By day, Shahida Hassim works in our buzzing tourism sector. By night, she indulges her passion for theatre as a member of young & W!LD. She chats with us about the joys of inter-cultural theatre and stepping out of her comfort zone for Little Riots and Other Stories, the ensemble’s upcoming showcase.
Tell us about how you were bitten by the theatre bug.
My first foray into theatre took place when I was sixteen. Back then, I was a junior college student just a few weeks into the new school term. We had been asked to sign up for a co-curricular activity, and I wanted to try something new, so I auditioned for the school’s drama club.
How did you get involved in theatre?
Rather reluctantly, to be honest. Not many people (aside from close friends) would know that I’m actually a closet introvert. I used to be extremely shy as a teenager – something I attributed to my four years of being in an all-girls school. When I entered junior college, I felt that I needed to try something different to break out of my shell. When it finally came down to auditioning for the school’s Gavel Club or its Drama Club, I went for the latter and the rest, they say, is history. Looking back, I must say that it was a pretty life-changing decision!
From then on, I started signing myself up for as many school productions as I could, began watching more plays (I love how our local theatre scene has evolved over the years!) and participating in open calls like the recent Ways of Wandering public arts engagement project under SIFA 2014. Basically, I made a more conscientious effort to immerse myself in the larger sphere of theatre that’s out there.
You can speak English, Malay and some Japanese, and have a special interest in inter-cultural theatre. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
I picked up the Japanese language in my third year of university, when I spent 10 months on exchange at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Ethnically, I’m the perfect embodiment of your Singaporean rojak. I’m half-Malay, a quarter-Chinese and a quarter-Indian; yet, I come from a predominantly English-speaking background. At one point of time in my childhood, I was watching English programmes on Cartoon Network, Chinese drama serials on Channel 8 and Spanish soap operas dubbed in Bahasa Indonesia – all within the same day!
You could say I was a pretty confused kid then, but on hindsight, being exposed to such cultural diversity also meant that it was only natural for me to develop a special interest in inter-cultural theatre as a young adult. I find it extremely fascinating to see how all these different cultures are interwoven into a performance piece onstage. As an audience member, you may not necessarily understand what’s being performed or said due to the lack of a cultural connection. Yet, the beauty lies in how you make meaning out of what you do see. Besides, I find that it’s often the visual that leaves more of an impact than whatever verbal dialogue was exchanged between characters within the same span of time.
Why young & W!LD?
Well, I’ve been meaning to involve myself in theatre once more since graduating, but never quite found the right time nor avenue to do so. When a friend sent me the young & W!LD audition notice earlier this year, I knew I had to audition for the programme, or I’d kick myself for letting the opportunity to learn from full-time theatre practitioners and educators like Rodney Oliveiro and Serena Ho slip by.
young & W!LD has been going strong for three months. What have you learnt thus far about your craft and yourself?
I’ve learnt that what I love (and have missed) most about theatre is being immersed in the entire process of creation. I love envisioning in my head how a piece of performance should be, before actually going through the motions to create a final piece for the stage. More often than not, the end outcome is so, so different from what I started out with, but I’ve learnt that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Whilst working on the upcoming showcase, I’ve also had to do a fair bit of devising and improvisation work, which I must admit was pretty daunting at first. But with each new exercise undertaken, I’ve learnt to challenge myself and be more open to trying new things out; things that fall out of my immediate comfort zone. I realise that I still have a long way to go before I can become the kind of performer I envision myself to be, but so long as I keep learning, challenging myself and questioning the choices I make onstage, I know I’m a step closer to getting there.