Perspectives brings together different voices on a topic. In this post Open Brunei talks with Low Kok Wai, Lecturer in Drama & Theatre Studies, Faculty of Arts at Social Science, Universiti Brunei Darussalam; Abdul Zainidi whose films “Bread Dream” and “Teluki” were screened at the Cannes Festival; and Aa’qiil Ahmad a performer who divides his time between 1stopbrunei, Seeds and Relentless Entertainment.
Video Interview: Low Kok Wai
When I first came, I was told when you stage a performance you invite people and back them to come. But I said, “Why not try and sell tickets at $2?” and then my boss said, “You can’t get people to come for 50 cents!” but I said let’s try and then we sold 280 tickets. Now two and a half years on, there isn’t a show that isn’t ticketed.
Low Kok Wai, Lecturer in Drama & Theatre Studies at Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei Darussalam describes his experience of working with Bruneian students, the need for a dedicated performing space and the importance of theatre in marking the identity of a people.
Interview: Abdul Zainidi
In an email correspondence with Open Brunei Abdul Zainidi explains BruRealism, the Youtube series “Brunei In Paris” and the performing arts industry in Brunei.
BruRealism is a concept that I created which combines Bruneian elements with surrealist art, it mixes the strange with the ordinary.
For example an element of Bruneian culture such as the “buluh” (bamboo) could be interpreted as a wooden straw cannonball or as a flower pot inversed. A Bruneian cake, the “penyaram” (deep-fried pastry) can be seen as a flying saucer.
I like to play with objects and see them in a strange light. It’s these odd interpretations that gives BruRealism projects a quirky original edge.
In my short films, as well as, my plays such as “The Boor” and “The Langsat”, the motif of BruRealism has always been prevalent. Very often in both my short films and theatre production there has always been a motif of food, I play around with this in “Bread Dream” and most recently “Teluki”.
Brunei In Paris (BIP)
In my underground – and I emphasize this – artistically absurd work web series “Brunei In Paris” starring the Bruneian clown nomad BIP, who was partly inspired from Marcel Marceau’s character also named Bip the Clown. I was partly inspired to concoct a similar personage and make it Bruneian.
Coming from a theatrical background and studying mime I developed BIP into a more absurd Bruneian character wandering Paris “lost” and “hilang”.
BIP maintains his Bruneian identity by using Bruneian Malay whilst singing “Balik Kampung”, this is in reference to returning to Brunei. Along the way – what makes this absurd – are his encounters with Malay speaking French folks which in turn renders the situations in Brunei In Paris even more absurd.
Brunei Is Paris is not a linear based series. Each episode is different, much like the animated MTV series Aeon Flux. I grew up loving the cult show by Peter Chung and was intrigued by the main character.
Each episode in Aeon Flux showed a different life. Aeon would die in one episode and be alive in the next. BIP’s universe it follows no linear chronological pattern. He can be murdered in one episode such as “Halloween Special” and come back as a zombie in “Zombie Walk Special” and even have a coffee with Macbeth in “BIP MacBeth”.
BIP is a constant component in my absurd universe of Bruneian, French and philosophical basket of fruits. I am not sure which direction BIP can take, it can go from one extreme to another. Journeying through words and situations which is what I feel I am tasked to do as a writer.
The objective of BIP is for others around the world to hear the Bruneian language with French and English, and maybe to see the strangeness and beauty in it. Patriotically I use Bruneian Malay as a paintbrush to colour my stage and short films. Brunei is not my backbone but more the “lungs” to my work.
Cinema is more centrifugal, theatre is more powerful
Actors in Brunei
The difference I think with Bruneian actors in comparison to those abroad is that they do not have discipline on stage. This is perfectly normal since we did not grow up with a theatrical culture like the Greeks or the English.
As I told my students when directing them under for “The Boor” and “The Langsat” earlier in January, I had to train them the basic methods of acting and different kinds of theatre. The way an actors walks, reacts to another actor, listens, dictation; all this on stage must be ‘amplified’.
With “The Boor” and “The Langsat” I had to discipline my actors to utilize the fourth wall which is the barrier that indicates to the audience that this is theatre. The actors address this wall to speak to the audience and not keep it “intimate” like in the cinema. I often indicate to my actors to speak to the audience or “The fourth wall”.
I believe what I produce is art and not for commercial gain. Absurd art is not necessarily a medium which touches a lot of people but I have been touched at how my universe and situations have been able to be transcribed into Malay, English and French. It is a joy that I am able to share my love of languages and art.
Performing Arts Industry in Brunei
Inspiring a new generation
I intend to work with more Bruneian youths this summer since BruRealism will be holding a drama workshop that will end in a showcase. An audition will be held at the BruRealism theatre school, after which candidates will be trained and taught the craft of acting.
BruRealism offers clown training, respiratory exercises also the American and French craft of acting. I am proud to bring the knowledge I have acquired abroad and share and nurture in in our Bruneian youth and I hope that this trend will continue. I can make a difference in this ever-changing artistic world we live in.
Interview: A’aqil Ahmad
In an interview with Open Brunei, A’aqil Ahmad, 22 recalls his personal experiences of the performing arts in Brunei and the role it plays in his life.
