Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Samad Said

A National Laureate talks his his frustration over the scenario that is taking place in the local serious literature scene. The article appeared in the sun newspaper in Marc 6 2008

Suggested Headline : Malay lit under threat

National Laureate Abdul Samad Muhammad Said, better known as A. Samad Said, has 65 books to his credit, from short stories to poetry. His popular novels include Salina, Hujan Pagi, Cinta Fansuri and Langit Petang. The state of serious Malay literature in the country, however, makes the writer sad, angry, and frustrated. He tells Bissme S. he has given up all hope of it getting the recognition and support it deserves.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a Sasterawan Negara (National Laureate)?
To get real recognition, to have all your work accepted, especially in school. As a writer, you usually want your books to be accessible to students, who will be your audience in the future.

There was recently a news report that two years from now, books by national laureates would not be included in the school curriculum. What is your opinion on this matter?
Some clever guys in the Education Ministry have said Sasterawan Negara books shouldn’t be included in school because they are difficult. During my school days, we studied William Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, John Buchan’s The 39 Steps and Lord Byron. They were hard. But we had good teachers as intermediaries ... to help us understand the text. When you are 18 or 19, you already know these famous literature figures.

So you don’t agree with the move?
I think what they are doing is insulting. Usman Awang, Keris Mas and Shanon Ahmad have been writing for almost 50 years.You cannot just say all the work of Sasterawan Negara are difficult. There are bound to be one or two books that are suitable.
You can say my poem Al-Amin is very difficult. But I have another poem Kita Ini Tetamu Singgah, which has been made a song. That poem is easy.You must have teachers to help you understand the text, so you have some knowledge of good literature.
When Anwar Ibrahim was the Education Minister, and then when he was Finance Minister, he took care of this. He respected literature. He remembered writers. He even sent me books ... good books ... to read. He would invite Sasterawan Negara to read poems and their work for his office functions. This is rarely done now.
He even invited W.S. Rendra from Indonesia to read poems for his functions. He encouraged reading.
Even in Tun (Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad)’s time, he sent me books. He wrote "Samad, you should read this." They (Mahathir and Anwar) created situations where you love literature, where you loved writers.

Do you think these situations no longer exist?
Yes. It is very clear from what they are doing.

Some people say you’re angry because you’ll get less in royalties when your books are not used in schools.
I am 72 now. I don’t need a lot to survive on. I just need a small amount of money. I don’t even have a car. So I don’t have to worry about petrol and road tax. It is not about royalties. I don’t mind that they don’t want to use my books.

So you believe fewer youth will develop the reading habit as a result of the move?
Yes. With the help of the Education Ministry, this will happen. Just think of these students two decades from now. They are not exposed to good literature.
If you start saying the work of Sasterawan Negara are difficult at school level, then don’t expect them to touch these books when they leave school. You are sending out a clear message - do not read the work of Sasterawan Negara. Everything should start in school. We are not creating a situation where people will read good literature.
In America the students are studying To Kill A Mocking Bird, and in England they go for Lord Of The Flies. All are difficult books. If you want simple books, then just read ABC all the time.

Are you sad at the situation?
I used to be. But not anymore. I am angry now. They should be respecting Sasterawan Negara. But they are not.

What is your hope for serious Malay literature? What changes would you like to see the government make?
I don’t want to visualise anything anymore. I have no more hope. I will leave the situation the way it is. There is a small group of people in the ministry who are so clever, let them go on being clever. If they want it like that, let it be. I want to make them happy.

It appears that you have given up?
Yes. I have given up. I am sick of it. I don’t care any more. I am defeated.

What is your view of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP)?
They have no tongue. (Writers association) Gapena (Gabungan Penulis Nasional) has no tongue now. They have not shown any reaction to this school situation. Their silence shows that they agree with what the ministry is doing.

The last time we spoke, you said you were trying to get from DBP the copyright for your books so you can publish your own books. Did you succeed?
Not all. They have given me the rights to 12 books, but not to seven others ... the most important ones ... the ones I want.
DBP always says the work of Sasterawan Negara is difficult to sell. When you ask for your copyright, they don’t want to give it to you.
I think it is the right time to give me the rights to all my books. What is the point of keeping the copyright for my books if people are not interested in reading them?

Is it your opinion that we do not appreciate Malaysia’s literature figures?
I believe so. I have just returned from Korea after attending an Asia Africa Literary Festival. I was there for nine days. It was wonderful to see how they loved books and writers.
There was a special segment on me on TV. I was so inspired that I have written 68 poems and will compile them into a book called Soneta Pohon Ginkgo (available in the market in April).
My poems were recently translated into Bangla and launched in Bangladesh. It appears that I am beginning to be appreciated in other countries. So I don’t worry that my country doesn’t appreciate me.

Do you think the country will ever learn to appreciate you?
When you are no longer here, then they will appreciate you. They will sing praises of you. They will say we have lost a shinning star from the sky. They will say you are so good. They will say hilang tak dapat diganti. (what is lost cannot be replaced)

You constantly criticise DBP. But they gave you your first big break. They launched you into stardom by publishing your books. Some might say you are biting the hand that feeds you.
Yes. I bite the hand if I see the hand doesn’t really give me good things (laughs). It is wrong to say DBP gives me anything.
The people give tax to the government and the government goes through DBP and then DBP gives the money to me.
It is people’s money that published my books. If I owe anything to anyone, I owe to the people who paid taxes. I don’t owe DBP. It is their mission is to see what allocation they have and give the money to the authors who they think can give back to the country. The money is not from the DBP director’s own pocket. Some people think I might have grudges against DBP. But that is not the case.

What kind of roles do you like to see DBP play in promoting literature?
I don’t want to complain about DBP anymore. What is done is done. What I care about now is just give me back my copyright and I will be happy.

How do other Sasterawan Negara feel about the situation?
Maybe I am the only one who is not happy with what is happening. Maybe the others are happy. I should not represent them.

What do you think of your own writing and your own work?
I keep meeting people who ask me about the same book I wrote almost 50 years ago. I wrote it when I was 23. I’m going to be 73 in April and people are still taking about Salina (his first novel). It is as if they don’t know that I have written 65 books.
I have gone into short stories, novels, essays, poems and plays. But people keep coming back with the same book. Yes they know me, it doesn’t necessarily mean they read my work. I believe they read my work only when they are in school. (Salina is a school textbook) Only those who want to be writers read all my books later.

