On the 6th of November, students of UNMC had the opportunity to witness two secondary school plays performed by the students of SMK Convent Kajang and SMK Perimbun. The productions, titled Superdad and Fairytale Department were originally written by these students as part of a larger research project – the ‘Youth Theatre: Fostering Interculturality through the Performing Arts in Malaysia – which is being carried out under the Exploratory Research Grant Scheme.
The youth theatre transformation project began in September 2013, intiated by Dr Joanne Lim who was the Deputy Head of SMLC in UNMC, but had since gone on to be an Associate Professor at Monash University Malaysia, as well as Dr Patrick O’Reilly, the Theme Leader, Social, Economic & Policy at Crops For the Future Research Centre (CFFRC). Both Dr Lim and Dr O’Reilly had discussed the possibilities of establishing a theatre school in Malaysia, and were very much interested to see how it could contribute to the education of the students. Under this program, SMK Perimbun, collaborating with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, had staged a play (titled Palette) here in UNMC last year as well.
Dr Derek Irwin, head of the School of English, supervised and directed Superdad, with the help of research assistant Michelle Beth Chong, while SMK Perimbun had the guidance of Anne James, an educator and actress perhaps best known for her role in KIL, a Malaysian film released in 2013. They were asked to join the project due to their experience in theatre; essentially, they trained the students in the elements of basic theatre and storytelling skills, as well as helping to refine the scripts of both plays.
The program had several objectives: the development of soft skills and interculturalism. Ms James believe that the holistic nature of theatre can teach participants interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork, and leadership, as they are able to develop these aspects through the workshops conducted, while promoting and examining the cross-cultural realities of growing up in Malaysia. Dr Irwin explains that because the adolescent age is the most malleable, the formulation of identities in the social world begins in this vulnerable phase. With theatre, he hopes students are able to explore the idea of being members of a wider community through values such as open-mindedness, cooperation, and respect.
The first play, Superdad, brilliantly performed by students of SMK Convent Kajang, tells the story of a young girl named May, who has a mute for a father. It explores the theme of bullying and sibling rivalry, in which the protagonist deals with a number of conflicts as she comes to terms with having a parent who cannot speak. Amelia Tan, who was the leader of the production, said that the students came up with the idea for the play together after viewing an advertisement. It is their first show outside the school compound, but Amelia and her friend, Ereen Emiera, remarked that it was indefinitely fun for the students were able to display their talents, speak better English, and gain more confidence.
On the other hand, Fairytale Department, played by the students of SMK Primbun, tells the story of a schoolboy torn between his inner angel, and inner devil in making bets with his classmate. The play portrays an explicit image of a teenage boy’s inner conscience in reflecting the morality of his actions. Kendrick Pedro Roch, the stage manager, revealed that the scriptwriters developed the plot based on their perspectives and daily experiences in school life. He noted that the entire process had made the students more attentive and improved their teamwork. This event had provided the students an opportunity to interact with new people, and he expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of future similar events.
By Yee Heng Yeh