The little studio found within Sinkeh guesthouse in George Town, Penang, is a small place harbouring big dreams. From the first day Sinkeh opened its doors in 2014, this studio for the arts was already there, marking the beginning of a bigger plan.
“I like to be able to spend my evenings having a drink with my friends and going to the theatre. There is currently not enough going on in George Town for me to indulge in that kind of lifestyle,” says Chee Sek Thim, a Penang-based theatre practitioner, who owns and manages Sinkeh.
“So, I’m doing something about it, one step at a time,” he adds.
It is within this dedicated space for the arts at Sinkeh, which seats 35 to 40 people, that the inaugural season for Wayang diSinkeh, will kick off on July 7.
Wayang diSinkeh features three monologues and one duologue developed from local stories and themes.
This 2017 season will feature performances every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, over three months.
A Complete Woman, written and performed by Suzanne Teoh, and directed by Chee; The Storyteller, written by Lim Chung Wei and Wong Lay Chin, performed by Lim, and directed by Wong; and Fragrance written and directed by Noor Rizuwan, and performed by Darynn Wee, make up the monologues.
The two-person performance, Lina:Lijah, is adapted from Lina & Lijah by Nam Ron. It will be directed by Hilyati Ramli, and performed by Muhanniz Mesri and Nadhilah Suhaimi.
A Complete Woman starts Wayang diSinkeh, with shows on July 7-9, while Fragrance runs from July 14-16. Lina:Lijah will book the weekends of July 21-23 and July 28-30.
“We ran A Complete Woman, The Storyteller, and Fragrance (which was then titled Bercakap Dengan Salbiah) in the pilot project in November and December last year. Because the feedback and returns were encouraging enough, we decided that we would proceed with opening the first season this year,” says Chee, who foresees Wayang diSinkeh as an annual feature in George Town’s theatre calendar.
“With Wayang diSinkeh, we hope to develop into a strong enough platform that can motivate actors, writers, producers, designers to take a leading role, tell their own stories and create small-scale performances of their own,” he adds with optimism.
For the upcoming performances, A Complete Woman has had changes made to the script. The script for The Storyteller and Fragrance remains the same.
Nevertheless, repeat audiences can expect performances to have matured over time, and can look forward to seeing deeper interpretations of the texts, he shares.
If anything, Wayang diSinkeh is part of Chee’s long-term goal to build a sustainable theatre infrastructure in George Town that includes a venue, talents and programming.
He is convinced that a sustainable theatre infrastructure is important for the community, simply because it is necessary.
“If you feel theatre has a place within your community and if you wish to continue doing it for a long time, then you have to consider what you do in relation to things like the funds you have or are able to acquire, your audience size and the kind of appetite they have, the availability of talent and infrastructure, and the availability of production and technical support. If you don’t, then your work risks losing its connection and relevance to the community to which you belong,” he cautions.
In shooting for the sky, Chee, in his early 50s, clearly has his feet planted firmly on the ground, explaining that to achieve this, there is a lot of work to be done, and it has to be done by many people.
“At this stage, I am planting some seeds. Making theatre has to be seen as something that is relevant, worthwhile and meaningful for people to want to make it, and for audiences to want to go out and watch it,” he says.
Creating the work is just one part of the big picture.
“You also have to put time and effort into nurturing the entire performing arts infrastructure as well; the audience, critics, writers, producers, managers, venues,” he adds.
Chee shares that he is just starting to put some ideas into practice, Wayang diSinkeh being the vehicle for doing so.
“I show people I work with that it is indeed possible to make theatre in a way that doesn’t stretch their energies and resources to breaking point and that it can feed and sustain them both creatively and financially. I function within my limitations, I address them one at a time. I make my projects work, turn them into examples and then, build networks from there,” he says.
Sharing the same building with Sinkeh is Reka Art Space, also founded by Chee back in 2002. Reka Art Space initially served as a studio and art gallery that supported emerging visual artists and artists working on the periphery.
Today, it continues with its vision of being a laboratory for new works and a space for art education.
“Sinkeh and Reka Art Space share a practical and synergistic relationship. Sinkeh was conceived as a vehicle for generating an income stream to sustain the arts projects of Reka Art Space. And Reka Art Space, of course, generates activities in Sinkeh that in turn is positioned as one of the unique features in the branding of Sinkeh,” explains Chee.
Talk about being sustainable.
The inaugural season of Wayang diSinkeh runs at Sinkeh, 105, Lebuh Melayu, George Town in Penang every Friday to Sunday till Sept 24. Tickets are priced at RM35. Season tickets are RM100 (four tickets), for four different performances. Tickets can be purchased at Sinkeh, between 9am and 5pm daily. No reservations will be taken. For enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 04-261 3966. FB: Wayang di Sinkeh.