Sharifah Amani has been a professional actor for ten years – you might recognise her from such iconic Malaysian films as Sepet and popular TV shows like Emil Emilda. Her work has garnered Amani plenty of critical acclaim, as well as a loyal fan following to the tune of a quarter million followers on her Instagram account. And yet, with all her experience in the industry, Another Country is like nothing she has ever done before. Sharifah chats with us about the challenges, lessons and love she’s encountered in Another Country.
What did you discover about yourself while rehearsing for Another Country?
I realised that I didn’t actually understand my brothers and sisters from across the Causeway. I’m from a generation that wasn’t part of the separation. We don’t actually think about it very much. Singapore is Singapore lah, and Malaysia is Malaysia – we share some similarities, but we’re really different. That’s what I thought.
Has that changed over the course of the production?
Absolutely. In reading the texts, going through the history, getting to know the people, trying to understand the differences and appreciating the similarities – I’ve had the opportunity to learn about what happened, and how we grew without each other, and to imagine what it might be like if we had stuck together.
I’ve found that, actually, we’re so alike. We have the same hopes, dreams and fears. But I think we’re like siblings – we always try to one-up each other, we’re competitive and we play up our differences. Ironically, it’s something that happens because we’re the closest to each other. It’s a little bit of a love-hate relationship. I’m like that with my sister. I don’t feel much for any other country, I have to say, but I’ve since discovered that I do, for Singapore!
What did you learn from digging into the texts from Singapore?
That Malaysians and Singaporeans are grappling with the same issues – and some of it is stuff we don’t learn in schools. Some of the Malaysian texts won’t be taught in schools. And I know that some of the Singapore texts we’re doing are quite risqué. That’s typical of both countries – you’re not allowed to speak your mind very much. But there are always the people who will do so, and it’s a blessing to be a part of this whole process and to get to work with their texts!
What were some of the challenges you faced in working on this show?
I’ve never done a show like this before. Actually, I’ve never done anything like this in my life! I’ve done theatre, but I don’t think I’ve ever worked like this in the ten years I’ve been working. This was like a crash course on how to behave, how important your body and your voice are, how every little thing is a tool for you to get the story across. I really appreciate what I’ve learnt: how to better understand myself as an actor, to understand stories and to understand how to work as an ensemble.
I also panic very easily on stage. I get very scared because, if you screw up, there’s no editing, no nothing! But I feel very supported and very strong in this production, because of the people around me. I’m working with people who are some of my heroes in the industry, and it’s awesome to get to do silly stuff on stage with them. This is one of those times when I’ve actually allowed myself to have fun on stage – I play and I try different things and I get out of my comfort zone.
Tell us about meeting the Singaporean cast for the first time.
We were rehearsing separately, and we’d heard about Siti, Yu-Beng, Gani, Sharda and Janice. We were sending videos back and forth of us rehearsing, and we kind of wanted to meet them so much. When we finally did, it was this explosion of love. It was ridiculous, because, truthfully, I don’t think we know each other very well! But I guess, because we were reading about one another for so long, we actually developed that love without being around one another.
What do you hope audiences take away from Another Country?
When we ran the entire show for the first time, I knew this was an experience for an audience member. If I were to watch this, I’d be so happy because I’d be sure to get my money and my time’s worth! It’s intense and fun and a rollercoaster ride, and it’s beautiful, because you’re learning about another country, which is, actually, like your own country.
Specifically, there’s an amazing moment near the end of the show, when the two casts come together to perform the ronggeng. Every time we step on stage and we look at each and every one of the Singapore actors, and they look back at us, it’s just an immense ball of love. Yu-Beng, who’s my partner, always tears up, because it’s so poignant and so meaningful. I think that’s the bit that will stay with the audience. They may argue about which cast or which set of texts is better, but when they see the ronggeng, they’ll realise it’s not important, that there’s a bigger picture.