Ac­tor di­rec­tor Joanna Bessey talks to Nawaf Rah­man about her ef­forts to cre­ate the ideal cre­ative plat­form for a new gen­er­a­tion of Malaysian tal­ent

Time Out Malaysia Kids - - Contents -

For­mer TV star Joanna Bessey and her jour­ney to be­com­ing a stage di­rec­tor


and mem­o­rable Malaysian sit­coms in the late ’90s was ‘Ko­pi­tiam’, which ran for seven sea­sons. In fact an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of lo­cal view­ers dili­gently tuned in to watch the shenani­gans of a group of unique Malaysian char­ac­ters speak­ing Man­glish and play­ing out their lives in that favourite lo­cal hang­out – the ko­pi­tiam. Joanna Bessey played Marie Tan, a slightly up­tight lawyer who takes over her fa­ther’s ko­pi­tiam. This role – com­bined with her Bri­tish ac­cent and comedic flair – made her a house­hold name.

Joanna spent her for­ma­tive years in the UK and took act­ing lessons at the Bev­erly Hills Play­house in Los An­ge­les be­fore re­turn­ing to Malaysia to pur­sue her ca­reer. In her younger years, she was ac­tive in the per­form­ing arts and TV in­dus­try, cover­ing all as­pects from act­ing and writ­ing to pro­duc­ing and di­rect­ing.

Cur­rently, she’s the prin­ci­pal and course di­rec­tor for Enfiniti Acad­emy – a hub for nur­tur­ing and teach­ing young per­form­ing arts tal­ents – where her pas­sion for per­form­ing arts is ev­i­dent through the classes she teaches. She also still directs, and her most re­cent di­rec­to­rial foray was ‘Aladdin: Reloaded’, a mu­si­cal the­atre com­edy that earned rave re­views dur­ing its run at the end of last year.

Tell us about En niti Acad­emy.

The Enfiniti Acad­emy of Mu­si­cal The­atre & Per­form­ing Arts was founded with the aim of be­ing an in­cu­ba­tor for de­vel­op­ing and nur­tur­ing young tal­ent with the high­est stan­dards in all as­pects of mu­si­cal the­atre and en­ter­tain­ment art. We gather a team of tal­ented artists and in­struc­tors in an ex­cit­ing and pro­fes­sional setup to pur­sue the vi­sion of build­ing the acad­emy to in­spire young per­form­ers and strive to hone their tal­ents as ac­tors, singers and dancers. As a part of the cour­ses, the stu­dents have an op­por­tu­nity to per­form in front of an au­di­ence to show­case all their ef­fort and hard work. We do weekly classes, hol­i­day week­end work­shops, as well as scriptwrit­ing and voice act­ing for an­i­ma­tion.

Are there any age lim­its to tak­ing the classes?

No age limit ac­tu­ally and it’s never too late (even for the adults). For chil­dren we have

var­i­ous classes, start­ing with the Lit­tle Ac­tors aged three all the way to teens and adults. Our motto is ‘in­spir­ing creativ­ity in every­one’, so we try to make it as ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble; this is also re­flected in the class fees.

That be­ing said, why should par­ents en­cour­age their kids to take up per­form­ing arts classes? How bene cial are they to a child’s men­tal and emo­tional de­vel­op­ment?

For me, drama is the key to soft skills. Find­ing a safe space to have true hu­man en­gage­ment; find­ing one’s voice; build­ing real so­cial skills, con­fi­dence and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­niques in a fun, cre­ative and artis­tic set­ting – all th­ese are truly im­por­tant to the holis­tic ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment of a child. As a byprod­uct, we also ob­serve a great deal of lead­er­ship type qual­i­ties de­vel­op­ing.

‘Aladdin: Reloaded’ was a mas­sive hit last year. What prompted you to start di­rect­ing?

I got to a stage in my act­ing ca­reer in which I wanted to have more artis­tic and cre­ative con­trol; I was also get­ting tired of be­ing hired and just play­ing a role. The idea of in­spir­ing and evok­ing great per­for­mances out of fel­low ac­tors re­ally ex­cited me, and I love the tech­ni­cal as­pects like light­ing, sets, work­ing to dead­lines and bud­gets. It’s a won­der­ful chal­lenge to have bud­get lim­i­ta­tions and to see how cre­ative we can get with lim­ited re­sources.

How do you deal with the tran­si­tions from ac­tor to di­rec­tor, and now an ed­u­ca­tor?

My fas­ci­na­tion with peo­ple and what it means to be hu­man is why I be­came an ac­tor in the first place

Well, ed­u­ca­tion in the per­form­ing arts was some­thing I’ve al­ways done, even while I was on TV. But yes, the tran­si­tion from ac­tor to di­rec­tor was pretty tough. I re­alised how dif­fi­cult some ac­tors can be, re­quir­ing one to ba­si­cally be their life coach and an­noy­ing things like that. Th­ese are nat­u­ral things that hap­pen to most ac­tors when faced with pub­lic scru­tiny and the pres­sure of an au­di­ence – all of our in­se­cu­ri­ties be­come am­pli­fied. I think it’s made me into a bet­ter ac­tor, un­der­stand­ing the process from the other side of the foot­lights.

Do you have any un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ences that you’d like to share?

Too many sto­ries to share! But I have learned how to deal with a lot of sit­u­a­tions. Di­rect­ing has taught me a new level of pa­tience and com­pas­sion but I’m still learn­ing; I don’t think we ever stop learn­ing, since hu­man be­ings are as var­ied and unique as the stars. My fas­ci­na­tion with peo­ple and what it means to be hu­man is why I be­came an ac­tor in the first place.

I’m sure the kids and their per­son­al­i­ties are very in­ter­est­ing. What are your thoughts about the kids’ the­atre scene in Malaysia to­day?

It con­tin­ues to grow sub­stan­tially and there are many won­der­ful pro­duc­tions out there for chil­dren, com­pared to back then. I hope pro­duc­tions with chil­dren per­form­ing in them con­tinue to grow and im­prove in qual­ity; it’s quite an ex­cit­ing time.

And nally, can we ex­pect to see you back on the screen soon?

I would love to act in the­atre again ac­tu­ally. I was re­cently of­fered a role in a fea­ture film, so we shall see if my full-time job and moth­er­hood per­mits. In the mean­time, my younger and skin­nier self can be seen on var­i­ous on­line chan­nels like iflix, Viu and pos­si­bly Net­flix… or so some peo­ple I’ve met re­cently told me!

Fe­bru­ary - April 2017 An En niti class in ac­tion

En niti kids on stage

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