Monday, January 24, 2005

(T) January 26, 2004 - Talking Tech

IT WAS a week-long affair, the Japan-Malaysia Technical Design Workshop, organised by the Protem Committee of Malaysian Alliance of Technical Theatre (MATT) as well as the Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur, and supported by The Actors Studio, MyDance Alliance and Studio Chombrang. Forty-five participants attended the workshop.

MATT’s inaugural technical and design workshop presented five courses – lighting, sound, costume, stage management and video. The series was the first of its kind in Malaysia and provided technicians, designers and management staff within the performing arts fraternity the opportunity to work and learn from Japan’s top technical and design professionals.

To top it off, a dance collaboration between one of Japan’s top Butoh dancers, Ko Murobushi, and Malaysia’s very own Mew Chang Tsing, Caecar Chong and Kiea Kuan Nam helped facilitate the learning process as they became the live subjects with which the participants worked.

The week concluded last Sunday with a Butoh performance at The Actor’s Studio Bangsar, showcasing what the participants had learnt.

Like most great ideas, MATT came about after several teh tarik sessions where the fellowship of theatrical technicians bemoaned the lack of recognition in their chosen profession. That was two years ago.

Realising the idea were the original team members comprising six senior technical professionals in Malaysia – Mac Chan (lighting designer and theatre consultant), Lee Jia Ping (production, stage manager and technician), Bayu Utomo Radjikin (set designer, director and visual artist), Alvin Tan (sound designer and IT consultant), Teoh Ming Jin (theatre and production manager and theatre consultant) and Godzilla Tan (freelance stage manager).

They have just taken on two committee members – Ken Takiguchi (arts administrator and winner of the 2002 Cameronian Arts Awards’ Artseefartsee Cross-Cultural Champion of the Arts Award) and Kennedy John Michael (production and stage manager).

“In Malaysia, technical theatre is still an ‘after five’ job. Very few of us are in this full-time. In order to encourage more people to pick this profession, we have to work very hard to promote it as a recognised professional practice in theatre and create more job opportunities in this area,” said Chan.

MATT, a non-profit organisation, aims to enable, facilitate and support the improvement of technical expertise in Malaysian performing arts through training, networking and exchange of information; and to establish and manage a database of technical expertise, equipment and suppliers.

In line with the first objective, the organisation aims to explore ways in which the industry could learn the best practice of theatre technicians and designers from around the world in the following disciplines – company stage management, production management, stage management, technical stage management, theatre electrics, set design, light design, sound design, video/multimedia design, costume design, hair and make-up, health and safety.

Some of the activities in store are master classes or workshops where a leading proponent in any of the above fields are invited to Malaysia to conduct a course or a workshop that would ideally have both theoretical and practical elements; training where a theatre practitioner is chosen to train at an international venue or company; joint productions involving international cast and local technicians and or designers, guided by an international technical director or designer; seminars or talks from visiting international companies on production values and technical tips; and building a video library collection of international theatre productions that can be viewed by MATT members to keep up with new ideas.

“There is also the lack of education opportunity in Malaysia. Most performing arts courses offer Technical Theatre as one of the subjects but there is yet a school that offers this as a major. As such, we hope to engage as many institutions as possible to provide students with additional training. We are also building a resource centre to help local practitioners obtain up-to-date information and techniques,” said Teoh.

To kickstart this training, MATT, together with Japan Foundation, brought in five of Japan’s top technical and design professionals: Masaaki Aikawa (lighting design) Shinobu Ishii (stage management) Toshiyuki Ochiai (sound and music), Akihiko Kaneko (video art), and Shingo Tokihiro (costume).

In response to some of the questions asked during the question and answer session with the audience that followed the performance, Lee Jia Ping said that MATT is planning more collaborative events and in the process of talking to art councils and embassies. The organisation also hopes to conduct a stage management, lighting and sound course for beginners in the near future.

As we all know from history, oral and practical traditions die with the person who owns it. As such, I find Faridah Merican’s question on documentation an important one. Although the entire workshop was videotaped, written documentation plays the primary role for due academic and professional recognition. At it is in its infancy, this is something that the organisation should look into.

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