The Star Malaysia

Kakiseni kicks back

Two women as­sure us that has not gone soft. And one thing’s for sure: the show must go on.

- By LEE MEI LI meili@thes­ Malaysia · Ipoh · Twitter · Facebook · Singapore

WHEN Low Ngai Yuen first heard that was clos­ing down, she waved it off as a ru­mour. But the truth fi­nally hit home when she re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend the “last” Boh Camero­nian Arts Awards. “For an es­tab­lish­ment that has been around for al­most 10 years, you take for granted that it’s go­ing to be around for­ever,” she says.

Es­tab­lished in 2001, on­line arts por­tal was the only pub­li­ca­tion in Malaysia ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to the arts. In 2002, the por­tal in­tro­duced the world to the “Cam­mies” – the an­nual Boh Camero­nian Arts Awards hon­our­ing artists’ con­tri­bu­tion to the lo­cal per­form­ing arts scene. At that time, it was the only recog­ni­tion of its kind in the coun­try. bade a fond farewell to the in­dus­try in May last year; founders Kathy Row­land and Jenny Da­neels have since re­lo­cated over­seas. But the stage lights are now turned back on – the por­tal was re-launched in Novem­ber and is now un­der the new man­age­ment of Low and work­ing ac­quain­tance Ee Lai Cheng.

The two women are cur­rently fac­ing the big­gest chal­lenge of their lives: can the new live up to ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions? “It’s still year one yet peo­ple are ex­pect­ing year 11 oper­a­tions,” says Ee, 38, who is also the mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager of Capri Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the por­tal’s oper­a­tions part­ner.

In­deed, the new got off to a shaky start when tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties emerged dur­ing the launch. “We had a party to cel­e­brate but the web­site didn’t go live. We didn’t sleep for nights try­ing to fix things,” re­calls Low, 34.

The multi-tasker has been a TV host, film pro­ducer, theatre di­rec­tor, ra­dio jockey, and is cur­rently com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for a hy­per­mart. So why was she com­pelled to take on yet an­other re­spon­si­bil­ity?

“When I did my first play ( A Flight De­layed), not many knew about it. Peo­ple only started to take me se­ri­ously af­ter Kakiseni came along. It re­ally in­flu­enced how the other theatre and act­ing pro­fes­sion­als looked at me – it was a ‘recog­ni­tion of sorts’ plat­form. It got my ca­reer mov­ing – such was the power of Kakiseni, even back then. So I wanted to do the same thing for the in­dus­try,” she ex­plains.

Low con­sid­ers her role in to be the “talker”; Ee is the “doer”. To­gether, they are the “con­tin­uers”. “We’re not re­viv­ing any­thing. Kakiseni is not dead; it never died. We’re just con­tin­u­ing with what­ever good stuff the site is made up of,” Low opines.

In ac­tual fact, Ee takes care of the op­er­a­tional side of things. “That en­tails ev­ery­thing that you don’t see,” she jokes.

As for Low, she fund-de­vel­ops. “I would like it to be just F-U-N, but it’s F-U-N-D!” she wails, point­ing out that “per­form­ing arts is not a money-mak­ing in­dus­try”. So far, has been run­ning on the con­tri­bu­tion of var­i­ous par­ties.

“We started out in the red – we were just talk­ing to any­body and every­body will­ing to lis­ten,” Low re­veals. Among one of the big­gest con­trib­u­tors is Senedi, a lo­cal soft­ware de­vel­op­ment com­pany that of­fered to de­velop the por­tal for free.

Low and Ee have re­ceived tremen­dous sup­port since com­ing on board in June last year. But till to­day, is still oper­at­ing on-the-go. That is, wher­ever Low and Ee hap­pen to meet.

Eight years ago, the two met through mu­tual friends. In 2005, Ee was the pro­ducer for Low’s theatre pro­duc­tion, The Girl From Ipoh. Yet, they both claim that they were never “din­ner bud­dies”. “We’ve never met up so­cially be­fore. Even if we did meet over meals, we’d be talk­ing about work,” Ee says.

When Ee first caught wind of’s even­tual shut­down, she knew some­thing had to be done. So when Low ini­ti­ated a takeover, Ee quickly jumped on board. In her opin­ion, no­body in the lo­cal arts scene was bet­ter suited for the job than Low.

“Over the years, we’ve had a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship. I guess you get a cer­tain kind of syn­ergy with cer­tain peo­ple,” Ee adds.

Sim­i­larly, Low says that Ee has “made things hap­pen” for her in the past. “When you need to take on a big pro­ject, you just have to find some­body you can trust. We’ve worked un­der a lot of pres­sure and stress be­fore; we were able to have our mo­ments and not ‘kill’ each other. I think that’s re­ally im­por­tant – to find some­body who just un­der­stands what you’re say­ing.”

Pro­ject of love

When was first es­tab­lished, the por­tal pro­vided a wealth of in­for­ma­tion to all those who loved the arts – au­di­ences, stu­dents, the press and prac­ti­tion­ers. The new is still es­sen­tially a list­ing and tick­et­ing plat­form, though it has in­cluded more in­ter­ac­tive fea­tures to “go with the times”.

“Cov­er­ing ed­i­to­rial con­tent is not some­thing that we can do any­more. In­stead, we al­low users to post their own con­tent on­line. Whether you’re on Twit­ter or Face­book, as long as you have our tag, we’re able to ag­gre­gate what­ever you say and put it on our site,” Low re­veals. As op­posed to hav­ing a voice, is now a “slave” for the in­dus­try.

