What do you do when you don’t know how to write a play, but really want to?
For novelist and alternative book publisher Ridhwan Saidi, 33, it seemed like a wise decision to make someone else do it.
In his novel Amerika, which was published in 2011, he got the protagonist to write a play while killing time at the airport. It is a short play – a playlet – with just as short a title: Brokoli.
Don’t expect it to be about eating your greens though, the premise is a little more unorthodox than that. It is hardly unexpected as this work is the first in a series of 13 offbeat playlets, where surprises and unconventionality rule.
“Teater Modular is more of an architectural project than a theatre performance in that the playlets are like lego pieces that can be moved around, taking on a different form and structure for each staging. You can create different tones and textures just by arranging them differently,” explains Ridhwan in a recent interview.
Nine of the playlets have been staged last year, with the last four scheduled to run at KongsiKL, Old Klang Road in Kuala Lumpur, starting April 4. The venue is a warehouse that has been repurposed as an arts space.
This staging is supported by the Krishen Jit Astro Fund and will see four directors – Abdul Walid Ali, Amirul Syakir, Hannan Barakbah and Ridhwan himself – taking on a play each.
In Sesuap Kaseh, a picnic by the river takes a turn for the bizarre when two people from the party extricate themselves from the group.
In Erti Mati, a genie and the angel of death have a conversation.
The third play, Kurator Dapur, delves into the domestic realm with an artist and his curator wife, and their adventures with grocery shopping.
And lastly, the dramatic-sounding Hotel Berdarah features a journalist, a Datuk, his secretary and her husband, holed up in a hotel room.
If two’s company and three’s a crowd, you don’t want to imagine what four is like.
Each play is about 15 to 20 minutes long. Although elements of dark comedy and melodramaare apparent in these works on paper, Ridhwan does not promise that it will be the only thing that comes through on stage.
The directors add a personal touch to his work, he says, and it sounds like he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“These plays offer something non-mainstream and non-traditional within a Malaysian context. I wanted there to be a sense of novelty about them. I think all art must confront, or have some sort of reaction, towards the establishment or the conventional. In dealing with the same issues, perhaps what we need is an offbeat or alternative approach so we can avoid cliches,” he explains.
After all, even his “seemingly normal one-act plays” under the Teater Normcore umbrella are not exactly run of the mill. Its debut in February this year saw a double-bill show: Tiada Cinta Selama Muda (No Love For The Young) and Matinya Seorang Birokrat (Death Of A Bureaucrat). This was Ridhwan’s first attempt at directing a play.
In Teater Modular, he will be directing Hotel Berdarah.
“All good art inspires, there is always something I can get from watching a good play. Kotak Hitam (2011) by Fasyali Fadzly is my favourite Malaysian play. In fact, it was what inspired me to write Brokoli,” he says.
Ridhwan plans to compile all Teater Modular playlets in a book, complete with photographs, the working process and reflections.
The staging of Teater Modular has given him a lift in making the arts inclusive and accessible. The man isn’t slowing down.
“I hope the audience will come to love theatre as I do. They can always contribute, collaborate or work with me for our next show!” he says.