How do you know people don’t read your other books?
I know when people read my work. When I ask questions about my books, they grope in the dark. Reading is not easy. Unless you have cultivated the habit, you will not read. Things are becoming easier with the existing graphic novels. Now they can see pictures only. The intellectual groups always complain that my books are difficult to read, my books are difficult to study.

So why don’t you make your books easy to read like popular fiction?
I am always moving up. I should not go down. They (readers) should also go up. If they don’t understand me, it doesn’t mean I am wrong. I am 72 and I have been through all sorts of experiences. I don’t just make a sentence. I care about every word I write, whether it is reasonable, whether it is beautiful. Schools must help them come to that level. Instead they just say the books are difficult, so let us run away from them.

You could write in English. Why don’t you write in that language?
People have in the past advised me to write in English, so I will get a bigger audience. But I want to create Malay literature. When I die, I want to leave behind a khazanah Melayu (Malay heritage). You can have my work in English after you translate it. A lot of writers in the world write in their mother tongue and have their work translated into English.

Some say you see English as a colonial language and as a result dislike English and refuse to write in it.
(feigning disapproval) Yes. I dislike the English language. Yes, I don’t like it that you write in English ... You have no alternative because English is the language of the world. Most of what I have read is also in English. As I said earlier, I want to create Malay literature.

So why haven’t we translated your work as well as that of other Sasterawan Negara in English so the books can be sold in the overseas market?
You should ask this question to DBP and the National Translation Institute. That is their work. I wonder what the function of the institute is if they don’t translate work.

Do you think the media is supportive of serious Malay literature?
They are not helping. Malay newspapers do not have a specific literary editor ... I don’t know about English language newspapers. As a result, good books get ignored. Bad books get advertised and supported. Good literary events don’t get reported.

Do you think you have come to a stage where critics are afraid to criticise your work and say what you have produced is the work of a genius?
We do not have good critics. I don’t worry about that. But there are people who still say I write rubbish. There have been arguments before this on why a book like Salina, in which I write about prostitutes in Singapore, should be promoted in school. They say the topic is not suitable for students. But in America students read To Kill A Mockingbird, which is about racial discrimination. They want to explain to students about racial discrimination.

How would you like to be remembered?
As an A. Samad Said who was always unhappy with what was happening around him.

Why this unhappiness?
I want different things. I dream of a caring society, where there is peace, where we respect each other, where we will always smile always, where we shake hands and hug each other. We don’t get that in Iraq or Pakistan or Indonesia, and we don’t get that in Afghanistan. But this is the world, This is not heaven. You get that only in heaven.

Some people believe this is zaman kejatuhan (the era of the downfall) of serious Malay literature. Do you agree?
I do not think literature has jatuh (fallen). There are still new young writers such as Faizal Tehrani and Nisah Harun who are writing serious literature. If I can fall down, they too can fall down. But I always tell them to continue to write no matter what. But there is no appreciation for what you have given them. I would say this is zaman kejatuhan penulis (the era of the downfall of writers).

Did you ever imagine that serious literature would be in the doldrums when you first started writing?
Never. When I started writing (in his 20s), I thought the writing scene would have a vibrant and marvellous future. But I was wrong. If they don’t want to read my books, what can I do? If they don’t want to read books, what can I do? They will be stupid because they don’t read.

In the current situation, how do you motivate yourself to write?
There are times when I want to give up writing altogether. But when I pray, I feel peaceful and I become inspired.
Lately, I have been painting and drawing. I held an exhibition recently and sold 20 paintings. I got more than for what I write.

Seeing the present state of serious Malay literature, do you ever wish you could turn back the clock and had never chosen to be a writer?
I would still want to be a writer, even knowing this would be the ending. I will not change the fact that I am a writer. Writing is in my blood.

What is your advice to budding writers who want to dabble in serious Malay literature?
I have no more advice for writers. They no longer need my advice. They know Malay literature will not be supported.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Amir Muhammad

It was always pleasure to interview film maker cum writer Amir Muhammad. He never fail to give you interesting quotes. This interview appeared in the sun on June 30th 2005 where he speaks on various topic from the famous gangster to the sacked Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. Here is the article

Suggested Headline: A rebel with a cause

OUTSPOKEN and opinionated with a touch of humour. That is the best way to describe this interview with AMIR MUHAMMAD. Malaysians first knew him as a writer. His pieces have never failed to arouse. This 32-year-old had his first work published in the national newspaper New Straits Times at the age of 14. Later he diversified, sat in the director's chair and made several independent films that entered a handful of international film festivals. His first work was Lips To Lips in 2000 followed by 6horts two years later. His most prominent work thus far has been The Big Durian which he made in 2003. It centres on a real-life event that took place on the night of Oct 18, 1987 when soldier Prebet Adam ran amok while armed with an M16 in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur. His action triggered a city-wide panic and rumours of riots. Now Amir plans to make films on the exiled former Communist Party of Malaya leader Chin Peng and criminal Botak Chin. In a chat with BISSME S. he shares his views on politics, press freedom, movies, art and censorship.

theSun: Tell us about the first time you got your work published?
Amir: I was in Form 2. It was a book review. From then on, I just submitted articles to NST and they got printed. This was way before the Youth Page. A 14-year-old can get published so easily....That says more about the standard of our newspaper than it does about my quality as a writer. (laughs)

Whose book did you review?
I can't remember the title of the book.

What made you move from writing to film making?
I enjoy watching movies. I didn't grow up surrounded by film people. In fact, the first friends I made in the film industry was U-Wei Saari. (A controversial film director)
I interviewed him for the NST in 1993 when his first film Perempuan, Isteri Dan....? came out. I was on my summer vacation from law school from UK then and I continued to stay in touch with him even after I returned to law school.
He encouraged me to take up film. Without him, I literally would not have thought a life in film was possible. We don't keep in touch much anymore but I will always be grateful to him for that. So if my career flops I should blame him too. (laugh)

So what was your original ambition?
To be a writer. I never stopped writing even though I don't write regularly. I wanted to be a writer since I was 12. I loved reading books. It is quite obvious reading will inspire you to write.

You wanted to be a writer but strangely, you took a law degree. Why didn't you take up a writing or journalism course?
If you want to be a writer, probably one of the worst things you can do is take a writing or journalism course.

