Breaking down the walls
> Two local theatre mavericks are planning a series of street performances inspired by, and for, migrant workers
ALMOST every day, when on his way to work at Aswara (Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage) in Kuala Lumpur, Fasyali Fadzly Saipul Bahri notices a group of migrant workers having their lunch under a tree.
One day, he had an idea. “I thought it would be great if we could [stage] a 20-minute performance for them,” says the 33-year-old lecturer in Awara’s Theatre Faculty, adding that these migrant workers could then enjoy some entertainment while having their lunch.
“Everyone should have access to cultural performances, including migrants,” he says.
Fasyali, who has directed numerous theatre productions such as Teater Juta-Juta, Kota Hitam, and Berani Mati, then posted his idea on his Facebook page, and it attracted the attention of Muhammad Zikri Abdul Rahman.
Zikri, 26, is the cofounder of Buku Jalanan, a non-profit initiative aimed at cultivating literacy and cultural programmes as well as intellectual discourse.
Both men decided to turn this idea into reality and drew up a proposal with the working title, Ke Hujung Tanah.
“The reason we chose this title is because Malaysia is a flat land located at the end of the Southeast Asia [part of the] continent,” Fasyali explains, “[and] all these migrant workers are coming to the ‘end’ of this [land] in search of a better life.”
Their proposal attracted the attention of the Krishen Jit Astro Fund which gave them RM6,500 to realise their project.
The duo are now busy meeting up with these migrant workers and interviewing them.
They want to hear the migrants’ stories – about their lives back home, their reasons for coming to Malaysia, and their life here in Malaysia.
Zikri hopes that this project will help humanise these workers.
“We all have a certain negative mindset about migrant workers,” he says. “We tend to associate them with crimes.
“We always hear complaints from Malaysians that they are smelly. [But] most of us do not understand the conditions they are living in.
“Sometimes, 20 migrant workers are living in one apartment … [where] they have to share three bathrooms.
“Sometimes, two of the bathrooms are not in working condition [and they end up having] to share one bathroom.
“[How can we expect them to maintain hygiene] living in such pathetic conditions?”
Zikri also highlights the difficult working conditions of those in construction.
“Almost every day, we hear stories about migrants dying in construction sites. They [are dying] while helping us build our city.”
Fasyali and Zikri also want to hear about the various folklore in the workers’ home countries.
“We want to turn their stories and folklore into a play,” Fasyali says. “We will then present the play to these migrant workers.
“We hope to [present our interpretation of] their stories to them.”
On the language they will be using to communicate with their foreign audience, Fasyali says: “I am always finding different ways to communicate. So far, I have used the Malay language to present my works.
“This project will give me the chance to explore what is theatre’s core language. Personally, I believe its core language is emotion ... This project allows us to explore actions and emotions without depending on language.”
When asked what kind of reaction he expects to receive from these workers, Fasyali says: “I do not know.
“Maybe, they will be suspicious of us. Some might even think we are undercover police out to bust them. They might even walk away from us.
“I am curious to see their reactions, too.”
The full production is expected to be ready by the middle of next year and the duo plan to stage several performances in various public venues where migrant workers frequent, such as Medan Pasar and Kota Raya.
Though their target audience are migrant workers, they also welcome all Malaysians who are keen to watch it.
“I really hope Malaysians who are coming to see this production will also take the opportunity to mingle with the migrant workers in the audience,” Fasyali says.
He adds that the project aims to break down the wall between migrant workers and Malaysians.
“I want to understand them, and I want them to understand us,” says Fasyali.
A play aimed at a special audience … Fasyali (below, right) and Zikri are working on a theatre production, Ke Hujung Tanah, about the life of migrant workers for migrant workers (left).