Stories for the Play Aficionado

If jazz pianist Art Tatum has been dubbed the Musician’s Musician, then Leow Puay Tin’s Cakap Dapur: R & D Stories is the play-aficionado’s play. With well-thought-out light design and just a single chair for stage props, the audience was treated to anecdotes and thought-provoking pointers on the art of research and development in theatre.

The text modules were derived from a 3-day workshop on research and documentation specifically for arts practitioners, which Leow organised with Professor Mohd Anis Md Nor, a subject expert in the field of performance studies, as the facilitator in December last year.

Professor Mohd Anis was not involved in the production of the Cakap Dapur but playwright Leow believes that is was for the benefit of all parties involved, “He (Professor Anis) is a brilliant story-teller and in on his own a wonderful and engaging performer but his style is very different from that of a theatrical actor,” shared Leow who stayed back for a quick Q&A session with the audience after the play, “The good thing with Professor Anis is that unlike most of us who are too attached to our work & its interpretations, he left us to work on this on our own.”

The hour-long production, which was held in conjunction with home grown artiste collective, Five Arts Centre 30th anniversary and tribute to founding member Kishen Jit, on the 10th anniversary of his demise was directed and performed by renowned theatre director, Chee Sek Thim, Cakap Dapur, who took the audience through a series of text modules touching history, culture and identity using a classroom lecture as its format.

“Using alternative texts - that are not play scripts - to construct performances is a familiar process for me as many of the performances I have directed in the past were constructed from these kinds of texts,” shares Chee who enjoys working unconventional material for stage acting because he appreciates the flexibilities and possibilities it opens up.

“The phrase Cakap Dapur appears in one of the modules and refers to the kind of free-flowing conversations that happen in the kitchen, over food; the kind that creates and strengthens communal ties” Chee says the stories all originated from Dr Anis’s experiences as a professor, most of them being humorous, although there are some stories that are quite touching.

“The original workshop was about the relevance and need for artists to engage in research and documentation when they develop their work. Because Dr Anis is a very good storyteller, he was able to deliver course material in a way that is very engaging, using stories to illustrate and to clarify,” shared the 51-year old, who believes theatre has the facility to re-present key ideas and make them accessible to more people in a way that is friendly, enjoyable yet challenging.

With enquiries of franchise opportunities and copyright requests from members of the audience, it’s clear that there’s certainly a market for entertainment and education modules to follow suit. Hopefully, they do.

This article was published on February 21, 2015 in the Malay Mail.