Writing is not a technical craft. Writing is more to do with experiences and reading. That is something a school can't teach you. Writers themselves had advised me that if you want to write, don't take a writing course.
Writers can come from any background. Anton Chekhov was a doctor and Franz Kafka worked in a bank. I think someone who opens a bar, someone who is a prostitute. someone who is road builder, someone who is a waiter - that sort of person would make a better writer.
After all, you are writing based on your experiences and the people you meet. If you take a writing course, you only meet people who want to be writers. If you attend a film school, you will only meet other wannabe film makers, so your films end up being about the world seen from other film makers' point of view.

If you had become a lawyer, what kind of lawyer do you think you will become?
I would probably be a bad lawyer. I was inspired to take up law after watching LA Law. The show made law look quite exciting and glamorous. I figured it early on, the reality was not like that. You spend less than ten per cent (of the time) in court and other time is spent on research and paperwork. Rather be a bad lawyer, it is better not to be lawyer at all.

Were there any other reasons for you took up law?
I had a study loan from Petronas. If you are taking a study loan from Petronas, there are only four subjects you can take - law, accounting, medicine and engineering. I thought law was the easiest. Now I am paying them back painfully RM1,000 per month. Now every time I need petrol, I will avoid Petronas station. I am already giving them enough money. (laughs)

You had your first art exhibition. Tell us more about that?
It was a flop, unfortunately. I didn't sell a thing. There were five of us who had our first-ever exhibition. All together, there were 25 digital photographs and I only had three pictures. They touch on the Ramadan month and shows Ramadan can be commercial and spiritual month.

What inspired you to go into the art world?
I was sick of the mediocrity of the art world and I wanted to drag it down even further. (laughs). I made a painful discovery that nothing above RM400 can't be sold and my pieces are priced at RM1,000 each. The people who came to the exhibition tend to be cheapskates. We must find ways to get the "mak datin" crowd. Maybe my next series should be on the mak datins ... maybe nudes.

You have not answered the question. Why did you enter the art world?
Why not? There are a lot of galleries around and it was fun to do. Basically whenever I am asked why I am doing something, my motto is that it is seemed to be a good idea at that time.

You love jumping from one thing to another?
I get restless easily. I get bored easily. I kind of admire people who can do the same thing forever and I can't imagine being like that.

Let us talk about your films. So far you've done independent films and for limited audience. You have not done anything for commercial cinemas. Why?
I am getting my first commercial release in early September. It is called Ada Apa Dengan Indonesia? It is a documentary about Indonesian politics and film making.

Tell us more?
In the middle of last year, I followed an Indonesian film crew and cast when they were making a film called Gie that was set in the 60s. The film is based on a book entitled Catatan Seorang Demonstran which focused on the life of a Chinese student activist Soe Hok Gie - during the last year of Sukarno and the first few years of Suharto's (tenure).
At the same time, Indonesia was having its elections. I decided to make the documentary that parallels the elections with the making of this film. After all, an election is the making of a nation.

Do you think Malaysians will be interested to see a documentary about Indonesian politics and film making?
There is a certain curiosity about Indonesia. We have so many things in common and we are different in other ways. A lot of things happen in Indonesia first. End of this year, I will be shooting another commercial movie called Susuk (a black magic spell used to maintain one's beauty).

Tell us more about Susuk?
It is a horror movie that is set in the film industry. I am the co-director and the director is Naeim Ghalili (a Persian American). In case it flops, I can always blame Naeim. (laughs).
Given a choice, I will not make a horror movie. I don't think I can be that scary. They just waved all this money in front of me and it was difficult to say no. Besides, the theme can be interesting. It goes to show how far one would go to succeed.

Our censors can be very touchy about horror films. So do you think Susuk will face problems?
I have not sent Ada Apa Dengan Indonesia? to the board yet and I am not sure of the fate of this movie. Ironically, if I were to release the movie in Indonesia and it will be uncut. I have seen far more radical and critical documentary. Our censors are not quite in touch with how democratic Indonesia is.

What is your view of the board?
I think they seem to have loosened up a bit. Pontianak Menjerit was passed uncut. I think censorship cannot be viewed in isolation. It is always a part of whatever political force happens to be dominant at that time. It is never something in isolation. It is a selection of whatever image the government wants to portray at that time.

So you believe the political situation controls the censorship?
Of course. Don't we know that! We want less censorship because we don't want to just scare people. We want less censorship so that certain issues that can be discussed in the media. Which include documentaries.
They seem to be lenient now. But it can change very quickly. If the government feel they need to be more Islamic because PAS is getting powerful, the censorship will be stringent.

What about your road movie Lelaki Komunis Terakhir ... on the communist leader Chin Peng based on his autobiography Chin Peng: My Side Of History?
I don't want to speak about it I have not begun any work. I really don't know how it will turn out. I plan to complete the film before year end.

There is talk you are going to interview Chin Peng in Southern Thailand. Is that true?
Yes. I will try to, but interviewing him is not the main point here.

Some people regard you as unpatriotic for making a movie on the communist leader. What is your comment?
People who are trying to tell their other countrymen to shut up are the least patriotic.

Because they are narrowing what being Malaysian is.

Do you think you're unpatriotic for making a movie on Chin Peng?
I think the result will speak for itself. If I said I am patriotic I may not be accurate. The same thing about being unpatriotic. It depends what the result is.
To me, in any country, the people who most loudly proclaim that they love their own country are usually the worst people in that country... that is why you get fascist... that is why you get right wingers ... that is why you get extreme Christians in America.
These are the ones who always say how much they love their country and they are the ones doing the most damage to it. Ordinary Malaysians who don't feel the need to proclaim it are more patriotic than those who make a big deal about it.

Since Chin Peng's autobiography, there has been a keen interest to put up theatre performances and making independent films that touch on communism. Why do you think people are so interested in the communism era out of the blue?
All of a sudden, all these information is made available to us. There come a time when you want to explore Malaysian stories, you will start to think is that all the story we have ... don't we have more stories than this. You will try to find whatever alternative reading of history that is out there.
I think people all over are starting to feel a bit dissatisfied that there is one superpower in the world today. Whatever America says, everybody has to either agree or get invaded. Maybe the interest in communism is like going back to a time when the world was actually more bipolar ... There was not only one superpower; there was an alternative. It gives you a glimpse into a time (when) there were other possibilities. It is terrible to think that, forever, America is the only force ... the only superpower.

