FOR a relatively young theatre company, Anomalist Production seems to be on the right track. They’ve put out several plays during their time as a university theatre club, but since 2015 have been trying to tackle bigger venues and draw in members of the public.
Results have been promising — their self-financed plays have either broken even or made small money thanks to a decent following. Bangsa for example saw full-houses as well as celebrity guests in the audience.
Currently busy preparing for their return to the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) black box with Home from 18 – 20 March, managing director Khairi Anwar is keen on bridging gaps in local theatre with their latest original stage play.
Connecting Malaysian theatre via theatre
Having worked with Theatrethreesixty several times, Khairi’s experiences with director Christopher Ling helped him understand the inner workings of professional theatre productions, but also shed light on the divides witin local theatre.
“Banyak kali kami dengar Christopher cakap yang Malay and English theatre scenes tak banyak bergabung,” Khairi claims. “As members of the performing arts industry, it’s our duty to try and make that change.”
After repeatedly enlisting from Anomalist’s own pool of talent, Khairi went public in search of a cast with wider ethnic representation.
The company earlier in the year held auditions for their new play. Interest and turnout for the sessions at Teh Tarik Place, Shah Alam were strong, much more so than Bangsa, and Home now has a bill of fresh as well as familiar names.
“It’s Anomalist’s first attempt at dual-language theatre, and it’s also our first time bekerja dengan orang industri seperti Hana Nadira, Clarence Kuna and Nave VJ,” states Khairi.
“We also decided to go with two fresh, lead actors: Tunku “Oxygen” Norhabibah and Iskandar Al-Haziq. Based on casting sessions they fit their characters really well, so we’ve been spending extra time with them to make sure they’re ready for the stage.”
Is the grass really greener on the other side?
Written and directed by Khairi with long-time collaborator and friend Nell Hanan, Home details a bright student’s inner conflict in trying to determine his own future. Everyone around him has an opinion of how he should continue after high school, but he’s unsure.
Will he resume his education overseas, or will he attempt to persevere through the chaos overtaking his own country?
“Bangsa had a very straightforward point, while Home is quite subjective. If I say, stay in Malaysia and do things from within, you can also bring up the option of leaving the country and giving back from abroad,” he explains.
“I guess it doesn’t matter whether you’re in or out of the country, as long as you’re doing something for your own nation.”
Building upon Khairi’s original idea is Hanan, who wrote and edited the play during readings. Claiming that the play would have been impossible without Hanan’s contribution, Khairi was inspired by personal events concerning his own education plans.
“Before I graduated in July last year,” Khairi recalls, “my friends had plans to migrate to another country. I would ask them kenapa diorang tak nak stay, and they would give legit points to do with our economy and social environment.”
“Eventually, it was time for me to take up my Masters education in the UK, but at that point in time our currency devalued and this affected my mother’s decision to send me overseas.”
Today, Khairi is grateful for the silver lining — staying on in Malaysia, he found opportunity to work with Theatrethreesixty and Playground Productions.
Making ends meet again
The entire team will be relying on lessons learned from Bangsa — they’re already spending more time on pre-production.
Utilising the same profit-sharing model, Khairi and company have been working hard to make sure everything’s done early.
“We’ve hired the venue in advance, scored a partial venue grant from DPAC, and also locked our actors early. At present, we’re rehearsing but also seeking for additional sponsors — we’re not the best at selling our product to funders.”
After self-funding Bangsa, which cost RM6000 (all of which went to venue hire), Anomalist collected enough in ticket sales from its four-day run at DPAC to make sure its crew and talent don’t go home empty-handed.
“Kitorang pandai gila nak potong cost and make things minimal,” Khairi laughs. “Even with Bangsa, lepas dah habis semua masih ada cukup untuk bayar semua orang.”
With DPAC’s partial grant aiding financials this time round, Home is set to cost even less.
“We applied for the venue months in advance and are really thankful to DPAC for supporting us,” enthuses Khairi.
“We are aware that we cast full-time actors for our play, not just hobbyists, so we want to make sure we treat them as professionals in a healthy working environment.”
Marking another political entry in Anomalist’s small-but-growing catalogue, Home essentially displays the collective’s continuing utilisation of theatre to address societal issues.
“Don’t mistake me; this is all still a lot of fun,” insists Khairi, “but the entertainment sector is crucial in molding young minds. As such, kitorang cuba jadikan benda ini fun dan informative.”
“I personally believe dari dulu sampai sekarang young people will imitate the entertainment they like, for example, Saiful Apek in Senario.”
As much as he wants audiences to enjoy an Anomalist play, there must be some information or lesson viewers can take home at the end of the day — even if all they see on stage is a love story.
Given their rousing execution of Bangsa last September, we have no doubt Khairi and team will continue paving their way towards becoming a strong presence in Malaysian theatre.
Keep an eye out for next week, when we talk to Home‘s cast members.
Home runs from 18 – 20 March at Black Box, DPAC, with matinee performance on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are priced at RM35 (general) and RM28 (students), and can be obtained via DPAC. For further information, check out Facebook!