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THERE was always something magical about theatre. Be it a play or a musical, a monologue or poetry recitation, the stage brings with it a sense of satisfaction that is different than watching movies or television series. Seeing actors or rather thespians (if it’s a good play), work their magic live in front of me, has always given me a feeling of being transported away from reality. I usually leave the theatre feeling rejuvenated, hopeful and deeply satisfied. Things, unfortunately have changed. I discovered the magic of theatre in my late teens. The first stage production I saw was Hip Hopera. It was a simple musical done under the modest roof, but majestic heart of The Actors Studio back when they were operating beneath Dataran Merdeka. Watching Afdlin Shauki, Paula Malai Ali, Iskandar Najmuddeen and Michael Voon on the stage opened my eyes, and heart, to the grandeur of stage performance. From that point on, I made it a point to catch more stage performances. There was A Fat Girl’s Revenge, Dangerous Liaisons, Pulau Antara, Spilt Gravy on Rice, Visits, and countless others. Suffice to say, I left each and every play sated. Sadly, as I mentioned earlier, things have changed. The exclusivity of theatre, which some saw as having carried with it a negative undertone, is gone. Many, however, failed to see that “exclusivity” was what kept the stage art magical, with its players continuously having to up their game, as the bar kept rising, and standards kept going up. For some, this “exclusivity” probably served as a gate. They banged on it, wanting to be let in. Today, the gates are open wide, and “exclusivity” has become a thing of the past. What they failed to realise was that “exclusivity” was the gatekeeper. It kept the riff-raffs out. Now I am not saying riff-raffs as in those who do not belong to society’s upper class. Riff-raff here means those without talent, those who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a stage, those who should have a restraining order out against them from entering places like Istana Budaya, the Actors’ Studio or any performing arts’ venues. “Exclusivity” made theatre magical, in fact, it was the most important element to me. It ensured that only talent was permitted on stage. With “exclusivity” out of the way, it would appear that the riff-raffs, who earlier polluted our cinemas, television and radio stations, are now taking to the stage, too. What irks me the most is that they fail to grasp the meaning of the term “performing arts” in its entirety. Most of those performing on stage these days are only focused on the word performing, neglecting the arts bit. Our local celebrities, most of them anyway, have been killing the entertainment scene in this country for a long time now. Perhaps they don’t realise it, because it may be hard to see, amidst the Instagram postings and Twitter updates, and Facebook likes they keep getting simply by uploading selfies one after another. The film industry is already dead and buried, television is buried right there next to it, and the music scene already has one foot in the grave. Now they want the stage, too? A recent example of what I’m saying comes in the form of a musical production by Erma Fatima titled Mak Cun. I saw a snippet of it on television and figured perhaps I should give it a chance. So I did. Ten minutes into the musical which was staged at Istana Budaya, I was already wishing I had stayed home. Watching paint dry would have brought me more joy. The plot and the script were loose, to say the least. The alleged Kedah accent carried by the cast sounded more like Klingon. Another thing that baffled me was that none of the cast members, including the director, appeared to know the function of microphones. Unless it was a scene where someone was getting raped or assaulted or anything that was detrimental to the plot, I honestly did not understand why most of them were screaming out their lines, especially since they were using microphones. Suffice to say, the experience was one I have no intention of repeating. I consoled myself that the highlight of the musical was yet to come. It was announced earlier that Ogy Ahmad Daud would make an appearance in Mak Cun, which would also mark her and Erma’s reunion in an entertainment production after 20 years. The last time both were in a production together was for the telemovie Pengantin Popular back in the 90s. I waited in anticipation for Ogy to hit the stage. When she did, I wished she had not. For whatever it was that she did during her 10 minutes of airtime in the musical, it was better if she had come out, stood still for 10 minutes and took a bow. All in all, Mak Cun was proof that Istana Budaya has lowered its standards. I remember seeing The Merchant of Venice in Istana Budaya. Although it wasn’t a local production, it should have served as a benchmark. Unfortunately, Istana Budaya has turned into yet another television drama slot on free-to-air TV. It is no longer a majestic palace where arts is revered and placed on a pedestal. I say bring back “exclusivity”. Let the talented ones reign supreme. We need “exclusivity”, else one fine day, we may have to bury our performing arts scene next to the others. I honestly hope it won’t come to that.

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