What is your view on communism?
In theory, it is the beautiful ideology. Given a choice, people like to share. Given a choice, people would not like to be more rich and more powerful than their neighbour.
But in practice, there has never been a communist country which has not descended into dictatorship. It is not what the ideal of communism is supposed to be. The system has been abused. It is quite understandable that we mistrust its theory.

We hear you are also making a movie based on (gangster) Botak Chin?
I am trying to get a friend of mine Danny Lim to direct the film on Botak Chin and I will be the producer. He has written an interesting article on Botak Chin. There are people who idolised him and viewed him as some kind of Robin Hood. (Botak Chin was a KL based gangster/robber who was No. 1 on the wanted list in the mid-70s and was finally shot dead in a hail of bullets by the police).
In The Big Durian, you touched on Pbt Adam (soldier who ran amok and went on shooting spree in Jalan Chow Kit in KL in 1987). Now you are making movies on Chin Peng and Botak Chin. Why the fascination with these types of individuals?
Other people make films on Leftenan Adnan and Tunku Abdul Rahman. Everyone is making these types of movies. You must always do something to fill a gap. You must always do what you are interested in.

Why the keen interest in Pbt Adam, Botak Chin and Chin Peng?
Don't know. If you read Malaysia's history books, these people wouldn't be there so much. There might be a footnote, a paragraph or two written about them. These people are a part the collective imagination of Malaysians. These people are a pool of resources. In other developed countries, they can make films on all kinds people - from kings to crooks. Why are we restricting ourselves?

Do you like to be controversial for the sake for being controversial?
That can be quite tiring. Not only for myself but (also) for other people . A lot of films and books that were controversial at that time, later people don't remember them. I don't see myself as controversial. It's fun to annoy people. It is too easy to be controversial in Malaysia. The slightest thing could be controversial.

We hear you want to release Lelaki Komunist Terakhir in the cinemas. Do you really believe it will get the green light from censors?
I don't know. It's not up to me to decide.

What if the censors ask you to make cuts? Would you comply?
It depends. I would prefer uncut. I've lived in this country almost all my life and I know what people can take and what people cannot take. Where did we get this idea that every movie and book must not offend anybody. What is wrong if a movie or a book offends some people? You can't please everybody.

What is the greatest misconception people have about you?
I don't think people have misconceptions about me. People don't even know I exist.

You were sacked from NST in 1999. Why?
I was not really sacked. I was never a full-time staff in NST. My column was stopped during the general election in 1999 because it was thought to be un-helpful to the government in its bid to win the election. It says more about their paranoia. Now everything is okay. I can write for them any time.

Did it affect you in any way?
It was not a big deal. In a way, it was good. I had a bit more free time. I could do different things. I directed my first theatre performance The Malaysian Decameron. But frankly speaking, writing a column doesn't take much of my time.

Did the incident cause you to question Press freedom?
I was questioning it right from the start ... even before my column was stopped. You don't need an incident like that to question it.

People always complain of a lack of press freedom in Malaysia. What do you think?
The journalism graduate feels there are many things we can't do. In reality, it is not as bad. People have to be honest and follow what stories there are.
We are always suspicious in nature. For example, the corruption case gets played up in the media, we will question why these cases are being played up and whether somebody is out to get them. We have not got to the stage where we will say "yes, it is a corruption case and it should be played up". We always question, if something is exposed, then it is to fit into someone's agenda. It is not as bad as the critics say it is.

Tell us your experience in NST?
Writing for the NST was fun back then because people like Salleh Ben Joned and Johan were contributing to it. Also, the editors (I worked with) were liberal, down-to-earth and humorous in the way I think of as quintessentially Malaysian. I never felt like I was dealing with people twice my age. The last editor I had was Kee Thuan Chye, but before that there were Rose Ismail, Fatimah Abu Bakar, Aishah Ali and Sheila Rahman. I consider my NST years to be my true schooling experience.

You only directed one play, The Malaysian Decameron, in 1999. Why didn't you direct more plays?
It wasn't very good but it had a few good jokes. It was part of the director's workshop series headed by Joe Hasham and the late Krishen Jit.
I don't think I can be a Namron or a Mark Teh. I am too impatient and shallow to be a good theatre director. All those rehearsals! In movies at least, you can cheat with editing. But there is something magical about watching a good stage performance like Lembu or Baling.

You seem harsh on Yusof Haslam's movies.
I have watched all of his movies and I paid to see them. How you can say I am harsh on him. What is most interesting about Yusof Haslam is he started out as a bus conductor. He has the potential to make films about ordinary people, yet he only makes movies about people who have swimming pools.
He probably thought people will not see movies about bus conductors. But a film like Mekanik which is about ordinary people can pull in the crowd. Then again, who am I to lecture him on what kind of movies he should make?

Your views on the most expensive local movie, Puteri Gunung Ledang (RM20 million)?
There were certain things good about it. I think people were less forgiving because the hype was massive. They made terrible blunders. The art direction was terrible and it wasn't edited well. I like the dialogues and the performances were above average. It was not the ultimate movie that we were told it was. But I admire the fact someone was willing to try something big.

Tell us more about your parents? Do they support what you do?
My father Muhammad Abdullah was a civil servant who worked through several ministries. The last ministry he was attached to was the Transport Ministry. In the 60's, he was on the censorship board. I don't know how long he was there. Maybe just for a few weeks. Maybe they got rid of him because he didn't ban any movies (laughs). My mother Asiah Kechik is a housewife and is always busy.
I would think certain parents will be alarmed if their children did not do law and would rather do something that is uncertain. But they never stopped me as long as I was interested in something and I was not starving.

How many siblings you have? What do they think of you?
My sister Siti Dura is an engineer. She is quite busy with her job and doesn't devote much time to thinking about what I do. But she is very responsible ... much more responsible than me. For example, she did not forget to make restaurant reservation for the recent Father's Day. We balance each other out. (laughs)

What do you think of our current Prime Minister?
As much as you (can) get annoyed with (Tun Dr) Mahathir, he was such a galvanizing force (but) he was (also) so polarising. You either like him or don't like him. The Opposition was in a much healthier state in Mahathir's time. Pak Lah is a nice guy. He never seems to get angry. He is very friendly. He has taken the wind out of the Opposition. What else do you have to complain about?

