Welcome to KLPac

Left: 'Pick your favourite colour!' Ming Jin says to reporters at the media launch. Notice that the stage floor is also the audience's floor. In other words, no demarcation between the performers' world and the audience's.
Right: L-R: Margaret Chew, General Manager; Faridah Merican, Executive Producer; Joe Hasham, Artistic Director: Our gracious landlords of the new home for Malaysian arts.

Kakiseni.com, 3 June 2005

The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre: Pick your favourite colour and take a seat

by Kakiseni Paparazzi

This is what KLPac looks like as you approach it:
1. An angular contemporary structure with two 103-year-old brick fa?ades
2. A former train warehouse with funky glass walls
3. A studio for exhibitionists and voyeurs
4. A playground for kids of all ages under a big Malaysian sky
5. A lantern in a garden

Technical director Mac Chan said that he was inspired by Setagaya Theatre in Japan, where the space was obviously designed by theatre people for theatre people. In other words, it was not designed by bureaucrats and politicians, and hence, none of those superfluous cultural frills that besieged many of the country’s facilities. KLPac was made with end users in mind. And walking around it, I know that their definition of end users also include the audiences.

Granted, the perfectly manicured garden around the 35-acre park, with its crystal clear lake and an International Koi Fish Centre next door, is all pretty surreal. This is, as you might know, part of the gated community YTL Corporation is trying to set up in Sentul West. But KLPac, I’ve been reassured, belongs to the public.

What’s inside KLPac:
1. Pentas 1 – 508 seater proscenium theatre
2. Pentas 2 – 200 seater experimental theatre
3. IndiCine – 100 seater studio for independent films
4. Academy – with 9 rehearsal studios
5. Merchandise Shops
6. Male & Female Muslim prayer rooms
7. Café & Bar
8. On site set construction workshop
9. Green room (for performers to relax)
10. Wardrobe room
11. Laundry room
12. Technical training studio
13. Props store
14. Costume room
15. Venue technicians office
16. Dedicated loading bays
17. Administration office
19. Conference room
20. VIP room
21. Lighting, sound & grand piano stores
22. Production office
23. Security office
24. Technical workshop
25. And a partridge in a pear tree

The KLPac has no “Malaysian identity” in its design, a tabloid reporter pointed out to a few of us during the media launch. “I am glad it doesn’t,” I said.

I love the way the glass walls of KLPac bring in the natural light during the day and embraces us all in its glow, and in the evening, they let us look out and see the stars. I also like the untreated concrete, tar, wood, bricks and other simple, raw material left exposed, the two theatres designed to draw audiences into a world shared with performers, disability-friendly facilities, and rooms for everyone from artists to carpenters to administrative staffs to security guards. These are signs of a truly democratic space. We need more spaces like this in this country.

KLPac embodies Faridah Merican’s vision to bring the arts to Malaysians from all works of life. It is a vision obviously shared by her husband and The Actors Studio artistic director Joe Hasham, YTL architect Baldip Singh, The Actors Studio theatre manager Teoh Ming Jin, technical advisor Mac Chan, KLPac general manager Margaret Chew, Academy administrator Nala Nantha, and even YTL head honcho Tan Sri Francis Yeoh and First Lady Datin Seri Endon Mahmood. It is an infectious vision. Hopefully, it will permeate into all levels of government, corporations and businesses, into the streets, the slums, and the gated communities, into schools, home and other official cultural buildings around the country.

So, where’s the Malaysian identity? Certainly not where you can see it. Cultural markers on Malaysian public buildings tend to appear too monocultural, assuming that identity can be sealed in cement and hammered into walls and contained by big roofs. You cannot hold the arts back, just as you cannot keep an identity from growing. The success of KLPac will lie in its ability to set free not just a singular Malaysian Identity, but a whole multitude of voices that will represent our diverse, chaotic, pluralistic Malaysian Identities. So do not look for it on the outside, thought it is a nice building enough. The identities we seek must ultimately come from what we put on the stages inside KLPac.

