New Straits Times
The Krishen Jit legacy
Five Arts Centre’s Mark Teh tells Subhadra Devan about the late theatre activist’s work, following the launch of the book, Excavations, Interrogations, Krishen Jit & Contemporary Malaysian Theatre
“YOU’RE only as good as the people you work with ,” said the lat eD atuk Krishen Jit on receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural Boh Cameronian Arts Awards in 2003.
For Five Arts Centre’s Mark Teh: “This was a reminder that performance-making is a collaborative effort, and takes the effort of many”.
Academician, historian, theatre activist, and writer, Krishen Jit (Amar Singh) — who died in 2005 at the age of 65 — set up Five Arts Centre with wife, Marion D’Cruz, back in 1984.
He made his mark in many fields, including director and arts critic with his long-running New Straits Times arts review column, Talking Drama with Utih, from 1972 to 1994.
CHRONICLING LOCAL THEATRE
Excavations, Interrogations, Krishen Jit & Contemporary Malaysian Theatre, which offers insight to his work, as well as an understanding of aspects of Malaysian theatre and performance.
The book, which arose from a three-day international theatre and performing arts conference in 2015, was launched last Saturday at the Five Arts Centre in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.
Teh, 37, who joined Five Arts Centre in 2000 and was awarded the inaugural Most Promising Artiste Award at the 2002 Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, is now an educator and performance theatre director.
“An element from Krishen’s work that continues to resonate with me was his sharp awareness and sensitivity to the changing social, cultural and political landscapes of his society.
“This could be seen in how his investigations, projects and aesthetics changed over his career as a director — making some very clear and self-conscious moves over the decades — such as only working in Malay-language theatre for 10 years in the post-1969 period, casting actors against their given ethnic and gender identities, using multilinguality in performances, experimenting with devised and visual performance, and more,” said Teh.
He added: “I always felt that Krishen was running a marathon — you could get the shape of his directorial career by looking across different performances from different periods, and make the links where he changed directions, what persisted in the works, and how it frictioned with what was going on in Malaysia and the region. This can be attributed to his training as a historian and a parallel career as a cultural critic for the NST for 22 years — he was an intellectual. While he loved the theatre, his curiosity for theory, popular culture, and what could constitute performance was inspiring.”
For Teh, Krishen Jit’s work, writing and perspectives remains interesting because, among other reasons, his writings provided a particularly rich and thoughtful theatre history of Malaysia.
“His strategies and experiments with casting actors against given ethnicities and gender, and creating performances in multiple languages from the 1970s onwards was provocative in working through of the identity politics endemic in Malaysia. He articulated this as an attempt to excavate ‘the multiculturalism in one body’,” he said.
THEATRE OF IDEAS
Teh added that Krishen Jit had once said in a Press interview, along the lines of, “You’ll never have the right elements to make your masterpiece — the perfect cast, the ideal theatre, the correct budget, or enough technology. You just have to work with who and what is in the room”.
So for Teh, that was an important reminder to just get on with it. “He also mentioned at some point that no truly original ideas come from the theatre — but that theatre was a really good place and container to stage, witness and argue over ideas from other fields. From sociology, anthropology, politics, everyday life,”
Ken Takiguchi, who co-edited the book, said Krishen Jit’s collaborative way of working with artistes still resonates with him.
“There were mutual respects and deep understanding of each other. I learnt a lot from the way he worked, which is widely discussed in the book.”
“Contemporary theatre is becoming more and more borderless, and we often find Krishen tried that decades ago. His tireless exploration of the possibility of interdisciplinary and intercultural had an enormous impact in the development of contemporary theatre not only in Malaysia but also in the region.”
“The curiosity toward the new and unknown is what we should learn from Krishen, and what we need to maintain,” said the Tokyo University of the Arts graduate school lecturer and manager of Tokyo’s Setagaya Public Theatre.
He added: “Krishen was a brave director who kept trying to go beyond borders, in terms of genre, language and culture.”
You’ll never have the right elements to make your masterpiece... You just have to work with who and what is in the room. Krishen Jit