Experimenting with elements of musical plays, masked historians and traditional drumming, the Orang-Orang Drum Theatre tells of human sagas in epic style. An artistic amalgam from director Boyz Chew, his inspiration draws from traditional genres of puppetry and performance from Kelantan, Johor, and east Malaysia. A beguiling way to stage his emotive themes, here’s Chew in his own words.
How did the idea first come to you?
I initially began with playing these huge traditional drums. It’s very physical and requires high energy, and I thought, why not use the motions of my body to express a message? And so we started to develop a cross-over style that we call drum theatre.
Tell us about the themes that instruct your shows.
I love collecting stories. One of those tales comes from my own family. My grandfather was from the Nanyang region in Southern coastal China. He came here as little more than a slave. He never had the opportunity to read and write, so he had to eke out a living the hard way. He and so many of his friends also had trouble obtaining official papers from the government. So they remained essentially stateless for decades.
It made me think about the back-breaking sacrifices these folks made. The foundations of who we are today were built on the blood, sweat and tears of the generations before us. That’s why they were so durable, able to survive anything. They grew their own food, relied on their own ingenuity and developed a never say die attitude that I can only marvel at.
And this is missing from our generation today?
In stark comparison, our generation buys whatever we need. If something breaks, we just throw it away and move on. A lot of things are taken for granted. For instance, the older generation is very careful about food because they’ve experienced hunger. Every morsel is precious to them. But we’ve never had that kind of scarcity. So its hard for our generation to understand the big fuss about finishing a bowl of rice even if we’re full already.
As a full time performing artist/director, is it difficult to thrive in our culture?
While it’s true the performing arts community is very small in Malaysia, if you go overseas, the competition can be big! So we actually have a lot of opportunities to grow, and change the public’s perception of career thespians. To spread our gospel and survive, we run community classes when we can, teach drumming in schools and build a network of support with other fellow artists. You might not make a million dollars, but the happiness you feel when you’re pursuing your passions cannot be replicated any other way.
Boyz Chew is seen in a jacket and shirt by Dior men; TAG Heuer Heuer 02 Automatic Chronograph 44mm in fine-brushed, polished stainless steel with ceramic bezel, blue dial and steel bracelet