Vinna Law did not plan to be a stage actor in London. She had her eye on something else – she wanted to be a film director.
Law did play a teacup in a children’s choir rendition of Beauty And The Beast back in her hometown of Ipoh, Perak, though. But that was when she was just 11; she is 27 now.
Theatre was not something she intended to pursue. However, as fate would have it, theatre pursued her.
“I initially applied to my BA course to study film. But due to some misunderstanding, I learnt that the film and theatre departments were run differently.
“I wasn’t aware of how things worked. So, I was somehow put into the theatre department as an acting major. So, in a way, theatre chose me,” says Law in a recent email interview, referring to her degree programme in theatre and cinema at South Korea’s Hanyang University.
Law is currently residing in South London, trying to make her mark as an actor and theatre maker in that part of the world. She moved to Britain in 2017 to pursue her masters degree in acting at the East 15 Acting School in Essex and has remained there since.
Having completed her stint at the reputable drama school, Law, together with six other course mates from across the world, co-founded Cognatus in 2018, a theatre company which aims to explore universal themes through their different cultures and languages. All done from a woman’s perspective.
“We knew from the start that we wanted to tell women stories, so we started sharing our own personal stories with each other about our experiences growing up, our relationship with ourselves, our family, our partners, cultural norms in our respective countries about being a woman and finally it clicked.
“We didn’t have to look far out for that story, we already had that story within us, and we knew we had to dig it out and put it out to the world. So we decided to form Cognatus,” shares Law, who’s also the company’s executive director.
Cognatus’ debut play called The Ideal Woman was performed for the first time at the Southend Fringe Festival in 2018. The play will also run at The Cockpit Theatre in London from Aug 10-14 as part of the 2019 Camden Fringe Festival.
The Ideal Woman, which features Law, Susanna Hyvarinen (Finland) and Vanessa Borrini (Italy), is devised piece combining original music and text, coupled with the exploration of movement and interactions with lyra hoops.
“We dug deep into our history, inspired by the stories of our mothers, grandmothers and women from our cultures.
“We think it’s fascinating to be in our place, as women in our 20s, as millennials who are literally stuck in between two different worlds – the conservative generation of our mothers and grandmothers, and the open and liberated generation of our successors,” she says.
Law’s fascination with telling true stories was ignited right after her first public performance as an actor in Travesia at Hanyang University in 2015 during the third year of her degree programme.
“We were greeting people at the foyer and one of my seniors came up to me and told me, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know you guys had so much to tell. I’m sorry we never really tried to listen.’
“That was the moment I realised the magic that theatre holds and the importance of telling our own truths and our stories in that space,” adds Law, whose stage credits in Kuala Lumpur include theatrethreesixty’s Riwayat (2016) and Pillowman (2017).
Interestingly, after Cognatus’ stint at the Southend Fringe Festival, the company was picked to pitch their project at the 2018 Borak Arts Series in Adelaide, Australia under the Pitchpad session.
The Borak Arts Series is a South-East Asian performing arts conference that aims to promote accessibility of information, tools and ideas across the region.
“The pitch at Borak was well received. A lot of interest was shown towards the company and the show. Because our show was still in its development stages, we were unable to make any solid commitments at the conference.
“But we have been able to forge connections with notable people in the industry who were interested in bringing the show to the Asean region in the near future. We’d hopefully be able to bring the show to Malaysia at one point,” says Law.
The process of starting a theatre company and even more, being a theatre actor abroad is no easy feat. However, Law says being a Malaysian is a plus.
“We are a niche, which means that the auditions you get will be for very specific roles.”
She acknowledges that this may not necessarily be a good thing.
“It means that you might get fewer auditions than others but in my opinion, if you want to stand out as an actor, it is important to carry your individuality on your sleeve.
“You don’t want people to look at you and think that you can be anyone, because there are so many people out there who can do that which means that you are disposable.
“You want them to look at you and already be able to see a specific character in their play, film or television series. So yes, I see being Malaysian as an advantage,” points out Law.
For now, Law has her theatre company and The Ideal Woman show. Her goal is to get the show to a point where they will able to tour it.
But she says it is not definite that she will be staying in Britain.
“It is all dependent on not just the theatre company but also my acting career. But in terms of plans to go home and start something or make work, definitely,” concludes Law.