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

Time Out Malaysia Kids - - Culture -

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

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