Now you seem to be pro Mahathir. Why the change?
(laughs) It is like Britain after Margaret (Thatcher). She is a kind figure you either hate or love. You miss her after she is gone. A politician is a collection of his policies and of his actions. You like certain policies and actions more than others.
I supposed I like Mahathir's sense of impatience - he always had a sense of unfinished business - he always felt there was so much more to be done. It is kind of inspiring for a young country to have this kind of image. But nobody should be in a position of power so long. Because then it is just about the power.

Are you a supporter of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim?
I don't think I am a supporter. I am not a member of any political party. While he was in government itself, he was the big sponsor for dubious things like Bahasa Baku.
He seems to be the sort of person who like the surface details more than anything else. He always claimed to have read a lot ... I don't think he was as well read as he claimed. Well, he has written a lot of wonderful things and they have never been translated into action.

What is your view on Putera Umno?
It is going to be a place where potential entrepreneurs join where they create networks and make connections. (read Sun Weekend last week for conversations with Putera Umno chief)

Are you anti-government?
Everybody should question the government as well as the Opposition. Since the Opposition is not in the news so much, so what do you have to question them about?

Why don't you join any political party and make changes from inside?
I don't want to be a politician. I question them as a taxpayer... someone who gives them money ... we are the one paying their salary. It is so wrong to pay for their lifestyle and then you have to shut up.

So are you anti-government?
I am frequently anti-government. Then again, if PAS comes to power, I might be equally anti-government too.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Joe Hasham

Here an interesting interview from Joe Hasham who speaks about the local theatre scene which appeared in the sun newspaper in Oct 11. 2007

Title: Play not the prima donna

Veteran actor-director Joe Hasham whose most recent work was the acclaimed Tunku The Musical says Malaysian actors are generally a spoilt lot who do not bother to perfect their craft. He also tells BISSME S. that Malaysian audiences tend to turn down their noses at local plays. At 59, he has been involved in theatre for more than 40 years and has directed more than 100 plays. He and his wife Faridah Merican, the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre, run The Actors Studio as well as swanky theatre venue The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.

theSun: What is the biggest challenge that a theatre artist like you faces in this country? 

Joe Hasham: Thankfully, I am blessed in that I don’t have to worry about earning a living. I think with most theatre artists in this country, their biggest problem is trying to earn a living. It is absolutely no different anywhere else in the world. Actually, our performing artists are a little bit more fortunate than other performing artists anywhere else in the world.

Why do you say this?

Because there are more jobs than there are people. Why do you think the Actors Studio ends up using the same people all the time? We are trying as much as possible to get new people and I am sure other theatre companies are also doing the same.

Can you give an example?

For instance, if I was casting Tunku The Musical in Australia which has almost the same population as Malaysia, for the lead role, I will have at least 100 people who could do the part. Here we have one or two who could do the role. So there are more jobs and fewer people. Whereas in Australia, UK and America, there are not many jobs but so many people.

Why do you think there are fewer people in the local theatre scene?

It is a cultural thing, particularly among the Chinese. Because Chinese families are a little bit sceptical about their children devoting their time to the performing arts; the parents feel they should be getting a degree, become a doctor, businessman, accountant, lawyer or engineer.
That is why you find within the performing arts in this country, we tend to get a lot of Malays and a lot of Indians. Because they really have a passion for it.

So, are you saying the Chinese don’t have a passion for the arts?

It is not to say the Chinese do not have a passion for it, they do. But I think the family and the cultural restrictions are a little bit stronger. So my biggest problem is finding people and trying to nurture the young talents. Faridah and I are forever nurturing young people who can write, who can direct and who can perform. It is a never-ending battle.

What changes would you like to see taking place in local theatre?

Last year, The Actors Studio had Sarah Jane Scaife conduct a workshop on Beckett (the writer Samuel Beckett). She is a renowned Beckett exponent. If she were to give the same workshop in Australia, England and America or anywhere in Europe, people would be clamouring to join the workshop. I mean not just people, I mean top actors … established actors. When we did the workshop here, sure we got the quota we wanted. But not one established actor (turned up).

Why is that?

Malaysian actors think they know it all. That is the impression we get. It is not just me saying this. The majority of Malaysian actors are very spoilt and they do not take the opportunity that is given to them.
They feel it is not important to make time to do courses. It is a different mindset in Australia, UK, Europe and America.
The actors (there) are forever trying to improve. They will attend as many workshops as they can. They will attend as many acting classes as they can.
Top actors are forever revisiting this kind of classes. People like Dustin Hoffman and the late Rod Steiger were forever revisiting their basics. Our actors are not really interested in doing this because, I believe, they think they are above it.

How do you change this mindset?

It can only happen over time. I often tell my actors that they are lazy. I have no compunction telling them that. I often tell them that they need to revisit themselves. I often tell them that they need to be choosy about the work they do… about the work they accept... about the directors they work with.
On the other hand, I also appreciate the fact that they have to earn a living, particularly those who are full-time actors. I think the younger actors, the less experienced ones, feel once they have done one thing, suddenly they know it all. Of course, that is wrong.
There are actors all around the world who have been acting for more than 50 years who are still searching and who are still perfecting their craft.
For us in Malaysia to really be able to say we are professional in theatre, this attitude has to change.

Are the actors angry when you call them lazy?

I do not care if they are pissed off with me. I am not here to win a popularity contest. My mission is to nurture the creative talent. I do not hold back.
It breaks my heart to see really talented people just scratching the surface of their talent. If they are willing to put more into it, they could be world-beaters.
Absolute discipline towards their craft is necessary. A lot of Malaysian actors do not think there’s anything wrong in arriving for rehearsal late. They do not do it when I am directing them because I will taruh (scold) them. They do not seem to realise that by being late, they affect the entire cast. Because sometimes they are the integral part of the scene, (but) they are not there.

Do you think the government, in particular the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, is doing enough for theatre?

