the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: February 2009


Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.” – Paulo Coelho

Every Warrior of the Light has felt afraid of going into battle.

Every Warrior of the Light has, at some time in the past, lied or betrayed someone.

Every Warrior of the Light has trodden a path that was not his.

Every Warrior of the Light has suffered for the most trivial of reasons. Every Warrior of the Light has, at least once, believed he was not a Warrior of the Light.

Every Warrior of the Light has failed in his spiritual duties.

Every Warrior of the Light has said ‘yes’ when he wanted to say ‘no.’

Every Warrior of the Light has hurt someone he loved.

That is why he is a Warrior of the Light, because he has been through all this and yet has never lost hope of being better than he is.

Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light –


Searching for a door

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I don’t remember the last time it felt like this. The furthest I can think back to is about a month ago, but even then I’m sure I’m mistaken, and it has in fact been significantly longer.

It’s a phase, a pattern, that occurs maybe once a month and lasts about two or three weeks. And I think the last time it occurred was two months ago, but after that everything changed and I thought that things would get better, that I would get better.

And now here it is again. Almost three weeks into this Phase, and it’s beginning to wear off. It’s something I’ve seen so often and come to know so well that I can almost feel when it’s about to die down. And it’s begun to affect me more than I expected it to, but it’s my fault. I chose to go along with this Phase yet again, reintroducing my head to the same wall I’ve been banging against for almost a year, and yet thinking I could get out of it more easily — or at least less injured — this time than ever before. But nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change.

But no matter. Soon enough there will be no more phases of any sort. I’ve done enough.

The 81st Annual Academy Awards

oscarI’ll admit it: one of the reasons I watch the Academy Awards is the dresses. But really, is it not so for most women? It’s been hailed as the fashion event to watch, with the world’s top designers all thrown together in one place, and press releases issued by fashion houses hours before the show to stake their claim on the stars who are wearing their designs to the greatest awards show of the year. It’s how people know about the daring, unconventional Elie Saab gown Halle Berry slopped all over the year she won the Best Actress Oscar, the sweet pink Chanel and vibrant yellow Lanvin-Castillo Nicole Kidman and Jada Pinkett-Smith wore respectively the year Halle Berry slopped all over her Elie Saab, the regal Vera Wang that made Keira Knightley look just a little less like a beanpole, the dramatic Christian Dior that Charlize Theron gift-wrapped herself in (contrary to most of the fashion critics, I absolutely love this gown, and I wish I had the height and frame to pull it off), and, of course, The Swan, a dress so heinously infamous it needs no other form of introduction, and whose designer and endorser nobody cared to know anymore.

Another reason I watch the Academy Awards is the host. Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, and my favorite — Whoopi Goldberg. And this year, when Hugh Jackman was announced as the host of the 81st Academy Awards, I went, “Ooooohhh!” right before my left eyebrow hoisted itself up. As much of a fan as I am, I had never seen Hugh Jackman in any comedic roles, and God knows everyone was in need of some comic relief to lift them out — if only for one night — of the slump the flailing economy had stomped them into.

But after finally catching a rerun of the show, I have to say that this year’s show was one of the most entertaining I’ve watched in a long time, and largely thanks to the host. It was extremely refreshing to see him in a role that didn’t require metal of any sort, and even though he had previously hosted the 2004 Tony Awards, this Oscar stint has succeeded in breaking him out of the buffed-up superhero stereotype. The man can sing, dance, play host and work his charm in a way that is rarely seen in today’s woefully synthetic, talentless world conquered by reality shows, and the performances made this year’s show the one most worth watching in recent years.

Hugh Jackman’s opening number with Anne Hathaway

“The musical is back!” With Beyoncé Knowles, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Amanda Seyfried and Benjamin Cooper

Say a little prayer

Did I say I couldn’t wait for Lent? I take it back.

No, I don’t.

Last year, for the first time in twelve years, I forgot about Lent. With all the upheaval over packing up my Buffalo apartment and shipping it home, packing and getting everything in order to move to Boston, I literally forgot about Lent until more than a week later. That was how unprepared I was — in body, mind and soul — for the forty days (really forty-six because Sundays during this period don’t count) of strict fasting, abstinence and prayer (or as strict as it could get where I’m concerned).

So this year, I will try to be more diligent in my observance of Lent in order to focus on rebuilding and strengthening my relationship with God, which is still in a state of disrepair, despite my efforts in attending Mass.

I may not always be able to follow the one-meal-a-day-except-on-Sundays rule (entirely my own fault, which I’m still trying to rectify), but I can and will abstain from __________________ for the next forty days. Make no mistake, it’s going to be one hell of a tough journey, but I’m determined to ride this one out somehow.

