Not all theatre involves the works of bards or monotonous monologue – the kids won’t stand for it anyway! TOM Kids explores the alternative choice of shadow theatre at Masakini Theatre Company
Delving into shadow theatre with the Masakini Theatre Company
Parents may be forgiven if they think culture for children is some sort of oxymoron. In fact ask any child from the age of five what their idea of fun is and chances are you’re going to get an answer that involves the dreaded electronic device or some cartoon character called ‘Gumball’. But, we as parents really must steer young minds towards ‘culture’, or what the Oxford dictionary so eloquently defines as ‘the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively’. Plainly speaking, this means to show an interest in the arts – literature, graphic, performing, visual, decorative, architecture.
The arts scene in Kuala Lumpur is improving by leaps and bounds and although it may not be on par (yet) with other capital cities, it’s well on its way. On any given weekend, there are workshops, art exhibitions, literary readings and a variety of live performances. And, although we realise that the modern child is lacking culturally, there still seems to be a gap in what is on offer for them.
This brings us to the Masakini Theatre Company, which is led by the incredibly dynamic Sabera Shaik, considered one of the doyennes of the local theatre scene. A prolific stage actress herself, she has created several memorable productions and has a special interest in bringing powerful dramatic interpretations of displaced women in society (decidedly un-kidlike) and shadow theatre (which kids love if they knew what it was) to the stage.
The art of shadow theatre
The Masakini Theatre Company is renowned for its contemporising of the ancient art of shadow theatre. For the children, shadow theatre can be a mesmerising form of theatre and fully engages their lively little minds. And if it’s culture you’re after, shadow theatre’s venerable past fits the bill perfectly. Numerous ancient cultures, especially in India, China and Indonesia, had shadow theatre as their main form of performance art. From there, shadow theatre travelled across the sea with traders and ended up as far as Greece and the south of Italy.
The art truly flourished in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. ‘ Wayang
kulit’ has become synonymous with the east coast state of Kelantan where the puppet masters still tell the age-old Hindu epics of the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’. This is the foundation of contemporary shadow theatre, where the process is the same but the addition of human players,
Turn off the lights, focus on that white screen and everything takes on a more mysterious and fascinating air
The addition of human players, narration and music adds another dimension to the performance
narration and music adds another dimension to the performance.
What exactly is shadow theatre?
As the name implies, this form of entertainment and storytelling uses puppetry, cut-outs and, in modern variations, the human form. A bright light behind a white screen becomes the canvas upon which silhouettes of legends and folktales are re-enacted with music and narration. It’s basically a bunch of shadows moving and morphing into recognisable shapes and telling a story, which if done in a ‘normal’ way can be quite dull. But, turn off the lights, focus on that white screen and everything takes on a more mysterious and fascinating air. For children, whose imaginations already run riot, this is a great introduction to stage productions as it’s visually stimulating and keeps within the ‘ants in pants’ timeframe.
This is a type of theatre that children can easily learn about and participate in. And this is where the Masakini Theatre Company comes into its own with its childfriendly classes, programmes and performances. Participation is important when it comes to younger children as sitting still and listening intently is not their forte, and the hands-on approach is very much in evidence in these classes.
The lady behind the company – Sabera Shaik
Sabera Shaik truly believes in her art. Whether she’s performing in a onewoman-show about Lady Swettenham and her slow descent into depression, or directing a troupe of actors in her series of Malaysia-themed shadow plays; everything is done with passion and finesse. Her résumé covers everything from one-woman plays, performing abroad to critical acclaim, to collaborations with arts luminaries like Ramli Ibrahim.
But, there is another side to Sabera, which goes far beyond her theatrical skills. In 2009, she built a kindergarten for Orang Asli children in Kampung Benchaq in Kampar, Perak, as she realised the children were in dire need of a place to learn. Here, she uses story-telling and theatre/dance sessions as a medium to teach English.
A few years later in 2012, Sabera took up a request to teach Orang Asli children English in Janda Baik, Pahang. This is a project close to her heart. Unless she’s performing overseas or unwell, you’ll find her there teaching drama and music. Her methods include teaching the children to play the ukulele, writing lyrics to songs for a musical, and encouraging them to perform – proof that learning through performance and music is not only fun but very effective.
Her enthusiasm for teaching and performing for children is palpable. She runs acting classes and other educational activities during the school holidays, which are held at the Masakini Theatre Company studio – a lovely space located in Bukit Tunku. There is also a series of shadow theatre plays for children at the Theatre Lounge Café ( www.theatreloungecafe.com; check the website for upcoming dates), which focuses on the various festivals we celebrate in Malaysia using narration, music, live sounds and of course, the cut-out characters. At the core of Sabera’s interest in teaching is her awareness and pride in Malaysian history and our idiosyncrasies, her love for her craft, and her enjoyment in sharing her knowledge with children – attributes that make for a great teacher.
Back to culture for kids
It’s imperative we introduce theatre, music, art and books at a young age. They may not appreciate it now, but in an age where instant gratification rules and your kid’s idea of ‘culture’ is following some inane blogger and her pug, it would be a great idea to take them to a performance of shadow theatre, get into slam poetry, learn about a famous artist, and get cultured up!
The Masakini Theatre Company produces various shows throughout the year and has just completed a successful run of ‘Wayang – Malaysia Kita’, the fourth instalment of their shadow theatre series. Most of their shadow theatre and musical shows are suitable for children aged seven and above.