My first actual theatre play was in the multipurpose hall where I became Magic Man. The name of the play was “Children of the Future”, I came in to put everyone to sleep by putting magical dust on them and then asked each student what they wanted to be when I grow up. I became the whole laughing stock of the school for a whole month or two. Everyone knew me from that, I must’ve been 14-15 at the time. That is when I started to like it. I also tried a lot of things like choir and dancing but I liked acting the most because it is about emotion and exaggeration.
I studied Quantity Surveying at Swansea Metropolitan, and having drama as an extracurricular wasn’t in the big picture, so I wasn’t as involved with it as I was before. I didn’t have time to watch theatre shows, since during my time at university I had practicals. I filled the only time I had with games and doing regular student things. It is not like I couldn’t put the two things together, but it was just, to pair those two in the situation was hard.
I never had foreign friends before, most of the people I hung before were just Bruneians. When I went to the UK where I had Jamaican, Nigerian, Irish, Welsh, Chinese friends.
Just different kinds of people, it was awkward at first since I didn’t know how to speak to them. What is the right word to say, what is the correct gesture and how to interact with them. You might do a gesture and find out it is the wrong thing to do, you just don’t know. Once I gotten used to it, coming back it was a breeze, I could talk to anyone really.
I have been with Seeds (formerly known as Students Extracurricular and Education Dramatic Society) from the first batch. I was Bill Sykes in the production of Oliver! The Musical which was my first role as a villain. Being involved with Seeds gives you a lot of experience and some perspective for students, it is a good foundation.
I started out helping with Seeds rather than being in it, but by the end we said why not act? We were helping out at first, organising and preparing things, but we were doing what coaches do, but then it turned out we became Seedlings (member of Seeds).
It started from fun activities to something far more serious, since we wanted to really try our best and show that we can really do it as amateur actors. We have to be serious since people think acting is playful. It is only playful during rehearsals, but when you are close to the last week or before the actual performance, nobody wants to hear another person forget their lines or make joke in between lines. Nobody wants that, everyone wants you to be on spot because that is what we should actually do on the real day.
I thought when I was out of the country I could come back as a Seedling, but seeing as I have a career already it would be very uncomfortable for me I guess, and I thought I would benefit more as a coach rather than as a Seedling.
With Relentless Entertainment, Mardi Hedus (founder of Relentless Entertainment) got into contact with Mohammad Syafiq Haji Abu Bakar (founder of Seeds Brunei) since they needed actors, so I was suggested for it. We were needed for a private event and they wanted us to act in scenes from movies, so that is how I started, I was an actor at first.
Even though I joined four years ago, I am not good at dancing but that doesn’t mean I should stop. Other than the first performance I was part of was acting, I have also done some public performances for weddings and carnivals. I have actually done that, we did a Michael Jackson song and different kinds of popping and locking songs. It was very groovy and very tight.
Rehearsal wise, it depends on the event but for the most part we rehearse different kinds of dances. Every three nights out of a week it is always different kind of dance. The ones which work the best we rehearse, or maybe repeat them for next week. Then repeat them again the next next week, so that when there is an event we already have a base for the dance. We can just brush up the dance to show them.
You don’t really get taught to do it, it is just you go in there and you do what he (Mardi) does with the steps. “Ok guys this is one-to-two-three-four” and we follow it and it gets faster according to the beat of the song.
Relentless Entertainment is pretty friendly to start off with. When we are not rehearsing, we are just sitting there and just looking at these talented kids who are younger than us by several years and we were just amazed. During rehearsals one of the them came to me and asked, “How are you guys?” and socially they were friendly so it was easy to talk to them.
Because everyone is young with Relentless Entertainment, below the age of the age of 30. So we have our fun, everyone is used to each other and there is no big man. There is no adult, they tell you what to do, you do this or this. It is where everyone knows what they roles are and everyone is comfortable is with each other.
Performances for 1STOPBRUNEI
The first performance for 1STOPBRUNEI was Ralph but expectations were too high. When you start something out of the blue, maybe you expected hundred or two hundred people to come, but won’t really get it just like that unless you have really good marketing and publicity. When we started the performance there was around 70 out of 200 seats filled but then after the intermission it became as low as 40 people.
It went pretty badly, but we did our best nevertheless. We didn’t have a proper MC (master of ceremonies) or this and that, we were unorganised because we were only thinking about us, we were only thinking about doing the performance, we didn’t think it through with everything else. It became like that, we were hoping for something big, so we were crushed and disappointed but it didn’t stop us.
After that we did everything ourselves, we didn’t rely on anyone else. We did our own marketing, we did our own publicity and for the “Comedy Night Part I” at the Ministry of Education building in Gadong. We got approximately 150 and it was really impressive. It looked like a full house. We were aiming for 200 so that was a pretty good number.
“Comedy Night Part II” I think was pretty good because we changed our prices. For “Comedy Night Part I” it was five dollars for students and 10 dollars for adults but most of them were students who came in, but this time it was three dollars per entry. We priced it this way to attract students.
What are your thoughts?
- What experiences do you have of the performing arts in Brunei? Watched a play? Caught a musical?
- Are you a performer? What performances have you done? Have you ever thought about turning it into a career?
- How should the performing arts be encouraged in school?
Share your experiences below!