So as of tomorrow, it’ll be fish and greens and water for me.

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Nothing lasts forever

But while we still have it, we’d damn well better hang on to it


That’s the one thing I was reminded of by The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, the story of the man who was born with all the physical and physiological traits of a man well into his eighties and then proceeds to live his life backwards,  growing younger and younger, and eventually passing away as an infant.

We get so caught up with chasing our dreams and doing exactly as we like with our lives that we forget the other people around us, forget that we are not alone, that there are others who still love us, regardless of how flawed we think we are.

Sometimes we take for granted the things and the people we love, forgetting — or rather, choosing to ignore the fact — that time, circumstances, and maybe the consequences of our actions, will take them away. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but for as long as we know — or think — it’s still there, we turn our backs on it, and in the end, when we decide that it’s time to start going to that end of the tunnel, we realize the light is gone.

So in the spirit of ‘living well’ and ‘not wasting time’, we fail to realize that  by skating over that complicated, consuming, destructive, but extraordinary part of life they call love, we have wasted something more — much more — than just time itself.

“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit… start whenever you want… you can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that stop you. I hope you feel things that you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life that you’re proud of and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”Benjamin Button, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

From rags to Rajah

– Slumdog Millionaire


Last night I braved my aversion to 1-Utama to watch Slumdog Millionaire, the movie that, for those who don’t already know, has been sweeping the top awards at the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards, and is currently up for a Best Picture Academy Award. I first heard about it a couple of months ago when my mother’s friend Janetty (really Jeanette) said that it was all the rage in India and was even making its mark in the U.S. And after watching it last night, I could see why.

What I love about this movie is that it shows the world what Bollywood, and certainly most politicians, are so careful to conceal: that beneath the glamorous veneer, and the extravagant and ostentatious displays of wealth, there are millions of people who live hand-to-mouth in crushing, unimaginable poverty on the outskirts of the major urban areas of India, who have come to think nothing of washing themselves and their clothes in polluted water, and scrounging for food in garbage dumps. Even sadder is the cruel business the crime lords run of herding orphaned, abandoned children and training them to beg, blinding and crippling them to increase their income if necessary. If people haven’t already learnt to realize that there is more to life than money, the heartbreaking reality of this movie would have done it for them.

On the flipside, the movie also shows the kind of hope these people have: hope that one day, they will find a way out of their meager lives and build new ones. Whether or not they really resort to fighting for a chance to participate in Kaun Banega Crorepati, the fact that a simple, but deceptively wizened young chai-wala from the slums of Dharavi can get as far as winning two crores (twenty million) gives the people hope, that even if they win only one hazaar (thousand) or one lakh (hundred thousand), they at least took that step.

Props to the directors and producers for not casting any of the big Bollywood stars, who were deemed ‘too refined’ and ‘too good-looking’, in the lead roles, as that would have gone against the whole show-the-real-India angle. And even though Dev Patel did a good job portraying the deadpan Jamal Malik, I think the biggest credit should go to the child actors who played the younger versions of the lead characters. They were what made the harshness of life in the slums more real and more present than ever.

Hope. It eludes us all, choosing not to show itself until we least expect it. And contrary to what some might think, it should not be any other way.

Of mists and magic: An insight into the brains behind the beauty

Yesterday I was finally able to meet with some of the production team of Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical; it helps to be part of one of the title sponsors and the neice of one of the stage managers, as that got me some face time with a few of the key members of the production team.

So after three hours of sitting in the cafeteria of Istana Budaya and about ten minutes with each person I was able to interview, this is most of what I got:

Dato’ Zahim Albakri — Director


“When we started Season 1, it was all very raw; we took what we could from the book, the movie script, and whatever research we could do. We’ve come a long way since then, and we’re always thinking of how we can make it better. One of the obstacles of making changes and additions to this season was that we tried to keep what the audiences loved, but in order to add to and enhance the show, some things needed to be taken out, and people remember that, even the little, little things.

“What sets PGL apart from other local productions — besides the obvious* — is that we took our time to get everything right: the story, the music, the design, everything. We wanted the development of the production to be solid, and it was a collaborative effort. The problem is that people here love to rush things, they want it yesterday, and that results in a lack of detail because they overlook stuff.

“I would like to see this production travel… take it on tour. But there are a lot of variables to consider, like the language — do we stick to Malay or change it to English for the international audiences? And schools are asking for the script so that they can have their own production of PGL, which is great, because it shows what an impact this has had on the community.”

* He couldn’t suppress a grin when he said this. Love the underline meaning there.

