Teater Modular


I want to explore new territories in literature which is playwriting (after dabbling with novels, short stories, essays and poetry.) But what made playwriting special is that the text-based written element is only half of it. The other half is the manifestation of the text itself, when it is transformed into the space, with actors etc… Thus, my intention is to create new works that can be enjoyed by reading the text (as literature), and by experiencing it when it turns into a performance (as theatre). Therefore, Teater Modular consists of two forms: a book and past/future performances.

In a way it’s also a supplement to Malaysia stage plays corpus. Playwriting is the least favoured reading form for readers (and writers too), therefore with playlets (short plays) I can display how good old storytelling works and I hope people (reader/audience) can enjoy it as I do.

Theatre is poetry in space, hence for all three series I try to provide three different space qualities for the directors. For our first series it was staged in a small blackbox in a shoplot (Revolution Stage, Bandar Utama). It was chosen out of necessity. We needed a space that have been catering regular theatre-going audience and for us that is important for we are new.

For the second series, I think we are more confident and we had it at a basement turned makerspace (Makespace, Quill City Mall), which is still within the city centre of Kuala Lumpur (opposite Sheraton and Jalan Doraisamy, and near LRT station). This time the space is more open and much bigger (6,000 sq feet performance/audience area, not including the storage area) compared to our first theatre-making experience at Revolution Stage (around 400 sq feet performance/audience area). This time during the site visit, I let the directors choose their own spot, and try to articulate what is the best flow for the audience to move from one playlet to the other.

In this second series, we also started using English subtitles provided by Alfian Sa’at (he translated all 13 playlets!), so this time there’s a need for new equipment in the production which is projector. We have 4 playlets, but we managed to get 3 projectors—two playlets had to share one projector. This is some of the constraint I need to think of when ‘curating’ the flow. Apart from that, we have limited chairs, so the audience need to drag chairs from one playlet to the other (in the dark, towards the light).

This second series is special in a sense that it has 3 female directors and 1 male (Mia, Nana, Qiu & Walid). I purposely did this to counter our first show which consists of 3 male and 1 female director. For the third series my initial intention was to make it even, 2 male and 2 female, but unfortunately one of the female directors couldn’t commit. Hence, the reason why I took the spot as the director (to avoid further last minute problems).

For the third series, we have two options. Either we go back to a more conventional blackbox theatre space, with regular audience flow, or go to some unlikely theater spaces like KongsiKL. It’s a huge (10,000 sq feet!) double volume space that we haven’t experienced before. I came to the launching of this space in December 2017 and I know I want to do Teater Modular here. At the launch event there were no chairs, and supposedly when I rent KongsiKL, chairs will not be provided. It’s only when bump for set up, that we realized there are some chairs in the gudang.

In terms of set design I believe in sustainability. We just used whatever available at KongsiKL. For example, there’s a steel door on one side of the space, and there’s also a scaffolding. I provided Sesuap Kaseh with these two elements because it suits the story. You need some fresh air for Sesuap Kaseh (it’s the only playlet with outdoor setting), and the scaffolding can be the waterfall. In the meantime, KongsiKL is in the middle of renovating its indoor toilet, and there were bricks and other building materials. So we are practically borrowing the bricks for our set design and making up the pedestal to put our projectors (for subtitles).

Speaking about projectors, this time around we only have 2 projectors. Therefore, two playlets are to share one projector (the third projector we use in Makespace is actually a projector we found inside the storage area). The flow is tighter, because as one playlet is happening, we need to move and set up the other projector and laptop in a new position.

In this third series, we try to do a morning show. It’s not because we want to do it for the sake of doing it, but again it’s out of necessity. We know the gudang will be very hot during the normal 3 pm matinee show. So we decided to do it at 10 am. And instead of doing it for both Saturday and Sunday, we did it only on Saturday, just to test it—to see if there will be an audience.

For the third series, we play around with the sequence of the playlets. It provided different narratives and feelings. For example, when we end it with Erti Mati, there were a lot of questions and critical thinking happening during the bual santai session, but when we end it with Sesuap Kaseh, people are more laidback and just had smiles on their faces. This of course depends on the crowd, but it is somehow the impression that I got.

We have been doing post-performance discussion session (we call it sesi bual santai) for each Teater Modular performances in all three series, as well as Bengkel Modular showcase and Singapore reading showcase. What I’ve written above is basically the three main Teater Modular series which consist of four playlets each, making it 12 in total. But there are 13 playlets overall for Teater Modular. The extra 1 playlet is from Bengkel Modular I did in September 2017 (this is a month before the second series, and 6 months after the first one).

For Bengkel Modular I conducted a devised workshop for playlet 13 for two weeks at a makeshift blackbox in Quill City Mall as part of the event called #rasasayang. There were 3 makeshift blackboxes with different stagings and events throughout the month. The playlet 13 is basically about semangat kejiranan between heaven and hell. In playlet 13 the idea is there’s a blackout in heaven so the heaven-dweller needs to go to hell to borrow some light (api). At the same time there was no water in hell, so the hell-dweller needs to take some water from the river (madu, susu, arak) from heaven. I was to devised the play based on the number of participants. Three people joined the 2 weeks workshop. So then we developed the idea and turned it into a playlet (where I eventually wrote the script). Finally, we showcased it for 2 days at the end of the workshop.

A day after finishing the 2 weeks workshop, with a prior invitation from Alfian Sa’at, I went to Singapore for 5 days to do a reading showcase of Teater Modular (5 playlets were chosen, and I directed the actors). Instead of just sit and read, it’s in a form of dramatised reading. Basically it’s a theatre performance but with script in hand. We did a rehearsal one day earlier. It is during this time Alfian Sa’at prepared English subtitles for Singaporean audience (that we will be using in Malaysia for our upcoming shows).

The next day Teater Ekamatra provided me with a space to do a playwriting workshop, with nearly 20 participants. I haven’t done any writing or playwriting workshop in Malaysia, but currently I’m running a bi-weekly reading group (Sesi Diskusi Buku KAOS NOL) in PJ, focusing on theatre and aesthetics. Tentatively 5 sessions is scheduled and we plan to produce a performance out of it under my newly established group Ensembel Teater KAOS NOL.

I don’t separate the final output with the process because the act of making it itself is part of the whole point. Teater Modular is a slow burn, long term project. When I first initiated it, I imagined to do one series per year. So supposedly three series was to take three years to be staged and the book will come after that – in the fourth or fifth year. But it seems that we are progressing much faster than I imagined—we did all three series in one year. This urgency… maybe it’s out of necessity too.

Currently Moka Mocha Ink is editing and designing the Teater Modular Box Set, a set of 13 playscripts in Malay and English that can be arranged and rearranged so that readers and/or future directors/producers can play around with the sequences of the playlets.

Ridhwan Saidi // 2018