Stagecraft's Tapestry of Malaysian Stories

Every now and then, I get emails from readers and in October, Elizabeth A. Louis wrote to tell me about Stagecraft, her company which is in the speaking skills business.

Pak Belalang [Vishal Nair] lazing about
while his wife looks on
Elizabeth, the director and principal trainer of Stagecraft, briefly explained their range of activities and one of the things they have been doing since 2014 is to get students between the ages of 7 and 17, to get interested in theatre.

Her students are trained in public speaking skills through a series of lessons.  She believes there’s no better way to show off their abilities than to present it in a live stage performance, usually at the end of each academic year.

Elizabeth would encourage all the students to participate in various roles and let them perform live to an audience for an experience that will inevitably help them gain more confidence in public speaking.

In past years, they have successfully staged popular children’s stories like The Gruffalo, Piglet – a parody of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, False Awakening – an original written by the students, a modern version of Cinderella and many more.

Nathan Wesley Goh Tsu Kien, the narrator for Si Tanggang
This year, Stagecraft decided to focus on something different.  They picked a few well-loved Malaysian folk tales or Cerita-cerita Rakyat Malaysia, as A Tapestry of Malaysian Stories that will be presented in black-box theatre.

Elizabeth’s message certainly piqued my interest and what followed was an exchange of emails where she gave me more information about A Tapestry of Malaysian Stories, their annual drama cornucopia that was happening this November.

While Stagecraft used their own premises for previous presentations, this year they decided to use a hall with a stage to present three ticketed shows over a weekend.  A preview held a day ahead, was mainly for parents and guardians.

When they were seeking a suitable venue, Elizabeth was delighted to discover the black box stage at Yayasan Warisan Johor in Jalan Mariamah, with a backdrop decorated with a kampong scene that was simply ideal for their show’s theme.

Si Tanggang [Dinesh Murugian] (Standing 2nd from Right)
showing disrespect to his parents
That afternoon’s pouring monsoon rain did not deter me from joining proud parents and family members in the audience to enjoy A Tapestry of Malaysian Stories, Malaysian folk tales that were adapted for children.

The programme of seven short dramas was presented with a 15-minute intermission after the fourth drama before they continued with the performance of the fifth drama.

In her brief introduction, Elizabeth explained that this showcase of Malaysian stories aimed to bring together multi-ethnic children as they take on various roles.

In black box theatre, every actor was dressed in black and will have limited use of props, costumes and accessories so that the audience may stretch their imagination as they watch the performances.

Shaun Wong Zhi Ren [2nd from Left] as Buyong
and his wife, journey on to the place that was
named in his honour, Teluk Sengat
From the first drama on the wily Pak Belalang and his powers of prediction, I could hear the students’ voices and enunciation clearly through their individual microphones and was impressed by how well they could emote the various expressions!

I’m a stickler for proper pronunciation and while the dialogue was bi-lingual in English and Malay, I was pleased to hear how the students were making good use of their lessons and speaking quite clearly throughout their performance.

In spite of his small stature, Vishal Nair who played the title role, gave a charming performance as the crafty husband and father.

I’m used to watching professionals perform on stage and as I enjoy the youngsters coming on and off stage in their well-rehearsed roles, I must commend them for their effort and commitment to not only learn their lines but also to understand their roles.

Si Tanggang, the next drama, was about a young boy who vows to get out of poverty.  He leaves the village to seek his fortune in the city and he not only worked hard to become wealthy but he also married the employer’s daughter.

The narrator, Nathan Wesley Goh Tsu Kien, did an excellent job with his lively narration that linked the various scenes in this drama.

And in that scene when Si Tanggang “disowned” his father (Shawn Lim Qi Sian) and his mother (Jin Yu Tong), I felt a sad twist in my gut as the moral of the story became obvious.

I guess it must have been difficult for Dinesh Murugian, who played the title role, to portray himself as an ungrateful son and act with disrespect to his parents!

Elizabeth, who was born in Kota Tinggi, said Teluk Sengat holds special memories and she picked the next drama to share a humorous take on how Teluk Sengat got its name.

The doctor examinig the king of the forest, believed
to be the tiger, in The Sick Tiger
As the story unfolded, I followed the journey that Buyong and his wife took to this place which was eventually named in honour of Buyong who died of a mysterious ailment that was too critical to be cured, even after consulting various medicine men.

I happen to know Shaun Wong Zhi Ren, who played the role of Buyong, and must admit that I recognized him more from his mannerisms than from his voice.

This was because the Shaun I know was quite shy and I was pleasantly surprised to see how his speaking skills have been developed and displayed in his portrayal of Buyong!

Mulling over this, I thought that Shaun was a classic example of how Stagecraft is helping students to develop themselves through a series of lessons and putting their acquired skills into action through a theatre production.

Later when I spoke to his mother, she told me that Shaun had kept his role a secret from the family.  And when she saw how well he performed on stage, she was impressed too! 

We cannot help but agree that speech and drama is certainly a powerful tool for personal development.

The cast of Puteri Gunung Ledang, taking a bow
The performance of Stagecraft’s showcase of Malaysian Stories continued with folk tales, Puteri Santubong & Puteri Sejinjang (a tale from East Malaysia), Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup (The Devouring Rock), The Sick Tiger and an excerpt from the Johor classic, Puteri Gunung Ledang.

Students as young as age seven were encouraged to participate in the performance because Elizabeth believed that stage experience was not only empowering and inclusive but also an opportunity to light the students’ passion for the performing arts.

Watching A Tapestry of Malaysian Stories was both enjoyable and encouraging as I saw how students’ speaking skills were being honed and nurtured.  Who knows?  This experience may be the first step that inspires someone to make the stage their career!

Stagecraft, which started in 2011 with some 40 students, has expanded to two centers located at Adda Heights and Nong Chik Riverside at Jalan Kolam Ayer. 

For more info about Stagecraft, visit website: www.stagecraft.com.my  Tel: 607 – 364 6050 or email: elizabeth@stagecraft.com.my

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