Raja Maliq — Production Designer


“Everytime we wanted to restage PGL, Tiara would challenge us to come up with something new, something better. After Seasons 1 and 2, I went to London and watched Zorro The Musical, with music by the Gypsy Kings and illusions and all, and I thought that PGL is mystical and magical, and it would be something different if we had illusions and special effects in Season 3.

“The magic of this production is the synergy, the way the team works together. The best experience for me is working with the crew backstage; they are so dedicated and they always do their best.

“You know, I’ve never seen the show from the audience’s viewpoint. I’m sure it’s great and all, but I don’t want to jinx myself!”

Pat Ibrahim — Choreographer


“The difference with working in this season is that I worked with only one director, which gave me more room for my own staging, and I was able to do different things, like the dance that Puteri does for the Sultan in Act 1, and the Sultan’s dance sequence in Act 2 (when he knows he’s going to marry her), which was actually intended to provide comic relief, because the scenes leading up to that were getting quite serious and dramatic.

“For the film, Tiara and I did our research on traditional dance in Indonesia, which gave us ideas for both the Javanese and Malaccan dances, even though they have their distinct differences. I was able to create a lot of it based on discussions with the directors, who told me what they wanted and I just adapted the choreography to it.

“This may sound a bit corny, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do. If you believe in something, you stick to your guns and do it. It’s most satisfying to see something so big come out of little ideas that people just sat around and threw out. And even though it’s come this far, it’s still very much a learning process for me.

“Oh, and the one thing you must always remember is that no one is indispensable!”

Anslem Roy – Illusionist


“This is my first time working on a production like this. I worked on musicals in Korea, Japan and China, I did Ayumi Hamasaki’s shows in Japan and Missy Elliot’s when she came to Genting, so when Enfiniti (Productions) called me and said they wanted to meet with me to discuss creating illusions and special effects for Season 3 after they went to London (and saw what productions out there were doing), I think they wanted to see if a Malaysian could do it!

“Since I wasn’t part of the team during the inception stage, I had to make sure my designs worked around what was already there. I had to be careful not to make this look like a magic show; it had to be just enough to make sense and be relevant to the show and the story, even right down to the mist or smoke in the mountain scene, which made this one of the most difficult productions I’ve worked on. But I’m thrilled to bits that it has worked out this way.

“My biggest challenge is trying to change the mindset of people working in theater here. There are people who will not like what you produce and think it’s too much or too little, but once they see the full effect of it, they start to open their minds just a little bit more.”

Ng Mei Chuen – Assistant Stage Manager (My Auntie Mei!)


“This is the first large-scale production to be made in this country, and everyone always has to be on their toes, to make sure they have all the props ready at hand, to know their cues and manage every scene with as little interruption as possible.

“This time around, we had the magic bit thrown in, which added to the challenges because everyone had to be more on their toes to make sure everything actually works, and that raised the stakes, because with safety issues (due to the kerosene used for the pyrotechnics), there is less room than ever for mistakes.

“I liked working on P.Ramlee: The Musical, which has its own magic, but working for PGL is a completely different experience, because it’s very stylized, the language is different, and all that gives it a sense of novelty.

Eeeyyyeeerrrr… why you take my picture when I look like this now?!”

*          *          *

Unfortunately, Dick Lee, the composer, and Roslan Aziz, the musical director, were not around, and Adlin Aman Ramlie, the scriptwiter and lyricist, was too busy getting into his Sultan Mahmud getup, so I didn’t get to meet any of them. And stipulations set by the production company did not allow me to go backstage or meet Tiara Jacquelina and Stephen Rahman-Hughes, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

A job to die for — literally

I received this in an email this morning, and I tried to imagine if it happened to me:

Worker dead at desk for five days

taken from The New York Times

Bosses of a New York publishing firm are trying to figure out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for five days before anyone asked if he was feeling okay. George Turklebaum, 51, who had been employed as a proof-reader at a New York firm for 30 years, had a heart attack in the open-plan office he shared with 23 other workers.

He quietly passed away on Monday, but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked why he was working during the weekend.

His boss, Elliot Wachiaski, said: “George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all that time and didn’t say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself.”

A post mortem examination revealed that he had been dead for five days after suffering a coronary. George was proofreading manuscripts of medical textbooks at the time of his death.

You may want to give your co-workers a nudge occasionally, or say “hello in there,” just to be sure they have not succumbed to the same fate as George.

If there is a moral to this most unfortunate story, it could be this: Don’t work too, too hard. Nobody notices anyway.

First one in every morning and worked as a proofreader. Should I be worried then?

I suppose it would be better than Bridget Jones’s fears of ‘dying fat and alone, and found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians’.