getting to know malaysians


ShowBusiness & All That Jazz

An interior designer by training, he stumbled into stage management completely by chance. "On April 21 of this year, the day I started working for the Actors Studio, I stopped being an interior designer one day, and just put on the hat of a theatre manager," he said. Whoopee-doo, just like that. Well, not really, as Ming-Jin explains later. He had dabbled in producing a musical and some stage design for the British Council in 1994. "The musical made quite a bit of money, even though it was basically a novice production. We gave the RM20,000 away to charity and it felt really good. I have no specific skills in management and has decided on attending a Theatre and Set Management three-course in London for some formal technical background when Faridah and Joe offered to let me have hands-on experience by working here," he explained. Once he has established a system at the studio the founders of the theatre can then afford to spare him to go to London to take up his course.

"The theatre scene in Malaysia is really booming now but to produce a show requires a lot of work, dog-work, which is my department!" he laughs disarmingly. "There's ticketing, permits and licenses to obtain---publicity, lighting, sound and stage design...the list is endless."

He spoke enthusiastically of the theatre's Happy Hour where closet stand-up comics get the opportunity to "come out", so to speak. "It's a very informal atmosphere and the crowd really gets into it. If they are bad the audience has no qualms about booing the comic off the stage!" he added.

When asked what made him so committed to the theatre, he replied that he aspires to raise the level of the technical back-up in local theatrical productions. "The technical aspects have been neglected and that is what I am interested in. I have no desire to go on stage myself, I'm more of a backroom person. The one time I performed on stage was in an amateur production. The plot required someone to burn down a school. I had long hair then and was given that role. I led a riot, threw things around and shouted a lot. That's what I was good at!" he said.

The irrepressible young man with the monk's crew-cut and the baggy jeans has really got his job cut out for him. There is the month's programme to plan (I have to make sure the acts we sign on are varied and well-balanced); a novelty shop to set up; marketing and ticket distribution to think about; and a homepage to start. "We want to sell theatre paraphernalia in our novelty shop, and connect the Studio to the rest of the world through the homepage!" he said.

A Theatre Manager's Typical Day: Tuesday, July 16, 1996

The day starts early for Ming-Jin. He arrives at the Studio before 10:00 a.m. to help his assistant set up a small platform for the press conference (for the Lady White Snake performance) at 11:00 a.m. Then he has to test the sound for the music of Lady White Snake which the press will preview during the conference. Just before the conference begins Ming-Jin and the computer technician, Kennedy, have to carry a stand-up piano out of the theatre to make way for the conference. They put it back in the rehearsal room, the one they call the Red Room on account of its carmine carpet.

After that Ming-Jin goes into the lighting and sound room for another sound check. The room is impeccably neat and tidy, but he apologises for the 'mess'. The lighting is not right for the press preview and he calls out to Kennedy for help. "I try to please the performers as much as I can but I also don't want their requests to collide with the way things are run at the theatre. I want perfection," he said. Then he admits that it is very difficult to please all the performers. A few nights ago there was a dance performance and the dancers wanted him to switch off the air-conditioning unit but his lighting technician wanted it on. (The inside joke at the Actors Studio is that their theatre is the coldest place in KL) He had to make a decision. "We switched the air-conditioning unit on for five minutes, and off for five throughout the entire performance!" he said.


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