Boy meets girl, they tie the knot and they live happily ever after. Or so they dream.
It’s an old wife’s tale that we have heard, and told, countless times.
New creative collective The Keepers Studio wants us to live it in its upcoming immersive theatrical presentation Kenduri Kendara (Feasts).
Kenduri Kendara, staged as a traditional Malay majlis kahwin (wedding ceremony), opens at Makespace, Quill City Mall in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 14.
The show invites the audience to partake in the wedding feast (Suap) and visit the bridal bedroom (Gerobok), before witnessing the solemnisation of the marriage (Samar). But here, the wedding party has to stay on into the first decade of the marriage, through the couple’s highs and lows.
“We are interested not only in telling a good story, but also designing a good experience,” says director Azzad Mahdzir, describing Kenduri Kendara as part multimedia installation, part performance-art piece and part theatre with its three interactive sections: a feeding ritual, an experimental self-portrait and a play.
And like many marriages in Malaysia, this “marriage” cannot escape the binds of society, as it takes the audience on its exploration of gender and faith through the intimate construct of matrimony.
In Gerobok, audience get to go inside the bride’s “veil” by trying out the tudung themselves and creating a self-portrait, inadvertently exploring their own memory of gender and identity through the cultural object of the hijab in a changing Malaysia.
In Suap, the audience is invited to feed each other in the Malay tradition of “makan dalam talam” or eating together from a large tray. Cleaning of hands is part of the feeding ritual and those who prefer not to participate are welcome to observe. Vegetarian food will be served, in snack portions.
“Gerobok and Suap are not only participatory but also somewhat voyeuristic as they provide a microscopic look at our society. And in many ways, they prepare the audience for the intimacy of Samar – it is voyeurism to incite empathy,” says Azzad, who set up The Keepers Studio with his university friend Tan Hui Woon in 2014 to bridge activism with artistry, the political with the personal, and audiences with one another.
Gerobok comes from his personal desire to understand the experience of his three sisters who made the decision to don the hijab in the last decade, while Suap is inspired by a grassroot initiative in Batang Berjuntai (in Selangor) started by activist Kumaran Nagapa who held “feeding events” to unite the different communities there.
It started with a shortage of cutlery and plates during the dinner after their gotong royong for the marginalised communities of Batang Berjuntai, Azzad tells.
“To overcome the problem, Kumaran suggested that everyone use their hands to eat, and after the initial discomfort was overcome, the eating ritual evolved into its own event where everyone feeds each other from the same tray.”
He adds that he was touched when he heard the story and it got him thinking about the frailties of human connections.
“What fears are we willing to let go of for a deeper connection?” he says.
Samar inspects human connection at another level as it draws us into the home of a young couple – played by Boh Cameronian Arts Awards winner Nadia Aqilah and newcomer Surnia Fizul – who are forced to marry after the woman accidentally gets pregnant.
Samar started as a short, devised play called Pasang, which was first presented at a forum called Keluargaku Moden at the community-based Arts For Grab last September.
“It is based on the experience of a friend. I interviewed her for the play because everyone in the production is single, so it was important for me to have that ‘insider’ point of view,” says Azzad.
For Samar, Azzad had asked short story writer Zed Adam Idris to expand Pasang into a full-length Malay play.
Zed admits it was a challenge for him at first as he was more used to writing in English and the risk of the domestic tale turning into a Malay soap was high.
“I focused on the characters and the clash of expectations that ultimately grows into a wide rift between them,” says Zed.
If anything, the ambitious Kenduri Kendara is definitely bold in its voice and vision.
“We are not necessarily tied to theatre. What is driving us is creating art that can live on in any medium. Even if the work is a full-blown show on Tumblr or Instagram, we need to respect the medium,” concludes Azzad.
Kenduri Kendara is on at Makespace, Quill City Mall, LG16, 1018, Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 14-17 and Sept 21-24. Shows open at 7pm. Entry is by donation. For more info, go to kendurikendara.peatix.com.