That is an interesting question. Nobody is perfect. In certain areas they are doing a lot. It is no secret I am probably one of (Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister) Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim’s biggest fans. I think what the man has done and what he is attempting to do, in terms of making performing arts flourish, should be applauded.
He is only being hindered by his predecessors. That is probably not their fault, either. Because at that time we didn’t have a Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. We had a Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Tourism was the main push because it was bringing in a lot of money.
One would have to be a fool not to notice the difference in the performing arts ever since we got the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. The funding for theatre and the encouragement we have been getting are positive.
It is not perfect. Datuk Seri Rais Yatim would admit that himself. It takes a long time to change a mindset. The other people in the ministry need to be re-educated and change their mindset. It is happening slowly. I think there is great hope.

Why do you think some theatre personalities feel the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage is not doing enough for theatre?

I have no idea. Theatre people are very quick to criticise. Sometimes it is emotional criticism without taking stock of what they are really saying.
I think he (Rais) is doing as much as he can. I think he has done very well. He is a lawyer (by training). He has a certain quality and style about him. He understands what the performing arts are all about.
The only problems I can see the ministry having is trying to change the mindset of some of the officers further down the line who have certain ways of operating and giving funding to certain organisations. Now that is changing, slowly. The ministry is totally open to any form of theatre – Indian, Chinese, English and Malay.

What is your view on censorship?

Whichever country you go to, there is censorship in one form or another. There is an old saying: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. If Caesar is paying your salary, don’t cut Caesar’s head off.
We have a set of rules and regulations and we try to abide by them. Sometimes we can find ways around them intelligently and there is nothing wrong with that. It is our responsibility as theatre practitioners to keep on pushing the edge… pushing it as far as we can go.

Some theatre personalities have long complained about censorship. But you sing a different tune. Why?

When the powers that be object to certain things about their play, some theatre personalities will immediately go to the media and complain the authorities ban this and that. We do not do that. That is one sure way of upsetting everyone and not getting what you want.
If you treat them with respect, and if you treat them as equals, and if you sit down with them and say, can we please have a dialogue about this … Can you please explain to us why you are objecting to this? And you will find most of the objections will be watered down. And you may find you will have to make one or two minor changes.
Our authorities are not idiots. Some of them may not be the most intelligent people in the world but they are not idiots. They know what they are doing.

It is difficult to believe you do not have any complaints about censorship.

Faridah and I do not touch on political issues. It doesn’t concern us. Also, the religious issue. Anyone who wants to get involved in a religious argument in theatre is mad. If you are going to talk about religion or portray religion on stage, there are ways of doing it. Some people are putting it just for the sake of putting it.
Then, there is nudity. Many countries do not allow you to be nude on stage. Many countries, I mean western countries, as well.
One area where we probably have more censorship than any other country is politics. But this is the country we live in. What are you going to do? Bash your head against the wall? You may as well become a politician. Fight your battles in politics; don’t fight them in theatre.

So you believe in working with the censors?

Yes. I certainly do not believe in fighting with them because you can’t win. It has been proved from time to time you can’t win. I believe in dialogue. I believe in confrontation. You confront the issues with the people who are telling you that you can’t do this. You talk to the people instead of going to the press. You may have to reach a compromise. But life itself is a compromise.

Some people say that theatre, especially English theatre, caters to the elitist and the arty-farty. What is your comment? 

I do not believe theatre caters to the elitist and arty-farty. I think it is the people who make theatre elitist and arty-farty.
There are a lot of Malaysians who will not go for local theatre. But they will pay RM350 to watch a second-grade show from the West End or Broadway. They will pay a huge amount of money to see that. But they feel spending RM40 to see a local play is too much.
I have met so many people who say ‘I do not see Malaysian theatre’ and I feel like slapping them. Maybe that is our fault, too. We have not educated them about Malaysian theatre.
The Actors Studio caters for the man-in-the-street. If you notice the price range of our tickets, we have family packages, senior citizen’s rate, children’s rate and the disabled rate. We try to keep the price of tickets as low as possible.
We do not make theatre for the elitist. If you are just targeting the elitist you might just roll over and die. Theatre is not for the elitist.
When Shakespeare wrote his plays, he was writing for the man- in-the-street. They (the public) used to stand around the circle and watch his plays being performed. These were ordinary people like cobblers and farmers.

Why do you think our audiences are reluctant to see local plays?

They are ignorant. They don’t know any better. Just because something is from abroad, it doesn’t necessarily have to be better. Look at Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical. It is a brilliant production. It is better than any production that I have seen that has come to our country.

The silver screen promises more fame and fortune. Why haven’t you tried directing films?

On many occasions, I have been asked to direct the films here. I take one look at the script and I have to decline. Unfortunately, our scriptwriters are not up to par yet. When I look at some of the awards given out, it is an absolute joke. I walked out from one particular film 30 minutes after it started. But the same film ended up winning four awards recently.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Faridah and I hope to make a big influence in schools. We want to bring arts to school. We’ve already had meetings with the Ministry of Education. It has built two performing arts schools. We hope to be able to work with them and expand it on a broader scale … to take it to a national level. For the performing arts to really thrive, it has to start from pre-school. We need to expose them to the performing arts from young. We do not want all of them to become actors. But at least they get knowledge and they will become better people for it. Performing art of any kind will only make us better.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ramli Ibrahim

Today I am highlighting an interview where it gives a glimpse of the dancing world in Malaysia. The interview appears in the sun dated Feb 10 2006

Title : In search of a sutra-ble audience

No male dancer has had as big an impact on the Malaysian dance scene as Ramli Ibrahim. He appeared on the public stage in 1983, and the same year, started the Sutra Dance Theatre. Now 53, Ramli has mesmerised audiences and dance critics for 22 years. He began with the Bharata Natyam and Odissi classical dance forms, but over the years, he has staged some provocative contemporary performances. For his contributions, he won the Boh Cameronian Lifetime Achieve-ment Award for 2003. But life has not always been a bed of roses for Ramli. Along with accolades, he has faced brickbats for taking the road less travelled. The iconic dancer takes Bissme S. on a journey into his life.

theSun: How has 2005 been for you?

It has been the most challenging year for us. Sutra produced several major works which successfully toured Malaysia, Singapore and India.
In India, we covered major cities such as Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi among others.
Asia is the place to be! India, especially, is culturally one of the most interesting countries in the world. To be recognised as a major Indian classical dancer in India means a lot to me. Though, I think Malaysians are not aware of the extent of our success in India. We also produced Titiwangsa for Istana Budaya which was one of our major successes for 2005.
But, on a sad note, I lost my mother when I was in Bhubaneswar (India), right in the midst of our tour. She died on Sept 11 (aged 84).
We also lost our beloved Kak Endon (the prime minister's wife) shortly after, which was a devastating blow to Malaysian arts. She was a strong supporter of the arts. These two events are personally the saddest times of 2005 for me.

