Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nam Ron carries on stronger

Celebrated thespian Nam Ron is adamant that the production house he co-founded will succeed, writes SITI NURBAIYAH NADZMI

THE banning of Tanda by Aswara (National Arts, Culture and Heritage Academy), had turned playwright and artistic director Shahili Abdan into the bad boy of Malay theatre overnight. And Shahili, better known as Nam Ron in the thespian circle, was perplexed with the issue.

The play, produced by Rumah Anak Teater (RAT), was a collaborative work of five directors, 40-member crew and 20 actors. The directors were Amar Asyraf Zailuddin, Khairunadzwan Rodzy, Yusman Mokhtar, Siti Aishah Hassan Hasri and Mohd Farid Jamaluddin.

It opened last month at Experimental Theatre Aswara to rave reviews but at about 5pm on the fourth night, the crew was ordered to vacate the hall.

Nam Ron, a theatre lecturer at the academy, was told that he had not complied with the rules of staging a play at the hall.

According to him, when they applied for permission to use the hall, they were not informed of any additional regulations. They had the permit to use the hall for the staging of the play.

“But it was only on the fourth day that we received orders to vacate the hall.”
He said there were neither letters nor an explanation given, except for the security personnel barring them from using the premises.

Nam Ron says they had bookings from two colleges, one in Kuantan and in Johor. And when told to clear out their props, they immediately telephoned the colleges to inform them that the show was cancelled. But one group had already arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

To make up for long-distance trip, Nam Ron held a brief workshop in the hall while the crew and actors were dismantling the props. It was a stark irony off the stage, to say the least.

“We were devastated,” Nam Ron says. And the Kuala Perlis-born quit teaching at the academy after a decade to nosedive into the no-profit career of the Malay theatre.

Tanda was one of the class theatre projects produced by his students three years ago but RAT expanded the idea into a full play.

The five directors collaborated to work on five segments in the play on the signs of Judgement Day. Most of those involved in the play — directors, crew, actors and musicians — were Aswara graduates and undergraduates.

It is hard to imagine that an academy would deny the creative work of its own people at its own venue especially, after it had crowned Nam Ron Excellent Theatre Graduate in 2007.
Nam Ron has had enough.

Cutting all strings, he is determined for RAT, a production house he co-founded with some of his former students, to succeed. Tanda opened at PJ Live Arts Centre (PJLA) and ran for five nights, three weeks after Aswara shut it down.

“We had to make some changes to the props and choreography to adapt to the smaller stage,” says Nam Ron.

“The original hall had a hydraulic facility, which allowed the stage to be split, but this could not be done at PJLA. Previously the split stage symbolised the end of the world, but this was not possible at the new venue, so we have to improvise using body movements to create the impact. Otherwise, the entire play remained,” he says.

The controversy had given Tanda publicity. For the first time, RAT had a full house. “It feels great, and it gives us an incentive to work harder,” Nam Ron says.

Nam Ron’s interest in theatre began in 1989 when he joined Grup Teater Aksi in Kangar as an actor. By then he was already known as Nam Ron (which means “hot water” in Thai).

I was an apprentice at a MARA vocational programme when the seniors asked me if I knew any Thai words since I came from Kuala Perlis. The only words that came to mind was “nam ron”. The name stuck with me.”

It was not, however, a unique name. Renowned cartoonist Idris Man from Kedah had adopted the same name but as one word “Namron”.

A trained auto mechanic, Nam Ron felt a calling to the proscenium, so he enrolled as a theatre student with Akademi Seni Kebangsaan (ASK) in 1994 and graduated four years later. ASK had opened doors to him and there was no turning back.

After graduation Nam Ron formed Alternative Teater, based in Kuala Lumpur, which helped carve his name in the arts scene as a young theatre director, playwright and actor.

At the same time, the Drama Department at Aswara, in recognition of his energy in the theatre scene, offered him a part-time lecturer’s post at the Experimental Theatre.

Nam Ron joined the Asian Contemporary Theatre Practice workshop organised by Setagya Public Theatre Japan and Japan Foundation, and is now a member of Lohan Journey (a group of Asian directors and playwrights) which collaborates theatre in major cities in Asia.

The experience has greatly influenced Nam Ron’s later works such as monodrama Matderihkoloperlih, Laut Lebih Indah Dari Bulan and the satire Lembu, but more importantly he began to dabble in collaborative work.

In October 2008, he co-founded RAT with nine ASWARA graduates and it had since produced collaboration works to rave reviews.

It was obvious that he loved working with young talents and they revered his easy ways, creativity and imagination. He helped to lift taboos as well.

For example, if a character had to smoke on stage then it was allowed. But then again, if anyone dared to tread on the thin lines they had to be brave enough to face the consequences, saysNam Ron.

Word has it that the unofficial reason for the banning of Tanda was that it had an inappropriate scene: where 20 fully-clothed actors imitated sexual moves under undimmed lighting, albeit for 30 seconds.

“It wasn’t gratuitous. The scene was meant to evoke disgust not lust. Maybe it did trigger disgust in some people that they had to resort to the authorities to stop the show,” says Nam Ron.

What truly runs in Nam Ron’s veins are the late Datuk Krishen Jit’s ideals of being independent.
“Krishen impressed upon us not to give up when there was no money. It was not easy to live up to his words – getting sponsors and grants from government agencies and organisations can be an impossible task.”

Arts patrons are hard to come by and funding is an age-old problem with Malay theatre
RAT has named its long-term project as Projek Komuniti Kental (KoKen), loosely translated as “resilient community project”. It outlined the entire year’s activity such as workshops, talks, acting classes and new plays. Last year KoKen staged compilation plays, where a few were staged together, but this year it will stage individual works separately.

“It is usually a sparse set with actors, but along the way we will look for funding,” says Nam Ron.

This article appeared in New Sunday Times on Mar 21, 2010

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