Friday, July 19, 2013

Women's Political Participation II

I keep waiting until I finish some projects before posting, but there is always one more thing to complete.

On 5 May the election for the 13th Malaysian Parliament (GE13) was held. Twenty-three women were elected to Parliament. The same number as in the 12th Parliament. Post-election the legitimacy of the outcome was questioned and malapportionment attacked; even if the election was fairer and cleaner women Members of Parliament (MPs) would still be few in number.

In June Empower sponsored a forum, "Post-General Election Analysis: Where are the Women" to launch the map Doug and I worked on. We had lots of help from others, especially a lawyer who works at Sisters in Islam. She found the software, Tableau, and uploaded the first versions of the map. With Tableau we created maps showing the MPs for each constituency in the 12th and 13th Parliament along with relevant data; we also created a map showing the GE13 candidates for each constituency and information about the candidates and their constituency. The most recent map is posted on Equality Under Construction. The site is interactive and allows users to view MPs who meet specified criteria, e.g., gender or political party. We are cleaning the database, which I hope will be done within a week. We also plan to learn about other ways to present the data in graphics.
MP Zuraida Kamaruddin, Jenifer Lasimbang (Sabah) and Honey Tan (Moderator)

The panel consisted of  included an. MP, a party activist from Sabah; Kamilia Ibraham, a defeated independent candidate, the executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism, and a political scientist at the Nat'l University of Singapore (NUS) (The links are for the presentations that are on youtube.) Kamila Ibraham, the defeated candidate, was fierce in voicing her displeasure at being nominated for the state assembly and not parliament. She was deputy chief of the Women's Wing on UMNO, the dominate political party in government. She resigned from the party and ran as an independent. She noted that to run successfully as an independent took time to organize a campaign - something that she did not have for GE13. She pointed out parties' organization into four wings - including a women's wing and a women's youth wing - weakened the opportunities for women leaders to emerge. Her comments complimented Bridget Welch (from NUS) that the parties were less relevant to the nation's youth. It is too soon to tell what is next for political parties in Malaysian - there may be a realignment going one as the opposition parties become more multi-racial, but we are too far removed to have an informed opinion.

Honey Tan; Kamilia Ibraham; Masjaliza Hamzah, CIJ Executive Director

Bridget also noted that single mothers were important in influencing the election's outcomes. These women benefited from targeted government programs, thus their support for continuing the government and its programs was assured.

The Centre for Independent Journalism has partnered with Nottingham University to study the media's coverage of GE13. The data showed no matter the type of media and its political links the women got little coverage. Probably too little to note trends in what was written about them. This article looks at the gender content of the findings and description of the media project is found on youtube.

Currently I have started studying the questions women MPs ask during the "Questions for Oral Answers." Women members of the governing parties and opposing parties consistently ask about projects in their constituency. The opposition women act like the opposition - questioning how the election was held (the major controversy is the non-indelible indelible ink) and how the government spends it money. This project has helped me learn who the women politicians are and their interests.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Theatre for Seniors

Shortly before we left for the US in April, I signed up for a theatre appreciation class offered by the Actors Studio Academy @ Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.  The class was scheduled to start on the day we were returning from the US, after 36 hours in transit.  I skipped (with appropriate notice) the first day of class (4 hours).

The class started with a review history of theatre in Malaysia.  In the 1970's and 1980's scripts were required to be vetted by the authorities and the names of individuals who would attend were required to be provided.  Plays were shut down, but many small theatre companies were established, some of which continue today.

We spent over an hour with a resident director Marc Beau De Silva, discussing issues of directing.  He works in English, and Chinese language mediums, but is finding it difficult to cast some of the Chinese dialect plays due to lack of fluency among young actors.  He also finds it difficult to cast young Chinese actors in Bahasa Malaysia due to a lack of verbal fluency.

We read Occupation by Huzir Sulaiman, a play recently produced in Singapore.  The story is about life in Singapore during the Japanese occupation as related to an oral historian.  The Malaysian take on Singaporean history assets that history really started only in 1965 when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia.  But what is clear, Malaysia and Singapore are linked, historically, socially, politically, and culturally.  We also read a compilation of poetry from a Malay poet: .  We discussed the two plays we read, and received our assignment for the following week.  Divided into three groups, (with me as the sole member of my group) we were to write (devise) a play of 15 minutes in just 5 days.