Did you cut your dance tour short in India to attend your mother's funeral?

No. I continued with my tour. I had made a commitment with the organiser and I couldn't back out. In fact when my father passed away in 1986, I also had to dance on stage. It's all about commitment.

You seem to be performing more in India lately. Have you lost the excitement of performing in Kuala Lumpur?

I feel that my presence as a performer is saturated in Kuala Lumpur. I feel that the creative juices and momentum offered by serious artistes can no longer be sustained by the relatively small audience in Kuala Lumpur alone. Our artistes are moving forward but their audiences are not able to catch up, both artistically and in numbers.
The majority have a limited concentration and they would rather go for leftover Broadway and West End musicals. This is why I feel that it is time Sutra ventures outside Malaysia and this is exactly what we aim to do in 2006. There will be more overseas tours for 2006. We are planning for Europe and America. Some of the cities we plan to cover are Toronto, Paris, France, Zurich and London.

What is your long-term plan?

For our long-term plan, we hope to secure Sutra's future by setting up a Sutra Foundation. This would be our ultimate gift and legacy to the nation. Sutra Foundation would continue our aspirations and catalytic work on Malaysian contemporary and traditional performing arts.

Do you have a successor to take over your role?

It would be folly to programme a successor for Sutra. We can't dictate destiny. In fact, there is at present no such serious talent with the essential leadership qualities in Sutra. We have good dancers but this is not sufficient. To lead Sutra one needs serious commitment, dedication and idealism. The present dancers are still too young and immature. I think to make real impact one needs to possess not just dancing talent, but a whole lot of other qualities. We can only provide the hotbed for talents and hope for the best.

What is your opinion of the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage?

The minister has a lot of good visions and is very articulate. I am in full accord with the visions of our minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim but there is no exciting fresh blood in the ministry to execute the strategic changes that he envisions. So far we see only the same dead-pan bureaucratic zombies, completely uninterested in the arts except as a job. It is unfortunate that the minister has inherited and kept the dead woods of the previous ministry. The minister's more subtle ideas and spirit-sense go simply over their heads.
Look at the Budi Bahasa campaign, which has simpered to yet another bout of uneventful sloganism.
Judging from the brochures printed in quick time by the ministry, conceptually the officers have got most of the things relatively right on paper but they fall flat on their faces when it comes to execution.
To be fair, I think the secretary-general and her office are trying hard but I feel that they will soon be defeated by the very system that they serve because there is no fresh blood to genuinely help them to execute the new ideas. At city, state and federal levels, I am afraid that it will be temasha (circus) all over again. There are simply too much yet to be done! I remember at the beginning of last year, the officers used to say, "just call us if you have any problems". But they are impossible to get through to.
Yes, the minister of culture, arts and heritage is one of the most difficult and challenging ministerial portfolios.
Having said that, dance compared to other branches of arts such as drama and film, has improved the least since the ministry was set up. But Sutra has to move on whatever the scenario is.

What is the present challenge with the performing arts scene?

The continuing challenge is to be creative in spite of uncertain funding either from government or private corporations. It was not until last year that I got to perform in the hallowed hall of Istana Budaya for the first time. To get this slot, I remember that my producer had to rant and rave. Having scored this success, we were soon commissioned by the newly formed ministry for Titiwangsa!
Like a good boy, I have submitted our proposals for 2006 but have yet to get an answer. There is no consistency in decision-making regarding grants and sponsorship, so it's impossible to plan ahead for the year. (The two India Tours we undertook were unsponsored). We have to be very careful with our finances and performances. The juggling of the two seems to be the real challenge for us!

Some Muslims feel that you are a murtad (apostate) for doing Indian classical dances. What is your comment?

There are bigoted people everywhere in the world whether they are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Christians.
The foreign press asked me: "Don't you face a lot of problems in Malaysia as a performer?" And I told them "each country has it problems and it is up to the artiste to rise to the challenge".
I also championed Mak Yong and it was once considered murtad for a Muslim to perform the traditional dance drama. I championed Mak Yong when it was still not politically correct to do it. Like poet Salleh Ben Joned, I was an incorrigible because I dared. Secretly, many admired our gutsiness but I did all of these things in the most unconscious kind of way. (It was) Amazing that I survived!
If we started to please these people and succumb to their blackmailing, there is not end to the compromises we will have to make.

Did you get into serious problems for your interest in Indian dance?

People were much more extreme at one stage. Certainly, under Pak Lah, things have improved. With so much terror in the world, people just want to have a change -- we should not have any extremist point of view, no matter what.
I was a Muslim doing Indian classical dance which, essentially, is associated with temple dance. But I approached Indian classical dance from the spiritual point view. I think most vocations and most callings are spiritual. Even cooking is spiritual.

Has this particular issue affected you as a performer? Did you ever consider quitting?

It affected me, superficially. I was just irritated. But I was articulate enough to argue. I have always been articulate and I am full of opinions. Most dancers have no opinions.
There are always dancers who can lift their legs higher than you can. But you must also be interesting when you open your mouth.

Have you got into problems with the authorities for dabbling in Indian classical dance?

Jabatan Ugama Islam called me (in 1992) right after I performed Adoration. The performance was about the relationship between a dance master and his student.
They (religious officials) looked at the poster and deduced that Mano (actor Mano Maniam who played the dance master) was my guru ... as someone I worshiped.
They asked me about my mystical experiences when I was dancing. One of them even said if I was doing a pose of Siva and died on stage, I died as an apostate. I had to explain to them my dances were metaphoric.
A lot of friends were surprised that I didn't bring a lawyer with me. But I am not easily frightened. I am one of those who can get out of tight situations unscathed.
A friend quipped that the authorities might be looking for a new "candidate" for the rehab centre which was then empty after they "cleansed" the Al Arqam followers. But I was not sent there.

Are you still a true Muslim?

What is a true Muslim? Who is a true Muslim? I think I am a thinking Muslim.

What about Odissi? What is its relevance in Malaysia in the long run? Is this your major legacy to the nation?

