KLPac a dream come true

OUR PRIDE AND JOY: Faridah, Hasham and Chew in front of KLPac.

New Straits Times, 25 May 2005

looks at KLPac in Sentul and sees a performing arts centre for everyone. The Actors Studio’s Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham tell him it’s also a realisation of their dream.

IT was easy to let my imagination run wild standing outside the spanking new building of Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) in Sentul recently. First, the new complex is a beautiful marriage between a 100-year-old building structure (an abandoned Keretapi Tanah Melayu warehouse) and state-of-the-art architecture. With its “mixed” background, it celebrates the beauty of multiculturalism with a sense of pride.

It’s surrounded by breathtaking greenery that is part of a 35-acre park and golf course and there is a lake just next to the brick-and-glass building. It is a gift of nature to the complex because that’s where the outdoor theatre and cafe will be later. The possibilities of what we can expect to take place here are endless.

I imagine music and theatre festivals. I visualise live music and live performances, people milling around and children with colourful balloons and cotton candy stalls. I see Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream being performed under the stars, with the garden turned into an enchanted forest complete with fairies and funny creatures.

On the lake, I see colourful floats. In one of them is actor Edwin Sumun who dons such an elaborate outfit that it makes the clothes worn by Bohu, his costume-changing character in Five Letters from An Eastern Empire look like Yoda’s garb.

So I told Faridah Merican, who is KLPac’s executive producer, about it. “That’s exactly why KLPac is here — to realise your dreams and vision. It is a performing arts centre for everybody. Come to us if you have ideas; all you need to secure is your own financial support.”

Together with her husband, Joe Hasham, the centre’s artistic director, they look forward to a new beginning for their theatre company, The Actors Studio, one of the establishments now housed under KLPac’s roof. It will also see the rebirth of its performing arts academy there, now renamed The Academy @ KLPac.

IMPRESSIVE: (left) The lobby area with a spectacular blend of old and new; (right) The well-designed Pentas 1.
Flashback: In 2003, The Actors Studio complex at Plaza Putra in Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur — comprising rehearsal studios, theatre halls and a book store among others — were destroyed in a flash flood.

“KLPac is a convergence of three organisations — The Actors Studio, charity organisation Yayasan Budi Penyayang and YTL Corporation — all of which are known for their proven track record and tireless contributions to the local arts scene,” said KLPac’s general manager Marge Chew in a Press conference held later.

Hasham couldn’t contain his emotions. “I keep pinching myself. I feel that this is all a dream that I don’t want to wake up from. The good thing is, it’s a dream come true,” he said in the beautiful new 508-seat theatre inside the complex, known as Pentas 1.

“Ten days after the disaster two years ago, we were invited to view the project site by a friend who shared our despair,” he recalled. The moment we saw it — a 103-year-old warehouse that was once the golf course’s clubhouse — we burst into tears.”

The couple wrote to YTL group managing director Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and presented their plan for a premier performing arts venue in the city when they met him later. “His vision was exactly the same as ours. All he said was ‘Go for it’. We were speechless. It was an emotional meeting.”

That was two years ago. “What you see now is a result of a lot of planning, discussions and meetings with various parties involved,” he said, thanking Yeoh and KLPac’s patron, First Lady Datin Seri Endon Mahmood for their support.

The complex opens today with Siddharta — Musical on Stage (until May 2) and a one-day dance theatre performance Shuku from the Japan Foundation at its two theatre venues — Pentas 1 and Pentas 2 respectively. Its gala opening is set for September.

How soon can it be turned into a festival venue?

“We have always been interested to hold festivals, just like our neighbouring countries. Now that we have the facility and the infrastructure, the idea is definitely feasible. But first, we have to settle in and find ourselves here. Let’s take it step by step. Give us time,” Hasham said.

The multi-coloured seats in the hall are eye-catching. Look up and you’ll see pieces of old zinc sheets — from the warehouse — which have been restored and placed as a strap on the wall. Although the air-conditioning was still undergoing calibration (it was freezing), the atmosphere was very friendly.

According to Chew, work on the surrounding road will be the focus next, to facilitate public access. “KLPac is part of YTL’s inner city revitalisation project, also comprising Sentul West and Sentul East housing projects which will be linked to form a wonderful commercial hub. So we have to be patient.”

Built at the cost of RM30 million, KLPac is run by more than 40 staff members. We were told that Pentas 1 is modelled after theatres in Japan and features a “vomitory”, a pathway for actors to enter the stage — right through the audience’s multi-tiered seats.

While Pentas 1 (proscenium theatre) has four dressing rooms — there are no rooms for prima donnas as everybody has to share — Pentas 2 (experimental theatre, modelled after the The Actors Studio Box in Dataran Merdeka, but with a much bigger space) has three.

Theatre manager Teoh Ming Jin, who led the tour of the complex, said Pentas 2 is built specifically to hold performances by “young and smaller” theatre companies. “KLPac is all about nurturing new talents.”

He added: “Both Pentas 1 and Pentas 2 are have been designed as highly-adaptable performance spaces. Facilities such as flexible and movable rigging systems are in place so that companies may use all theatre areas as performance spaces.”

HASHAM: A dream come true.
Also available for use by theatre practitioners are the complex’s production offices with Internet broadband facilities, laundry room, a performing arts resource centre, the Green Room (“a chill-out space for visiting theatre companies”) and a conference room.

An interesting feature is IndiCine, a specially-designed lounge built to hold film screenings by young local film-makers.

“The studio can be also be used as a seminar room. As such, there is no fixed seating system. To obtain a relaxed and leisurely environment, we agreed to have sofas and throw cushions instead,” Teoh said, adding that IndiCine is equipped with state-of-the-art audio and video projection system.

There will also be a Technical Training Studio which provides training in lighting, sound, set and costume design.

This facility is also equipped with sound and editing video studios which are available for a fee to the public.

Upcoming events at KLPac are the French Arts Festival and dance performance Mew and Her Muses (both in June). In July, there will be a dance event MDF 2005, musical Jalan Impian, drama performance Night, Mother!, drama Road to Mecca and an introspective tribute, Remembering Krishen.

In August, events lined up are Piano Festival (music), Animal Farm (drama), Romi & Juli (musical comedy) and En-Body-Men (dance). Scheduled for the following month are Babel’s Macbeth (drama), September Tale — Life and Songs of Teresa Teng (music), And They Used to Star in the Movies/Hidden in This Picture (drama), Kwangtung (dance), Macbeth in the Shadows (experimental) and Shakespeare Films (films, until end of the year).

For October, among the performances are Pygmalion (musical), Separation 40 (drama), Encore! (musical) and Sumunda (drama). November is the month for Gamelan Fusion (music), Ipoh Mali (music), EU Chamber Orchestra (music) and Independent Film festival/Workshop (festival).

Shakespeare drama Julius Caesar will kick off in December. Other programmes are YTL 50th Anniversary (festival) and Cinderella (drama). I bet one of these events will be held by the lake under the stars, which will make my dream come true.

Programmes to enrol in

THOSE who are interested to enrol in programmes at The Academy @KLPac can call its administrator Nala Nantha (03-4047-9060) for details.

Among the programmes available this year are Children’s Theatre Programme (June 18 for two semesters), Teen Theatre Programme (June 18 for two semesters), Yoga For Beginners (July 2 for two semesters), Gamelan For Beginners (July 9-Sept 24), Acting For Beginners (July 3-Sept 11), Script-writing (July 5-Oct 11).

For general enquiries, please call 03-4047-9010. Ticket information is available when you call 03-4047-9000/30.

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