The Star Malaysia
Kakiseni kicks back
Two women assure us that Kakiseni.com has not gone soft. And one thing’s for sure: the show must go on.
WHEN Low Ngai Yuen first heard that Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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.
Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com to be the “talker”; Ee is the “doer”. Together, they are the Kakiseni.com “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, Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com portal for free.
Low and Ee have received tremendous support since coming on board in June last year. But till today, Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com’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 Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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, Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com. 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 Kakiseni.com 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.
The new chapter of Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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 Kakiseni.com 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!”