Get in on the act...
... with Gardner & Wife, a performing arts organisation known for presenting quality theatre to younger audiences. Richard Harding Gardner and Chae Lian, founders of the resident company at PJ Live Arts, sat down for a chat with Sammi Lim to discuss the c
How did you lovebirds cross paths? Chae Lian In PJ! A mutual friend had a play reading. We were roped in to help read this play. So in a way, I suppose theatre brought us together.
Could you shed a little light on your company’s catchy name and background? C Our company was set up 15 years ago, in 2000. Richard We spent a lot of time and effort coming up with something clever, but when we tried to register it, there were 12 other companies with similar names. In desperation, we registered as Gardner & Communications. C I said, ‘It sounds terrible. It’s a terrible name.’ R You said it sounded like a thirdrate PR company. C Exactly! I came up with Gardner & Wife, because it was kind of cheeky and at the same time, unusual and memorable. You want people to remember you. R An LA writer once said something to me that was absolutely true: ‘Titles are very, very short haiku.’ So companies, with a few exceptions, should also implement this. What sort of material tickles your fancy? In keeping with your company’s witty name, do you try to curate funny performances? C Yes, we try. When we started our company, we didn’t want to duplicate what already existed because you’re kind of friends with everybody [in the performing arts industry].
That’s very considerate of you. C Yes and no. We didn’t want to make enemies and we also realised that we needed to be distinct instead of competing with Company A and B and C. R We created a whole new bookshelf.
So what kind of ‘books’ can a theatregoer find on your shelf? C Primarily children’s theatre. We realised that the genre was highly neglected, but very much needed if we wanted to build up an audience for the future. If kids get to experience theatre from a very young age, it’s more likely that their interest will continue. It was 2006 or 2007 when we made the conscious decision to make children’s theatre part of our identity. R It was happily coincidental that the number of international schools in this country increased, because Hishammuddin, then the Minister of Education, opened up international schools to all Malaysians.
How did that tie into the growth of children’s theatre? C Parents have become more discerning of enrichment programmes – not just in academic terms, but also in soft skills. You find these mummy blogs where some of the more ‘kiasu’ mothers tell others, ‘If money is not an issue, there are two areas that will tell you whether or not a school is decent. One is teacher retention. Then you want to make sure that the school places a lot of emphasis on art and sports, because those are two areas where you never see the results until they leave school.’ They’re not things you can test on. R There’s an old joke that goes, ‘Education is what’s left over after you’ve forgotten everything you learned at school.’ Do you think I can still do non-decreasing functions? No! But I vividly remember being taken to various theatre shows and going, ‘Wow!’ The better the private international school, the more gung-ho they are with intangible values, which are extremely valuable. What are some ways Malaysians can aid the local performing arts? R Come to see shows! How do you know what’s on? You buy Time Out. Whenever Chae and I go anywhere, we immediately see whether there’s a Time Out or a What’s On.
Why does live theatre triumph over the silver screen? R Because it’s live, it’s unpredictable. With really great actors, you actually affect them, and they affect you. The really good stuff is interactive in a way that film cannot be. Once kids and grownups, but particularly kids, experience it, it’s unlike television or film – it’s a different beast, a different animal. C Theatre is important, because it’s teaching your kids how to behave in a semi-public setting. It’s not a cocktail party, but there is a form of etiquette that comes with going to a live performance that you can’t really teach when they go and watch a movie in the cinema. There’s also learning to differentiate between what is real and what is pretend, and discovering the enjoyment of both.
Next up on Gardner & Wife’s calendar is ‘ The Way Back Home’, which takes place from Oct 19-Nov 8 at PJ Live Arts and penangpac. More information about the company and its productions can be found on www.gardnerandwifetheatre.com.
Theatre is important, because it’s teaching your kids how to behave in a semi-public setting
Chae Lian and Richard with Duke