Break­ing down the walls

> Two lo­cal the­atre mav­er­icks are plan­ning a se­ries of street per­for­mances in­spired by, and for, mi­grant work­ers

The Sun (Malaysia) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY BISSME S.

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).

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