène doesn’t have to play out if you’ve come prepared. The alternative ending (or rather beginning): You look at some scrawling under “Summer Holidays”—wait, there are more words. Your blurry vision starts to focus after that one split second you were about to lose consciousness. “Summer Activity: Drama camp”. Your saving grace!
Headed by Dato’ Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham, the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre and The Actors Studio, tucked away at the west end of Sentul and the rooftop of Lot 10 Shopping Centre respectively, are architecturally cutting-edge, talent factories.
They are the nucleus where artist and audience rendezvous to make beautiful art. The centres extend wide open arms to the growth of traditional and contemporary performing arts, education and community outreach, providing the facility and training for the development of budding starryeyed performers.
Mark Beau de Silva is a guiding hand to the many unpolished gems at The Actors Studio to discover and nurture their capacity for the arts. The Co-associate Artistic Director coaches children aged three and above in the drama category. He has been in the business since 2004, starting out as an English teacher in a private school.
During the school holidays, Mark becomes a busy bee as the studio throngs with le petit stage princes and princesses. “Now that we’ve started the COMBINED Arts programme our classes are full every weekend even during school weeks,” he says.
The Preschool Drama Programme that runs on the weekends for three to six-year-olds, recommends that the children attend an introductory course, familiarising them with the arts through their body, voice and movement. Those aged seven and above then advance to the integrated COMBINED Arts, where they all learn singing, acting and dancing skills.
Experience is a handy tool in understanding the psyche of a three-year-old, he believes. “I have entered a class of toddlers before and I was feeling quite helpless when the kids started crying. Thankfully our teachers, Payal Vashist and Marina Tan, saved the day and now they have full classes to handle. They managed it very well by listening to the needs of the kids,” Mark reflects.
Does he find teaching the children rather daunting? “I personally love teaching children more as they are like putty”. They come like a clean canvas and Mark knows he has the responsibility to mould them the best he can.
His colleague and fellow Co-associate Artistic Director, Christopher Ling considers parental support to be crucial. With 11 years of teaching performing arts under his belt, Christopher remembers how the fire for performance was ignited in him—“My personal interest in theatre was inspired by stories from my father about his days as an actor in a sixth form production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ many decades ago”.
Remember the episode on ‘The Nanny’ when Gracie’s school put on a Mother Goose production and her daddy, Maxwell Sheffield, the Broadway producer, cracked his tyrannical (metaphorical) whip on the kids. His hard hand upset Gracie so much that she just refused to go on right before show time.
His methods are a big no-no! “This is the typical beginnings of what is called the stage-parent syndrome—something to be avoided at all costs. However, if the child shares the same enthusiasm for the performing arts as his or her stage-struck parents, the world is your oyster,” says Christopher. And as an extra-curricular activity it can help boost the kids’ grades to boot. “It teaches kids things that a textbook cannot. The key is good time management”.
Katrina Lau and Batsheba are both instructors at Blubricks. Little knowing that she’d fall into the discipline of drama and speech, Katrina had always envisioned becoming a teacher. On the flip side, Bats can’t say for sure this has been her lifelong passion but will tell you that teaching anyone, whether children or adults is a huge responsibility.
Teaching the mini men and little misses is no arm-swinging, park walk—probably more like ploughing through a treacherous army obstacle course! “For someone who can be very impatient and kelam-kabut (Malay for ‘muddled’), teaching even the naughtiest kids delight me. And they are all funny lil’ caricatures themselves,” Bats laughs. Katrina’s tolerance towards the tiny terrors becomes more concrete as the years pass. “I can tell you that no teacher will say that managing ten kids in an empty space is easy. But the outcome is so rewarding that it leaves a smile on my face after every class,” she beams.
Unanimously they agree that the teacher has it harder than the kids. “Constant repetition is absolutely needed when you teach them, especially when you only see them once a week!”, stresses Bats. Sometimes because the best way for a kid to learn is through fun, she’s careful not to simply let them play ‘games’ without knowing the intention behind it. Very often the little dumplings can get so caught up with frivolity that it seems just another playground class to them. “And I’m still finding ways to strike a balance in this,” says Bats.
Shanthini Venugopal is human extraordinaire. Attached with The Jumping JellyBeans and Fusion Academy, she has contributed to the theatre industry for over 20 years. Special needs students being her forte, she trains the children at the Malaysian Association of Guardians for the Intellectually Challenged, Special Needs Learning Centre, Kiwanis Down Syndrome Centre and Creative Stars. That must not be an easy endeavour, but Shanthini has some tricks to help children remember their lines. “One tool we use with both special and typical children is we usually give them actions to go with their words so it reinforces when they have to memorise their lines. Eventually they do remember their lines as we have many rehearsals before performance day,” she explains.
However, it is never an option to reproach students when they forget their lines or moves. Shanthini thinks this is a bad idea altogether. Already it’s difficult enough for them to muster the courage to even be on stage. “We always use loads of compliments and give them encouragement. We let them know that the reason they are doing this is for themselves,” says Shanthini. Reminding them that acting is also about teamwork, she sees to it that the co-actors step in to help those who forget what to do on stage.
She has had many rewarding moments but the one that stands out was when her students from Creative Stars performed at the KL Convention Centre to a full house of about 2,000 people for two days running. “They did a performance entitled ‘Dead Cat’. The performance was derived from hours of physical improvisation and The Jumping JellyBeans set it to music. Besides acting with movement and words, they also sang a song,” she professes with a prick of pride.
Shanthini has seen many of her students through the basics and some have gone on to study performing arts in tertiary education, while still others have chosen to study stage management. More than one of those endearing, funny occasions strikes her when teaching a class with kids because of their innocence. “When we tell them that they have to help their fellow actors on stage, they actually speak out the other person’s lines,” she expresses with amusement.
The advantages of enlisting your brood for the diverse performing arts programmes out there are endless. A ball of energy pent up at home versus a ball of energy spent on a healthy, creative pursuit? The answer seems to be quite clear. It is the perfect activity to get your dusty camera clicking again and a proud, meaty scrapbook going. Now you know how to keep your prodigies occupied if you’re raising the next Broadway star!
PERFORMING ARTS CENTRES
Agape Music & Ballet Studio
Jalan Puteri 2/4, Bandar Puteri, Puchong
Tel: 012–6422 066 (Hooi Ping)
Anne Musikschule Performing Arts Centre
No 23, Block D2, Jalan PJU 1A/20B, Dataran Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya
Tel: 012–6604 788
Bentley Music Academy
Wisma Bentley Music 3, Jalan PJU 7/2, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03–7727 3333
Blubricks Learning Studio
2A-3, PJU 5/17, Dataran Sunway, Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya
Tel: 012–3709 220 (Katrina)
ELSA Dance Asia and Performing Arts
B-2-22, Jalan PJU 1/43 Aman Suria, Damansara, Petaling Jaya
Tel: 012–2663 859
Fusion Academy of Performing Arts Malaysia
16 Jalan Kiara 3, Off Jalan Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 012–2360 194
Helen o’ Grady Children’s Dance Academy
36A Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03–7726 9558
Karen Barnes School of Dance
Tel: 03–7954 7558
Jalan Strachan, Sentul
Tel: 03–4047 9060
Maple Music & Art-Craft Academy
21A Jalan Dato Haji Harun, Taman Taynton View, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03–9132 1322
The Actors Studio
Level 8, Lot 10 Shopping Centre, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03–4047 9010
The Jumping JellyBeans
Tel: 012–2360 194 (Shanthini)