Any takers?

I asked some local theatre directors: What makes KLPac special for you?

Richard Harding Gardner: “Nine years ago I decided to relocate to Malaysia on a hunch that it is an exciting place to be. When I see KLPac, it feels like my hunch is vindicated. I feel affirmation.”

Zahim Albakri: “The two performing spaces. There’s nothing like these two spaces in KL. They are not trying to compete with anyone. They are just trying to give an alternative. For our population, we don’t have enough theatre spaces in KL, not enough venues for artistic expression. The size of Pentas 1 is just right. It is not too huge. I like that arena in Greek style theatre. It comes into the audience, so that the separation between the performers and the audience is not so defined.”

Low Ngai Yuen: “The Green Room! I’ve performed a lot of times and we’ve seen nice stages. But to have your own space that is huge enough, including the make-up room, to prepare yourself in before going on stage, it’s wow. Of course, it’s green and that’s a funny colour. But they have the room!”

Anne James: “I like how a railway depot has been transformed and how the present building retains the history of the original building. Especially when that history is carried into the proscenium space. To actually be able to touch that wall gives one a sense of the past, even while the modern part of building is a corridor into the future. Secondly, it’s the cost. The building itself is quite stunning. But they have kept the cost down to a minimum. The KLPac costs no more than RM30mil. Istana Budaya costs RM250mil.”

Kiew Suet Kim: “Now my car is under repair. And I have to take taxi. And it is very new for taxi drivers, so all of them don’t know, and I have to show them where it is. And I am very proud to tell them that this is our theatre. I hope one day all the taxi drivers will know it and they can bring the tourists and audiences there. Now the taxis have to go through the gelap-gelap roads, but then they come to this building out of nowhere. It looks wah, very happening. Like a hidden secret. It’s like ahh…!”

Loh Kok Man: “Here, there is a lake, a bookshop, a café, and it’s out of the city. It’s like a real art centre. You will feel like spending more time here, talking with friends.”

Photo captions:
3. Admiring their own handiwork: Architect Baldip Singh's open concept made KLPac feels spacious while Technical Director Mac Chan made sure no details slipped through his legs.
4. What they were looking at: The rigging system for the lighting. This is actually a mobile rig. Being able to move this heavenly contraption around must make lighting designers feel even more God-like. "Cue the sun!"
5. Wooden blocks fitted sporadically on the side wall of Pentas 1 are not there simply for aesthetic purposes. The uneven surface is achieved in order to enhance acoustics.
6. The green room: Actors can relax here before shows. After the show, they can invite groupies here to impress them.

7. Pentas 2, or the experimental space seats 200. A continuous runway overlooks the space from each wall. Pity the Juliet who has to search for Romeo on that endless balcony.
8. Sounds of footsteps on the acid-orange, metallic backstage stairs permeated into Pentas 2 on opening night. The last I heard, they are planning to fit rubber onto the stairs.
9. If you use the theatre, it comes with office room (with broadband access). Producers and publicists don't have to fight for space with prima donna actors in the changing room anymore.
10. Teoh Ming Jin, on top of the world. Or rather, in the rigging room that controls the lights and pulleys. It is 10.6 meters above the stage floor, which you can see through the bars you walk on. 11.Mew Chang Tsing has the dance studio all the herself. For now.
12. Joe Hasham's office with a view of a perpetual Midsummer's Daydream.
13. The staff office has the same view but one floor lower. But The Actors Studio staff are all so beautiful they hardly have to look outside the window for inspiration anyway.
14. Books rescued from the flood.
15. The entrance foyer seen from the floor above. Inside, you can feel the natural light embracing the space and everyone in it.
16. From outside the building and in the foyer, you can look into the set construction workshop, where artistic, macho folks will saw, grind and erect to your voyeuristic pleasure.
17. The cafe and bar, for all your bingeing, bitching and gossiping needs.

Photos, captions and text by Pang

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