Actor, dancer, educator – Fazli Ahmad has done it all. He tells us what being a part of young & W!LD means to him, and shares with us a piece of advice that has guided him in his career and practice to date.
Tell us about how you were bitten by the theatre bug.
It must have been during a forum theatre performance piece directed by Natalie Hennedige for The Necessary Stage. It was about teenage pregnancy and there was a scene with a girl in pinafore and Paerin Choa was about to make that ‘fetal’ mistake. Natalie asked the audience to give suggestions to help the girl, who was the unfortunate victim in this scenario. I raised my hand and said, “ She should tell him that she has a lot of school work to do.”
What happened afterwards is forever embedded in my memory. Natalie had the audacity to force a pinafore onto my barrel-shaped body, garnering embarrassing laughter from the audience. I nervously went into the space and immediately found myself in a chess game that went nowhere. Everything I told him was used as fuel against me. I felt a rush of emotion and I surrendered to that moment. I told myself in huge disbelief: this is real, my feelings are real, what is happening to me is real, and there they are, watching this as though it is a “blue” film. I remembered thinking then that theatre is very powerful.
How did you get involved in theatre?
The late Christina Sergeant, to whom I am eternally grateful, was the mentor who brought me into the theatre. I was very fortunate to have interned with The Finger Players during my semester break while I was in NYJC. The team at The Finger Players taught me to be honest and diligent with my art and more importantly to have “heart” in the work that I do. Christina Sergeant then cast me as a tengku in The Last Temptation of Stamford Raffles, a production in the MAN Theatre Festival spearheaded by W!LD RICE.
Ivan Heng took over as director at a later point during the production because our director had urgent matters to see to. It was then that Ivan gave me an extremely important piece of advice I still remember and practice today. He told me to not forget my roots and told me to do away with my accented English and speak as Fazli. At that point, being extremely young, I was confused and I was precious with what I had created for the character. It was only later in my acting career that I realised that Ivan was teaching me one of the most important lessons any actor has to learn: being sincere and true to yourself. I understood later that, if I love and care about theatre, I must be truthful and honest about what I do. Only then can theatre present truths and promote change.
You have a real passion for dancing. How has that played into your own work and passion for the theatre?
I’ve been dancing and choreographing since I was 10 years old. I think it was my desire to move my body and emulate my idols that got me dancing. I started learning Malay Dance, Contemporary Dance and Hip-Hop when I was 18. I was trained by Osman Abdul Hamid in Era Dance Theatre and PA Dance Ensemble, and Zaini Tahir in NUS Dance Ensemble.
I think dance is highly relevant to theatre because it trains the body to be disciplined and adapt to different environments. I was blessed to learn both Asian and Western dance forms. Asian dance tends to be grounded and pay homage to the earth, whereas Western dance tends to lift off the ground and move away from the earth. I remember my knees and feet swelling every month because I was juggling between the two forms and I kept pushing my body to the limits.
I did not regret the training I put myself through, though, because I learnt how to adapt. It was this constant learning and unlearning of muscle memory that shaped who I am as an artist. In much the same way, I have to unlearn my habits and to discover the potential I have within me all over again whenever I enter the theatre.
Why young & W!LD?
young & W!LD has had numerous alumni success stories and I think the team at W!LD RICE is responsible for that. I was always drawn to the brave yet appealing aesthetic that W!LD RICE has built for itself over the years. I was hungry and I knew my untamed expressions would find their place in young & W!LD. I think the W!LD RICE team balances commercial appeal and social dissonance perfectly. This is what I envision effective theatre to be. Theatre needs to entertain and, at the same time, prompt the audience to ponder, reflect and act.
young & W!LD has been going strong for three months. As a theatre practitioner and educator, what have you learnt thus far about your craft and yourself?
Under the wise guidance of Rodney Oliveiro and Serena Ho, I am in a crisis. We are doing an experimental piece and there are lots of questions and grey areas. What is good acting? What is a good performance? What makes good theatre? How do you work in a team of passionate individuals? How do you give? Why theatre? This crisis is necessary because I see potential in everything that the team is making and discussing. I am learning because my entire being is in crisis. I learnt to not be precious with my ideas and thoughts and I’ve also learnt to help and give. This is in line with my career choice of becoming an educator. I believe that we must give as much as possible in our lifetimes so that we can together make sense of crisis and make this world a better place.
I think it is because I care too much about people, our society, our country and being a citizen of the world that I decided to act. Theatre gives me that space to act, no matter how minute my contributions. I am thankful to W!LD RICE for having the patience to nurture me into an artist and giving me the resources and the safe space to express myself and, perhaps, take over the world!