Theatresauce and the Emerging Directors Lab in 2021
Review by Lily Jamaludin

EDL 2021 Directors

Where does a young Malaysian theatremaker go to learn the craft of directing? A few years ago, there weren’t many options. Klang Valley provides plenty of acting and performance classes, but there aren’t nearly enough opportunities for directors to critically examine, hone, and develop their craft. That’s where Kelvin Wong realised he could fill a critical gap: in 2017 the Emerging Director’s Lab (EDL) was born, a programme under Theatresauce, the theatre company he also founded.

“I came up with a long-term programme that would reflect what I had learned in the United States,” says Wong, who graduated in 2015 with an Masters in Fine Arts (Directing) from The Theatre School at DePaul University, Chicago. “It’s three years of readings, hard work, experimentation, and productions crammed into one very intensive year. It’s what I think a 21st century theatremaker would need: a foundation so that they can explore further.”

EDL is structured in three terms, each of which consists of 12 sessions and six books each. The first term equips directors with the foundations and basics of directing for realism. The second term expands directors’ knowledge of styles and theory. Then, in the third term, directors are given the chance to “break all the rules,” as Wong says.

One of the most important components of EDL is praxis. There are three showcases for each term, where directors work with actors and develop a small show.

“The real learning of it comes in the doing,” says Wong. “We can talk about context, we can talk about the issues and problems, we can talk about that forever – but what we’re concerned with is bridging our discussions with the performances.”

 EDL 2021 on Zoom

Making Theatre for Now

This year will be EDL’s third venture, with five directors accepted into the programme: Dhinesha Karthigesu, Dinesh Kumar, Low Yee Choy, Mia Sabrina Mahadir, and Dexter Zhen.

“In the third iteration, there is much more awareness in terms of this idea that we are making theatre in Selangor, in Kuala Lumpur, in 2021, which comes with its own contextual and dramaturgical awareness,” points out Wong.

“Why should we put this up today? Why should this piece go up? What are we saying? What do we want to say as directors, and how do we fit into the timeline and landscape of the evolution of Malaysian theatre?” he asks.

“I am not interested in presenting museum pieces,” Wong asserts. “I am interested in making theatre for today and making theatre for the future.”

EDL 2021 Session I
EDL 2021 Session II

The Emerging Director’s Lab in 2021

Though still early in the programme, EDL has already started to make Mia Sabrina and Dhinesha ask more questions about their theatre practice.

“For me, I came in directing plays about love and heartbreak. Initially I didn’t want to talk about women, but then I thought – I do want to talk about this,” says Mia Sabrina, pointing out an already emerging shift in her directing interests.

“With the tools that I learned, I realised I want to be more specific. I want to talk about liberal Muslim Malaysia, about being a woman in that.”

Mia Sabrina, most known as an actress, has numerous credits to her name. She starred in Taiping Adagio, a film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and Samudera, which won the Malaysian International Film Festival Shortfilm Competition. In 2019 she directed Stay and Wayang, a 10-minute play for the Short+Sweet Festival, which also bagged her the Festival Director’s Award.

For her first showcase, she’ll be directing a play by local writer, actress and comedian Shamaine Othman.

“It’s about bitchy women,” she laughs. “I want to explore more about my childhood, the balance of being kampung and urban.”

For Dhinesha, the opportunity to ask and explore questions in a trusted group setting has been invaluable.

“I ask a lot of questions in my work, and it’s been very affirming to have my questions held and appreciated,” he says.

“I came into EDL with clear politics, and I think it has strengthened. I was watching an interview with Jordan Peele, and he was asked, Why do you only tell black stories? Why not [the stories of] other ethnicities? And his answer was that there are other people doing it. There are other people telling those stories. But I want to tell brown, Malaysian Indian stories, queer stories. I am watching who is coming to auditions and I see the ages, the ethnicities. The [demographic] is not necessarily representative of all the actors. I’m thinking, how do I platform people who [share my identities]?” notes Dhinesha.

Dhinesha was Malaysia’s 2018 National Poetry Slam Champion. Both a writer and director, his written works have been featured on platforms like HowlRound Theatre Commons, Vice India and Vice Asia. In 2018, he directed Brown Boy Dreams for Short+Sweet Festival, and also bagged the Festival Director’s Award. In 2019, he was part of the directorial team for The Human Exhibit: Sex&Gender, produced by I’M Entertainment."

For his first showcase, Dhinesha will be directing a play by a Singaporean Indian playwright, Rajkumar Thiagaras.

“I’m excited about telling a story told during the pandemic over Zoom between a man in Thailand and an Indian man in Singapore,” Dhinesha says, speaking on the relevance of the play in these times.

Depending on the movement control situation, the first EDL showcase will go up in June.
Creating Theatremakers Who are Accountable

For Wong, the Emerging Director’s Lab is not only about encouraging directors who explore, pray, and are critical about their craft – it’s also about creating directors who are accountable for their choices and take responsibility for the work.

Wong points out all of the choices a director has to make: the selection of a script, lighting, and audience, for example.

“At the end of the day, who is to say there is a good, or correct way of doing theatre?” asks Wong. “What’s important is that you have to take responsibility for your work and your choices.”

Making strong choices intentionally and being accountable for them? Well, that’s pretty great life advice too.

Theatresauce’s Emerging Director’s Lab 2021 is a beneficiary of Cendana’s Performing Arts Presentation Funding Programme, which aims to support the development of the performing arts sector through initiatives that support creation, research, networking, facilitation of arts projects, upskilling, as well as mobility and promotion of Malaysian-made showcases.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Lily Jamaludin is a writer with the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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