On the 26th of May at Kotak @ Five Arts Centre (FAC) TTDI, both newcomers and long-time theatre practitioners and enthusiasts attended the book launch for Excavations, Interrogations, Krishen Jit & Contemporary Malaysia Theatre, a work published by FAC and Epigram Books in collaboration with Yayasan Sime Darby and the Goethe-Institut.
Edited by renowned names in the theatre industry like Dr Charlene Rajendran, Dr Ken Takiguchi and Carmen Nge, the book is a meticulous analysis by fourteen writers of different disciplines, discussing Krishen Jit’s ideas and approaches to contemporary Malaysian theatre.
Many of us would recognise this man’s name and legacy as one of the founding fathers of Malaysian theatre, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. It could be considered a product of many previous academic and performative discussions of Krishen’s works.
Malaysia and Singapore have upheld the task of exploring Krishen’s performance practice and shedding a light on his theatrical performances for old and new artists alike. The book itself is a compilation of essays and critical reflections from the FAC’s Unfinished Business Conference in 2015 that was convened by Dr Charlene along with Dr Ken themselves.
In this light, it utilises the conference’s framework by giving the conversations brought up by these 14 very different writers a context to engage with Krishen’s theatre practices.
As Krishen was one of the original founders of FAC, this practice pushes both academics and the average layman with a burning ambition in theatre to be more critical and interrogative, much like the way Krishen approaches his own pieces and critical theory. It is also where the book derives its title from – the publication seeks to excavate and interrogate Krishen’s practice by putting it side by side with the politics of theatre, culture and identity, all themes prevalent in Krishen’s work. These 14 essays are boiled down to 4 main sections:
- Encountering Krishen Jit and the Unfinished Business of Conferencing
- Listening to Keynotes and Responding to Histories
- Engaging Artistic Process and Performance in Conversation
- Participating in the Ideas and the Work of Meaning-Making
Many of us are aspiring directors, actors of theatre practitioners in our own right but lack the resources or knowledge to know where to go or what to do once we have the stage to ourselves. This is the role played Unfinished Business conferences with its careful unpacking of Krishen’s practice by experienced practitioners across Southeast Asia.
The book launch showed a video of the conference and the careful analysis by other actors and playwrights of Krishen’s works.
For example, actor and playwright Jo Kukathas would talk of the power-relations between performer and director during rehearsal processes or playwrights would describe the various methods and manipulations the director used to gain powerful performances, through his search for raw, emotional truth in his actors.
Readers of this book are meant to reflect on not only the ideas Krishen has brought to the performance world but also each author’s unique textual interventions, which are meant to be critiques or additional layers of those ideas.
There are interviews and essays, but there are also scripts, keynote addresses and personal encounters that create dimensions to the art of theatre.
To flesh out this multiplicity, the book publishers relied on William Harald-Wong and Associates to conceptualise the layout and graphic designer Zarina Othman to create something spunky and innovative.
Its colours, maze-like style and artistic renderings invites readers to read along, across and between the lines as well as playing attention to the author’s interventions on the page that creates a playful and meaningful experience with the book.
Without the rigidity of a cold, black-and-white layout, all practitioners, scholars, researchers and students are able to interact easily with the text and find something that resonates with their own stories.
Dr Charlene has previously discussed that her interest in Krishen Jit’s legacy lies in this ability to “make theatre with such diversity and depth.” It is a theatre-making that relies on collaborations with a range of artists and it is only just that a critical analysis of his works receives the same treatment.
If the theatre industry is to create stories that explore deeper, philosophical roots of our identities and culture or experiment with the way the stories have been told, it wouldn’t hurt for aspiring artists to take a look at Excavations, Interrogations, Krishen Jit & Contemporary Malaysia Theatre, and see what all the hype is about.