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Editor’s Note: This is an open letter written by the Co-Founder & Executive Producer of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac) and The Actors Studio, Faridah Merican, and on behalf of the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (penangpac).
It is addressed to the National Security Council Director General Mohd Rabin Basir, the Malaysian Minister of Communications & Multimedia Saifuddin Abdullah, and the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Nancy Shukri. The letter was emailed to all media organisations on July 8, 2021.
315 days. Almost a whole year. A year our theatre has been deprived of an audience.
When we first reopened in July 2020, Joe Hasham OAM (Co-Founder & Artistic Director) said “Without you, our audience…we are nothing” as he thanked each one of them.
Since the pandemic started, we have struggled to raise enough funds each month. And when we did, Ian Chow (General Manager) would exclaim “We’ve built the bridge (for this month)!” Because oftentimes the only answer we could provide was – we will cross that bridge when we get to it.
15 months of this. After clearing out our cheques this month, we will be left with RM5,000 or so in our bank account. Our staff has been kept informed each step of the way. Already their pay cut was increased to 40 – 60% when MCO 3.0 came about. It is highly likely they will be switched to contract staff soon. We’ve tried our best to hold fast to our promise that we will not retrench them.
50% of our loss comes from venue rental which we cannot make up as long as our venues are closed. Venue rental dipped 80% in 2020 compared to 2019. What we earned in terms of ticket sales via a month of online shows (4 in total) was less than half of what we would have earned from one live performance.
There is no ‘end’ in sight. Covid-19 may be around for a long time more. Does that mean the arts will be shut down indefinitely through to 2022 and beyond? It will be too late for any sort of recovery.
And so, it is time for Malaysia to decide – whether it still wants the arts to be part of the local landscape when we emerge from this catastrophe. Our audiences, our artistes, our students, our arts workers – say yes. Now, it is up to the powers that be that govern Malaysia.
Instead of putting the arts under a negative list, shut down indefinitely and last to reopen – we have to accept the facts and change the narrative. Yes, Covid-19 will be around.
How do we then continue to do this safely while minimising risk?
We are not ready to throw in the towel. We are more than willing to put our backs into it despite our mental and physical exhaustion.
We are asking for fair consideration, not more than what we deserve. Many other industries have been / are operating with cases and clusters.
We are asking for a chance to safeguard our own livelihoods. And to return some dignity to artistes and arts workers.
We want to thank all those who have been supporting us through this crisis, many of them just ordinary folks, retirees, fellow artistes who have been chipping in a bit here and there and our long-term partners.
For the survival of Malaysian theatre.
Cover image by Eddie Tan / The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.
Copied and pasted from Eksentrika.