On the following Thursday, we spent two hours on movement.  Lead by Lex Lakshman, a KLPAC resident choreographer, we worked to perfect (yeah, and I have two left feet) a short routine.  Actually, the only way I survived was recalling low impact aerobics from 20 years ago.  But I came to understand how dance can assist actors, even dramatic actors.  Later a week later, we saw Lex leading young children in dance routines, on a Saturday morning when KLPAC was teeming with children in classes.

Through Mano Maniam, our fearless leader, ultimate producer of A Theatre for Seniors Project, we learned about the life of an actor in Malaysia....piecing together a string of jobs: teaching in several universities, acting (theatre, movies, and video), voice overs, and as a project manager.  To me it sounds like the life of stage artist everywhere.  Mano has theatre experience in Malaysia, UK, and the US.

Writing a play was a new experience.  I was limited to 15 minutes of run time, and had no idea of how to translate words into time.  So as an accomplished IT person, I decided to prioritize form over content.  I found a template for plays and installed it on my machine.  I started to fill in the sections of the template.  Title, author, characters, summary, scene breakdown, etc.  So after all the preparatory stuff was done, I began to write.  At least I had chosen something from my life, I didn't need to invent characters, events, or places.  I ended up with eight scenes and four characters: myself, Liz, a waiter and a taxi driver.  I went through several edits, and discovered Microsoft grammar checker is not very good with dialog.  Sentence fragments are not good grammar.

A week later, we gathered in class, and I led off with a reading of my script.  It was timed, and with no acting, I had written over 20 minutes of dialog.  Cuts would need to be made.  I noted flaws in the flow of the dialog, the logic of the scenes, etc.  I was learning quickly.  My fellow students had similar issues, but in some cases their dialog was not written, but they had detailed scene summaries.  Somehow we needed to weave all this together.  We had 4 hours on Friday, and 2 hours on Saturday morning before a performance for a friendly audience (family, and friends).  Before departing, we appointed a producer, a director, and most importantly a stage manager.


Overnight, I dealt with some of my problems by deleting several scenes and drastically altering some of the dialog.

Irene and Madinah

On Friday, we ran through the play several times, now learning about things such as stage locations, the importance of blocking, moving, and making yourself heard (speaking loudly is harder than you think).  Our performance was to be held in a dance rehearsal, with walls of mirrors, and windows, and ballet bars.  No stage, so we blocked one off.  It is amazing the tricks you can do that makes both the audience and actors think you have a stage.  So we left on Friday afternoon, with our makeshift stage blocked off, knowing generally our entry and exit directions. We sort of knew our lines, and knew what props were needed from home.

Saturday morning started at 10 am.  The facility was packed with people, all students mostly dance and acting.  We met in our performance space.  Classes during the previous afternoon  had broken down our performance space.  We quickly recreated the space and met with Mano.  We did a final rehearsal run through and sorted out problems (especially about being heard).

At noon, people filled the seats and the performance started.  It went quickly, no major flubs, and we were done.

Mano and cast

What did I learn?  I will be watching plays with a new sense of what is going on, how actors are moving around the stage, and what the author intended.  I have a new appreciation about what it takes to be heard.  Especially difficult is saying something quietly and still being heard by the audience.

Many thanks to my fellow cast members: Mariam, Irene, Madinah, Paramjeet, and Mary.  Also thanks to all the folks at Actors Studio Academy @ KLPAC for their support and assistance.  Without their help, this class would not have been successful.

And now the final question:  would I do this again.  Definitely, and in fact I was recruited to act in a student production at the Multi-Media University in Cyberjaya.  I play the role of a "white fat man".  They were also recruiting for an older woman, about 30.  This was a one afternoon project, for me.  For the 6 students, it was serious business, as grades were at stake.  But it was a learning experience for me.  Video productions is very different for the actor.  The ability to replicate your actions from take to take is very important.  Knowing your lines is critical as there is no ad lib allowed.  As each take or retake is done, the actor needs to allow the director, and cameraman to make their adjustments.  In all, I think it took 3 hours to film my half of a one minute scene. These individuals have a major influence on shaping the final production.

I had a fun afternoon, and I hope I did not negatively influence their final grades.