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Born in Kota Tinggi, Johor, thespian Fasyali Fadzly has had a decade worth of experience in the process of writing a play to directing it.
The 37-year-old is a recipient of the Boh Cameronian Arts Award in 2014 for Best Original Script, Best Director and Best Ensemble Performance for his play, Teater Juta-Juta. In the ten years since 2010, Fasyali has written and directed 10 plays with some of them even staged abroad in Canada, Tokyo, Jogyakarta, and Singapore.
We recently got in touch with Fasyali via email to speak to him about his love for theatre, his anthology of scripts also titled Teater Juta-Juta and some of the challenges the Malaysian performing arts scene faces.
Let’s start right from the beginning, Fasyali. Can you share with us how your journey with theatre began and when did it start?
It started when I took theatre as co-curriculum subject during my Degree in Information Technology at the National University of Malaysia (UKM). It was in 2002. Unfortunately, I did not finish my study there and decided to take a diploma in theatre at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) in 2004. Started all over again.
During my UiTM years, my interest grew and I started involved in many productions – thanks to my lecturers who had always encouraged me. I also watched a lot of shows while I was a student and blogged my theatre experience. My first full length play, Berani Mati which is included in my book was staged during my degree years. I think it was a ‘berani mati’ decision to stage Berani Mati for public while I was still a student. But that was a decision I never regret.
What is it about theatre that you fell in love with? Also, how long have you been in the local theatre scene?
I like observing people. Their action and reaction, their behaviour towards certain things and condition, on stage and off stage. In theatre, I have direct access through the actor to understand the human condition and behaviour and how they think. I understand people by writing about them. This has also allowed me to look at myself as a human.
I’ve been in local theatre scene actively since 2010 – the year I graduated from UiTM with a degree. It’s been 10 years.
You’re among the names often mentioned alongside Kathy Rowland and Faridah Merican when it comes to local theatre. Specifically for assisting in its growth and sustenance. What are some key challenges you’ve observed facing the scene?
Hahaha. Really? Kathy and Faridah are the goddesses of Malaysian theatre. I am just a little skinny person who loves theatre so much. I think the key challenge is that there’s a lot of gap in Malaysian theatre. I can give you several examples.
Community gap – We rarely mingle with each other across different communities. It feels as though we only work with the same community who’re either in the English theatre or Malay theatre or Chinese theatre. Only several artists work across communities and groups. We need to work together more.
Economic gap – Theatre is not for the rich and elitists. Many people from low income families feel distanced from theatre culture. We need to make people understand that theatre is for everybody. Grants, money, and support should be given to reduce ticket prices so that these people can have access to it.
Generational gap – The young and the old should collaborate more and converse actively. Phrases like ‘masa zaman kami dulu…’ or ‘dulu lain, sekarang lain’ or ‘hormat sikit kami yang dah makan garam dulu dari kamu’ or ‘kami muda, sekarang giliran kami’ are making the Malaysian theatre community smaller each day. In short, we need to work across language, age, race, and economic class NOW!
What are some initiatives or ways that can help take Malaysian theatre abroad?
I think the most important thing is to have more conversations and mingle with every theatre community in Malaysia. Don’t just create work within your circle of friends and community. Challenge yourself. Have a conversation with other communities either the Malay or Chinese or English theatre community.
Share your thoughts and ideas and listen to theirs as well. There’s a lot of talent outside your circle. Don’t let language stop you from learning new things from other people. Saya pun bahasa Inggeris bukan bagus sangat. Tapi kita kawan sahaja dengan semua orang. Mereka tak menghakimi kita pun jika tak fasih berbahasa Inggeris. Begitu juga kita, jangan menghakimi mereka yang tidak fasih berbahasa Melayu. Only when we can overcome this and love what we do, we can take our work elsewhere in the world. This is not rhetorical.
I enjoyed the way you’ve been marketing your latest book, Teater Juta-Juta: Koleksi Skrip Teater Fasyali Fadzly, on Facebook. Very clever! What are some of the ways theatre practitioners can utilize to promote their own works?
Haha! Really? I thought I just want to have fun promoting my book. Because it IS a fun book. So FUN is the theme I want to emphasize. Only FUN! I think, if we understand our work and craft very well, we’ll know how to reach the right audience and target them.
I don’t have any formula. I’m just having fun, actively involved in conversations online and offline and most importantly, being my true self. And also, this book is totally self funded. If I don’t sell it, saya sendiri yang rugi.
Can you share more about your latest book? What can readers expect from it?
The book consists of five plays written between 2007 to 2017. Play #1 and #5 are more sentimental and serious. Tangan Kiri Ayah and Ingatan concerns a father. Both are short plays. The other three are satire and are more fun. They’re titled Berani Mati, Kotak Hitam and Teater Juta-Juta. Obviously, I chose Teater Juta-Juta as the title of my book because it captured the whole idea of my first collection. You don’t need to understand theatre to enjoy my script. Read it like you’d listen to a silly conversation. You can read it like reading a short story or novel even. I used my savings to publish it under my company (co-own with Nawfal Zamri and Iefiz Alaudin). This is our first publication and we’re looking forward to publish more Malaysian scripts.
I am a big fan of your work. Langkau totally blew my mind when I first saw it at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. Loved it for its total absurdity yet extremely human side. I’ve realized there is a theme in many of your works where you attempt to incorporate the human side into your works. What compels you to do this?
Like I said, theatre is a place for me to understand people and humanity. I don’t provide answer in most of my work. And it’s impossible to separate arts with humanity. While exploring new techniques and approach in storytelling, I will always remind myself that my craft and work should empower people — consciously or subconsciously.
When you write your scripts, do you always start off with an objective or you just let the words flow? What’s your playwriting process like?
In playwriting, basically I started with simple structure of the narrative and know what characters live in my story. I have all of these in my head. I rarely jot it down. I think about it everyday. I need to understand what each character wants and needs.
Then I start to write it and let the characters speak their own words. I also don’t do the scene treatment before I start writing. Maybe that’s why I have a lot of unfinished script in my folder. Hahaha. My process is easy. I sit in front of my computer, write until I don’t have any ideas. I will continue once I have new ideas on how to develop the story to the next scene and stop again.
Before I start, I will read the whole script again and continue writing at the last dialogue or scene I left before. I’ll continue until I finish the entire script. Once it’s finished, I’ll invite a couple of friends to read it out loud. I want to hear how they speak the dialogues I’ve written and stage the scene. I ask for their comments and criticism and then rewrite.
Since I also direct my plays, during rehearsals, I make minor changes – most of it are related to the dialogue and some are scene arrangements to make the piece less complicated (we can discuss what is complicated in separate interview. hahaha). But for Langkau, it was a different process. I provided them the dialogue, scenes and storyline, but the performers did the editing in the rehearsal room until we all agreed with it. I did not have total control of my work. It was a devised piece.
Moving forward, I want to explore different ways in playwriting. I think playwriting is like writing a computer program. You write, execute your program, if there’s an error, you rewrite it until the program works. Except, for playwriting you write it for the actor to execute your program. The rehearsal room is a space for the trial and error phase.
What makes a good script?
For me, a good script must allow people to expand the conversation off stage. Don’t limit that a script must have a narrative. It could be an abstract piece. It can be stories or abstract works that can move the audience either emotionally or psychologically or intellectually etc. Audiences will always try to relate or ‘see’ themselves in your art. If they can’t relate it, how do you want them to talk about it?
Header image by Fasyali Fadzly.