Rediscover Brunei Darussalam through the eyes of the People
Tweeps, I'd love to include you in a pictorial I am creating. Tweet me a picture or two to the theme: "The world as I see it" =)— Delwin Keasberry (@BruneiTweet) November 19, 2013
I recently invited folks to tweet back photographs to the theme "The world as I see it". There were 50 in total over two days from Brunei, Essex, Glasgow, Singapore, Hawaii, etc. Here's the first batch.
Mohd Syafiq Haji Abu Bakar, popularly known to friends as Mr Syaf, is the co-founder of Seeds, a non-profit drama education organization for students. Seeds, (formerly SEEDS - Students’ Extracurricular and Educational Dramatic Society), which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, has become known in the Bruneian theatre community for its annual all-student (from cast to crew) musical productions – ranging from Oliver! The Musical, to Willy Wonka, to last year’s hugely popular The Wicked Witch.
Mr Syaf, 30, graduated from UBD with a BA in Education, and is currently the head of the English Language department at Sekolah Menengah Awang Semaun.
On the birth of Seeds.
My wife (Siti Zuliana Haji Masri, co-founder of Seeds) and I are members of the Brunei Amateur Dramatic Society. One night during a production, her friends asked her if there was anything like it for locals, especially students. That's when she talked to me about starting a group to help promote the arts. We realized that such opportunities for locals were very limited. So in 2008 we got a group of teachers together to help with the planning.
In the first school break of 2009, we held our first workshop for those in government schools. Our plan was to concentrate on government school students as they were the ones who lack the most opportunities. We wanted to give them a platform to allow them to showcase their creative talent. And so Seeds was born.
On the Bruneian creative industries, the SPN21 inclusion of drama into the curriculum, and the role of Seeds.
I think the creative industries isn’t pushed enough especially for the kind of talent we have here. A lot of Bruneians are struggling in the arts. Most have to commit to day jobs in order to survive.
The SPN21 introduction of Drama as an option for year 7s and year 8s can help push the arts forward provided that the push is not just through the curriculum but also through awareness-raising activities that involve the public.
This is where Seeds comes in. When we started five years ago, options were limited for locals to be involved in the arts, especially the performing arts. So what Seeds does is provide opportunities for students of government schools and institutions to showcase their talent without the constraints of curriculum or the financial commitment of being a working artist. We provide a platform or a home for these youths at no charge at all, and we assist and guide them to enhance their talent. The goal is to help them realize there is a place for the arts in Brunei and that they can use the arts no matter what their future has in store for them.
In doing so, Seeds' focus when it comes to the arts is not limited or heavily influenced by western culture. We put together an art culture mixed with the Bruneian way of life. That way, not only do we give these youths awareness of the arts but also proper life skills in the Bruneian context.
A scene from Seeds2 Into The Woods
Seeds Your Yellow Brick Road Workshop in collaboration with FASS, UBD
Seeds2 Graduation Night at MPH, UBD
On the development of theatre in Brunei.
Theatre in Brunei still has a long way to go. The creative industries are a big area to focus on and the problems within it are not small. Theatre might just be the least of their worries, as evidenced by various recent stage performances which functioned more as "show events" rather than focusing on theatre as a craft. The use of big names, guests of honour, one-off performances and the lack of a proper venue show how far behind we are in understanding what goes into a theatrical production.
The focus of theatre should be on the talent and not on who the audience is, the number of audience members, what can be done to entertain the audience etc. Forget about lucky draws, guests of honour, hosts or hostesses. Yes, some people say these factors are very Bruneian but why can’t appreciation of talent be Bruneian? The focus should and must always be on the talent.
I think Bruneian theatre is a lost art, clouded by how we view official events today. It has been so long since theatre has been showcased to the public that people forget what matters. Theatre can still be Bruneian without the factors I have mentioned and this is what Seeds is really working hard on, to try and raise awareness to locals on how we can shape theatre and the arts into our own cultural entity.
For example, we instil MIB values into our rehearsals and performances and we edit our plays, while being careful about not losing quality. We organize our events to accommodate prayer times, the elderly and we still have VIPs (because it is apparently so Bruneian) but without putting the focus on them.
I think you just need to be selective in what you can and cannot bring to theatre here. As long as the talent is still the focus, there is no harm in bringing Bruneian culture in.
There is a need to change and update. In fact, there is also a need to dig up and study what theatre was like in Brunei historically. I'm sure they never had lucky draws or prizes to be won on show nights!
I know that you try to attend most of the theatrical performances in Brunei. What are your thoughts on Bruneian theatre currently?
Yes, I try my best to attend all performing arts performances in Brunei, not just the theatrical ones. Performer-wise, I believe there is plenty of talent and potential and it is amazing to see the amount going on these days. Unfortunately, most performances here seem to focus more on the event rather than the showcasing of the talent which in my opinion takes the fun away. Theatre especially is not done right in some cases. People need to understand the importance of time management for example when holding a theatrical performance. To say one thing on the posters or tickets and to completely go against that is a breach of trust with the audience. This has happened way too many times in events held by too many different organizers and in my opinion is the number 1 problem that really needs to be solved.
Then there is also the idea of a guest of honour. I am not entirely against this but I think a separate event should be held for such occasions especially when you have paying customers. Organizers need to look into the norms here and really be selective of what to include in their performance. Yes, some things are the Bruneian way and we shouldn't follow everything western but that is not the point here. When it comes to performing arts, it doesn't have to be western-influenced but the elements in these events do need to be logical.
Seeds1 Theatre Sports at Rimba 1 Primary School
Sound of Seeds
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