Cul­ture

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

Time Out Malaysia Kids - - News - For more in­for­ma­tion on up­com­ing per­for­mances, chil­dren’s hol­i­day classes and be­spoke pro­grammes, con­tact masakini_the­atre@hot­mail.com ( 03 6206 4931/www. masakinithe­atre­com­pany.com.my).

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.

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