“If you believe in something, you have to roll up your sleeves and be ready to get your hands dirty.” Faridah Merican – KLPAC

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Happy Go KL spoke with Mrs. Faridah Merican, the Co-Founder and Executive Producer of The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC), the Performing Arts Centre of Penang (PENANGPAC) and The Actors Studio. She talked about her passion for the arts and the urgent need for support for KLPAC in the current pandemic. Like many other arts venues, KLPAC is badly hit by the continuous lockdown…. How you can help? Please do read on!

Why are you passionate about what you do?

I have spent almost my whole life doing this. It is not a job – it is a way of life. It hurts so much that we are not able to do it now, that we are locked out of our theatres and kept away from the rehearsal rooms and all the creative talents and energy we crave so badly. We did not get to where we are today – especially after 1 ½ years of the pandemic- if we did not believe in what we did. We would have thrown in the towel long ago. But because we believe it is so very necessary, we are here, still fighting for it. I believe in the #artsisessential, now more than ever. The only thing I love as much as the arts is probably our cats at home, the dogs we have at KLPAC and Joe (Faridah’s husband, ed.), of course.

Why are the arts important?

KLPAC

From the beginning of time, the arts have always been there. Where there is civilisation, there is arts. What do we do when we are locked up at home? We draw, we read to soothe our mind, we watch movies to pass time and we listen to music to calm our nerves. What would life be without all this? 

Above all, our theatre is a safe space. One wonderful thing that has emerged from this very difficult time is the community; our community. We received so many heart-warming messages telling us how kids grew up at our Academy, performers who had their first big break with us now making a name overseas – how their lives have changed because a space like KLPAC provided them with the opportunities and confidence to pursue their dreams. 

As a proud mentor to some of the country’s rising theatre talents, I hope that the younger theatre practitioners will continue the work towards my peers, and not give up in the face of failure.

How has the pandemic affected you?

Even before the first lockdown in March 2020, we were already feeling it as our bookings started to drop. All our revenue sources like show tickets, venue rental, courses or sponsorship were severely impacted. KLPAC and The Actors Studio’s losses already exceed RM2 million. 

We have been and are still struggling to raise enough funds to survive every month. 50% of our loss comes from venue rental, which we cannot make up as long as our venues are closed. Venue rental dipped 80% in 2020 compared to 2019. What we earned in terms of ticket sales via a month of online shows (four in total) was less than half of what we would have earned from one live performance.

Our staff suffered too. Their pay cut was increased 40% to 60% from 30% – 50%, when the third MCO was declared in June. It is highly likely they will be switched to contract staff soon. We’ve tried our best to hold fast to our promise that we will not retrench them. To date, we have been able to adhere to that promise.

The problem is because the arts is so low on the priority list, we are not even given the opportunity for dialogue. We are always the first to close and the last to reopen. A year on, there has been no consideration to the fact that our audiences are fully masked, we have extremely tight crowd control and SOPs, an excellent track record and no cases. 

So for the past 15 months, we have been … nothing; an empty space collecting dust, an empty space that continues to be sanitised on a daily basis, a devastating void that can only echo voices of past productions.

What can ordinary Malaysians do to support you throughout this time?

Friends have been doing little fundraisers, using whatever resources or skills they have and this has been wonderful. Some gifted us artworks to sell, some held fundraising recitals or performances online, while others have contributed time to run courses for us with funds channelled to KLPAC and The Actors Studio’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund. It is incredibly touching – ordinary folks are taking it into their hands, when the powers that be would not, to do something.

We have not given up, we are still fighting to be heard. You can add to the voice of the arts, why it’s important to us, donate if you can or hold a little fundraiser if you’d like – a bake sale even!

What measures are you taking to try and keep KLPAC running? 

Earlier in June, we screened some recorded performances online via our WFH@klpac (Watch From Home) series, which we are keen to continue once we are given the permission to record or film again. 

We also have been working on several fundraising initiatives, to keep our heads above the water. In conjunction with International Friendship Day, we invited friends from near and far to join us end of July in our Zoom chit chat session called “Jom Sembang with Faridah”. All proceeds went to KLPAC and The Actors Studio’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund. 

Meanwhile, there are partners who have been helping us raise funds. Taylor’s University School of Liberal Arts and Sciences stepped forward to lend a hand via its Outreach Programme by conducting a workshop. Another workshop coming up is “S.O.S! Merging Psychological and Dramatic Techniques To Overcome Mental Issues”, conducted by experienced and qualified academics, Pang Chia Yee and Mark Beau de Silva, from Taylor’s University School of Liberal Arts and Sciences on 21 August from 10am to 12pm. You can register here. We also just finished a series of online summer Holiday Programmes for kids.

You wrote an Open Letter about the arts industry’s imminent collapse due to prolonged closure… Tell us more?

Almost a year since 18 March 2020, our theatre has been deprived of audiences. We have been struggling to raise enough funds each month. 

We have not been sitting quietly. Over the past year, we have been pushing, tugging, fighting and hoping. There have been many parties trying to move mountains for us including ourselves – but it wasn’t enough. That’s when we decided to put out an Open Letter and share our struggles and more importantly our wish list.

The support from the public following the Open Letter has been overwhelming. However, we hope, we need, we must have some kind of positive action, dialogue, policy changes from the government. Keeping us closed is no longer the answer, because Covid-19 is here to stay. Then will the arts be simply shut down and left to die a silent death? What will be left of the industry? We are a business just like everyone else – banks, eateries, factories. We are asking for a fair chance, an opportunity like other industries. Let’s work on ways where we can reopen safely in stages. Let’s get our artists and arts workers vaccinated. Let’s have positive action instead of a blanket no!

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