Soon, the au­di­ence can “like” a pro­posal for a play or dance per­for­mance, make a group-buy­ing for dis­counted tick­ets and en­joy a more cen­tralised tick­et­ing sys­tem, in­spired by Sin­ga­pore’s ef­fi­cient Sis­tic tick­et­ing site.

All th­ese are done in the name of au­di­ence de­vel­op­ment – some­thing that feels strongly about. Peo­ple have for­got­ten that theatre is also a recre­ational op­tion, Low says. “The au­di­ence is so dis­tracted th­ese days – we just have to work that much harder to get peo­ple to come to the shows.”

Outreach school pro­grammes, tax ex­emp­tion for ticket buy­ing and a year-end chil­dren’s fes­ti­val are all in the works for But first, Low and Ee are fo­cus­ing their all on Women:100, a cam­paign which kicks off to­day in con­junc­tion with the 100th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion of In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day.

En­dorsed by the Malaysian Min­istry of Women, Fam­ily and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment, Women:100 brings to­gether 100 hours of per­form­ing arts in recog­ni­tion of women’s achieve­ments and con­tri­bu­tions to the world. Over 100 lo­cal per­son­al­i­ties and celebri­ties have joined hands to make this month-long cel­e­bra­tion an event to be re­mem­bered.

Low has al­ways been a strong ad­vo­cate for women’s is­sues since her early days host­ing the women-cen­tric TV pro­gramme, 3R. Nat­u­rally, it would only make sense for to launch a women-themed cam­paign as its first pro­ject.

“Ac­tu­ally, we didn’t plan this. We were look­ing at the cal­en­dar and de­cided that March was the soon­est be­fore we could launch our first pro­ject – and that’s when we came upon In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day. When we Googled it, we dis­cov­ered that the theme for the year is ‘100 hours of arts’. It was pure co­in­ci­dence!” Low claims.

Hon­our­ing ta­lent

The new chap­ter of is now into its fourth month of oper­a­tions, but the site is still plagued by bugs in the sys­tem. Low’s ex­pla­na­tion for this? “As with all web­sites, it’s an or­ganic process.”

Ad­mit­tedly, she once har­boured the dream of wak­ing up to a “per­fect” Kakiseni. com. But she has since adopted a glass half­full ap­proach in fac­ing the chal­lenges.

“Some­body once said to me: A pro­ject of love means you’d want to tweak that some­thing ev­ery minute. That you will have a sud­den pas­sion and rush to fix it – if you stop want­ing to fix some­thing, then there’s no more feel­ings in­volved. I should be happy that I want to fix Kakiseni all the time,” she says.

The duo has come a long way. Yet it seemed like only yes­ter­day when Low “stalked” arts ad­min­is­tra­tor Row­land at the Cam­mies last April. She ar­rived for the awards two hours ahead of every­body, wor­ried that she would miss an op­por­tu­nity to talk to Row­land, who was then the man­ag­ing ed­i­tor.

Barely a few hours be­fore Row­land left the coun­try, Low caught up with her and pre­sented her case. “I was stuck when she asked me about my plans for Kakiseni — I had no idea what we wanted to do. I only knew that we could not lose Kakiseni,” Low re­calls.

Nev­er­the­less, Low and Ee got the call a cou­ple of months down the road – Row­land and Da­neels had faith that would be safe in their hands. Low re­mem­bers how they re­acted over the news. “Our first thoughts were: Uh oh, we’re in trou­ble! What are we go­ing to do? We had zero ideas.”

The two spent the next few months in search of an­swers, talk­ing to ev­ery­one in the arts scene to pin­point what ex­actly Kakiseni. com could do to help them.

In Low’s opin­ion, the you see to­day is a col­lec­tive ef­fort – af­ter all, the por­tal be­longs to every­body. “Per­form­ing arts is not just about en­ter­tain­ment. It’s also about so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity,” she ob­serves.

Now the ques­tion is: will the Cam­mies be mak­ing a come­back too? Low enig­mat­i­cally an­swers: “We’ll tell you later, but judg­ing has al­ready started.” Es­sen­tially, Kakiseni. com is work­ing to­wards a form of recog­ni­tion that gives artists much more cred­i­bil­ity when they do de­cide to show­case their work be­yond Malaysia.

To main­tain im­par­tial­ity to­wards the judg­ing process, Low and Ee have pledged to “sac­ri­fice” their work in the name of recog­nis­ing oth­ers’. “We will not put on our own shows. Even if we do, it will not be sub­mit­ted for an award,” Low in­sists.

So, what’s in it for the two of them? Low says: “Well, what we get in re­turn is so much more in terms of ex­pe­ri­ence. And not to men­tion, the cause is so much big­ger than our own per­sonal agen­das.”

She be­lieves that the both of them have sim­ply sur­vived be­cause of a typ­i­cal women’s trait: naivety. “Be­cause we’re so naive, we’re very pos­i­tive. So when­ever we get hit by a sand­storm or snow­storm or tsunami, we’re still stand­ing there think­ing: Hey, the sun is still shin­ing!”

 ??  ?? Weath­er­ing the storm: Low Ngai Yuen and Ee Lai Cheng are busi­ness part­ners who find a way to al­ways look on the bright side of life, no mat­ter what the weather fore­cast has to say.
Weath­er­ing the storm: Low Ngai Yuen and Ee Lai Cheng are busi­ness part­ners who find a way to al­ways look on the bright side of life, no mat­ter what the weather fore­cast has to say.

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