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When I was younger – long before I was named Tokoh Pelajar or pursued my degree in Media Studies and International Relations in Universiti Malaya – I dreamt of performing. After my graduation and short stints as a public relations consultant and a writer for a local magazine, I pursued my dream.
It did not start off easy; I saw an advertisement for a musical theatre audition and decided to go for it. I had never auditioned before, and was not only terrified, but also completely unprepared. I did not know where to stand, where to sit, or what to do with my hands. Thus, someone commented that I was someone ‘without a passion for acting’ before rejecting me during the audition. I was adamant to prove the person wrong.
After being rejected, I decided not to go for another audition unprepared. Thus, I enrolled myself in a beginner’s acting class offered by the KL Performing Arts Centre (KLPac). I learnt that life in the theatre may not be all glamour and glitz, but it certainly is a life of Technicolor TV – there are always new discoveries about us and of others that constantly stimulate our creativity and intellect.
We were told that there is only one other profession in the world that required the kind of discipline required by soldiers – acting. After all, success in the performing arts requires much focus and discipline.
After graduating from the beginner’s class, I decided to audition for the inaugural Theatre for Young People (T4YP) programme in KLPac. Each of us had to perform two prepared monologues – one classical, one contemporary – and one song. We were also asked to spontaneously improvise a scene involving Cinderella, her stepmother, and her two stepsisters. The initial nervousness was quickly replaced with excitement and enjoyment for what we were all doing.
I received a call soon after informing me that I was part of the first ever T4YP ensemble. I was euphoric as I could finally call myself an actor. Our first performance was a piece called “Ten: Theatrical Lightning Strikes Human Relationships”, which consisted of ten short plays. I was cast as a psychologist, and all of us had great fun learning more about the craft of acting as well as about each other.
I also learnt that acting is certainly not the best paying job, but it is certainly one of the most rewarding. I faced many ups and downs in my acting career; some days I felt certain about myself, other days I faced uncertainties. When criticised, I learnt to improve myself, to take chances, and to literally act on my impulses instead of thinking it through.
For someone who was used to constantly analysing everything, it was a huge step for me towards tapping into my spontaneous side. During the T4YP programme, we were also allowed to explore other avenues. I was involved in the Short+Sweet 2008 festival and surprised myself by obtaining the Runner up for Best Actress Award.
The T4YP programme became a platform for us young actors to discover whether we were interested in acting, find the sort of acting we were inclined towards, learn our strengths and weaknesses as actors, and gain theatre experience before deciding if careers as actors suited us. I enjoyed every single challenging rehearsal, and always looked forward to the next. As we neared production, the number and duration of rehearsals increased.
There was great bonding among the ensemble members, and we felt like a family by the end of the season. Each ensemble member had different quirks and personalities, but what brought us together was our passion for theatre. Some subsequently went on to pursue acting in films and musicals, some in voice-over stints, and others pursued directing as well as writing.
After the T4YP season ended, I was cast as Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in a play based on the original, called “The Secret Love Life of Ophelia”. As this was no longer a T4YP performance, I had to be up to par to be regarded as an actor on my own merits. It was not an easy performance; I even landed myself in the hospital on the morning of the opening night! However, I pulled myself together and went ahead to perform for opening night and all the other shows.
My passion for performing – the same passion someone once said I did not have – was all I needed. I received feedback, both good and bad, for my performance. I learnt from the bad ones, and moved forward with great support from my encouraging director. I am not one to take criticism without judgment, and so I decided to continue improving myself.
I enrolled in an intermediate acting class, and graduated from the programme as a (hopefully) better actor. After all, if you want something enough, your heart will show you the way.
Sometimes we make mistakes in life, but we have to learn to let them go and move on. It is perfectly fine to live by your ideals – just be adaptable to change, and always abide by your principles.
Sharon Lam is a former graduate of Universiti Malaya in a non-performing arts related degree. Currently living her dream as an actor/performer, she is constantly looking for opportunities to perform to improve her performing skills.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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