Odissi in Malaysia is truly unique. It has become a symbol of multi-cultural and multi-racial Malaysia. Whenever we performed in India and elsewhere abroad we were always complimented. They said it was so refreshing to see such a multi-racial group -- whose members comprised Malays, Chinese Indians and others of mixed parentage.
So, Odissi has become a paean of culture that transcends race, religion and national boundary. At the same time, it has become a symbol of incorrigibility. As such we are opened to being victimised and this happens all the time.
When there is a slight controversy, all the former issues such as being a Muslim doing Indian dances; the fact that we are foreigners and could not possibly understand the nuances of Indian dances and other previous bigoted statements will appear all over again. You can bet that bigotry, racism and other such prejudices exist everywhere really.
Yes, Odissi would be a legacy I would be associated with. But in the larger picture, more significantly, I had brought in that special aura to Indian classical dance in Malaysia, a professionalism and the recognition that Indian classical dance must be accepted as part of the fabric of Malaysian culture.
Yet, on an even larger canvas than my impact on Indian classical dance scene is my image as an artiste without any hang-up. My free-spiritedness was remarkable when one considers that I was functioning during a rather oppressive time of fervent fundamentalist movements of the early 80s and 90s. I liberated the body and mind during one of the most puritanical times in Malaysian history.

What do you think of male dancers in Malaysia?

Most male dancers are getting fatter than me (laughs). But there was a time when male dancers went on the "rise" and now it is stagnant. Truly, there are very few male dancers who can really inspire you.

Do you think parents are still reluctant to send their sons to dance classes?

Yes. I can still count my male students. In Malaysia, people still perceive males who take up dancing as sissy. Male dancers have to be really good to survive. They have to fight a lot of battles.

How would you change this perception?

I don't ask how I can change society. When the time is right, the society will change on its own. Society has its own way of dancing. Let the society change by itself. Don't underestimate society. I try not to be judgmental.

Did your parents object when you wanted to be a dancer?

I love my parents. But they have nothing do with my life. I do exactly what I want to do with my life. My parents knew the rebel streak in me. I got a scholarship to study engineering. I completed my studies and eventually went into dancing.

What attracted you as a Malay to the Indian dance?

The spiritual dimension and the depth of Indian dance. The idea that you are trying to bring out the perasaan (emotion) out of the audience is very challenging. The dance is so rhythmic.

People often say that the same familiar audience goes for theatre shows. Do you agree? Why is that?

Yes, I agree. We have not included (performing) arts into our current education system. That is one of the reasons a new audience is not being created. Previously, there were much more art and literature in our education system.

Last year a newspaper's reviewer hinted that it's high time you go backstage and remain as a choreographer. What is your opinion? Did the reviews affect you in any way?

It didn't affect me. There had been worse reviews in the past. In dance, once you reach 27, you are considered "has been". That is not the case with the Asian point of view. A dancer matures with time.
Personally, you don't have reviewers and critics that you can take seriously. That is a major problem in Malaysia.
If you find critics who are overly personal, they themselves have problems. The worst critics are usually the frustrated and failed performers. If you look at professional critics, they are a bit more detached from the performers.

What do you think of the media in Malaysia?

They are obsessed with young readers because they are obsessed with the statistics. You have to question the statistics. You have to think about quality readers and never underestimate them. You pick editors from magazines based on popularity, not their literary backgrounds.
I think the media have given limited space to serious arts. One must understand the media do make a difference.

Why do you think dance doesn't attract the audience as much as standup comedy and drama theatre performance?

There is not enough interesting work. There is a tendency for dance performances, especially contemporary ones, leaning more towards the darker side.
Sutra has always tried to put up performances that celebrate life. We are not saying dance cannot portray serious things. It can be serious, but a lot of choreographers are overly indulging.

What is your view on the national theatre Istana Budaya?

It is too big. It is trapped by its own bad design. You can only put a big production like Puteri Gunung Ledang. Unimaginative people are running it. There is also a lack of discipline and everything is done at the last minute.

What is your view on the newest theatre venue, KLPAC ?

It is also a disappointment. Things are much more expensive than they are elsewhere. The rental for rehearsal is not as cheap as intended. It is supposed to provide an alternative space.A teh tarik cost RM4.80 and what kind people are we attracting?

Some purist Indian classical dancers believe you tend to mix your contemporary and Indian classical movements and eventually bastardised the Indian classical dance. Your comments?

I am clear whether I am doing contemporary dance or classical dance when I am on stage. I never mix them. When I go and see their performances, they are so amateur, that is bastardisation. When you don't give the kind of dignity that the dance deserved, that is bastardisation.

What is the greatest misconception people have on Ramli Ibrahim?

I am a prima donna. I am difficult to work with.

Why do people have this misconception?

My demand for professionalism is high. When they are not professional, I get annoyed. But I am always thinking more for other people than for myself.

Describe your childhood years. What influenced you most artistically?

My father was a lecturer and my mother was teaching Quran. They had five children and I was the youngest. As a child, I was very artistic. I would sing, I would dance and I would paint. I used to dance at the back of the house when my mother was teaching Quran.
My mother loved cooking, sewing and flowers. My father was teaching Malay literature, and he had a deep appreciation for literature and had many literature books. I used to read his books which was in Jawi.

If you could change anything of your life, what will it be?

I would not waste my time in engineering . I would do painting. Even architecture and anthropology would have been a better choice

Why did you take engineering?

I was a product when the country wanted to produce doctors and engineers. I am not impressed with my students who says they get seven distinctions. I got seven distinctions when it was difficult (to get distinctions).
Now, it's much more simple to obtain distinctions and everyone is getting them. You can't speak a word of English, you still get seven distinctions. The youths are not curious enough. They don't have the kind of staying power we had, and everything is light, everything is easier

How do you like to be remembered?

Nothing. I don't want to be remembered. It is not important how I am remembered

Most dancers are afraid of getting older. Are you?


Why not?

You don't realise your age is catching up. You only realised you can't do certain thing. If you can't accept your age, you have a problem

Some people say you can't retire and go behind stage. Is that true?

I am always behind the stage. I am the one who swept the floor when the show is over and everybody has left.

What is your advice to youngsters who are considering dance as their career?

Forget it. It is too difficult to survive unless you are strong.