Rediscover Brunei Darussalam through the eyes of the People
Mohd Syafiq Haji Abu Bakar, popularly known to friends as Mr Syaf, is the co-founder of Seeds, a non-profit drama education organization for students. Seeds, (formerly SEEDS - Students’ Extracurricular and Educational Dramatic Society), which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, has become known in the Bruneian theatre community for its annual all-student (from cast to crew) musical productions – ranging from Oliver! The Musical, to Willy Wonka, to last year’s hugely popular The Wicked Witch.
Mr Syaf, 30, graduated from UBD with a BA in Education, and is currently the head of the English Language department at Sekolah Menengah Awang Semaun.
On the birth of Seeds.
My wife (Siti Zuliana Haji Masri, co-founder of Seeds) and I are members of the Brunei Amateur Dramatic Society. One night during a production, her friends asked her if there was anything like it for locals, especially students. That's when she talked to me about starting a group to help promote the arts. We realized that such opportunities for locals were very limited. So in 2008 we got a group of teachers together to help with the planning.
In the first school break of 2009, we held our first workshop for those in government schools. Our plan was to concentrate on government school students as they were the ones who lack the most opportunities. We wanted to give them a platform to allow them to showcase their creative talent. And so Seeds was born.
On the Bruneian creative industries, the SPN21 inclusion of drama into the curriculum, and the role of Seeds.
I think the creative industries isn’t pushed enough especially for the kind of talent we have here. A lot of Bruneians are struggling in the arts. Most have to commit to day jobs in order to survive.
The SPN21 introduction of Drama as an option for year 7s and year 8s can help push the arts forward provided that the push is not just through the curriculum but also through awareness-raising activities that involve the public.
This is where Seeds comes in. When we started five years ago, options were limited for locals to be involved in the arts, especially the performing arts. So what Seeds does is provide opportunities for students of government schools and institutions to showcase their talent without the constraints of curriculum or the financial commitment of being a working artist. We provide a platform or a home for these youths at no charge at all, and we assist and guide them to enhance their talent. The goal is to help them realize there is a place for the arts in Brunei and that they can use the arts no matter what their future has in store for them.
In doing so, Seeds' focus when it comes to the arts is not limited or heavily influenced by western culture. We put together an art culture mixed with the Bruneian way of life. That way, not only do we give these youths awareness of the arts but also proper life skills in the Bruneian context.
A scene from Seeds2 Into The Woods
Seeds Your Yellow Brick Road Workshop in collaboration with FASS, UBD
Seeds2 Graduation Night at MPH, UBD
On the development of theatre in Brunei.
Theatre in Brunei still has a long way to go. The creative industries are a big area to focus on and the problems within it are not small. Theatre might just be the least of their worries, as evidenced by various recent stage performances which functioned more as "show events" rather than focusing on theatre as a craft. The use of big names, guests of honour, one-off performances and the lack of a proper venue show how far behind we are in understanding what goes into a theatrical production.
The focus of theatre should be on the talent and not on who the audience is, the number of audience members, what can be done to entertain the audience etc. Forget about lucky draws, guests of honour, hosts or hostesses. Yes, some people say these factors are very Bruneian but why can’t appreciation of talent be Bruneian? The focus should and must always be on the talent.
I think Bruneian theatre is a lost art, clouded by how we view official events today. It has been so long since theatre has been showcased to the public that people forget what matters. Theatre can still be Bruneian without the factors I have mentioned and this is what Seeds is really working hard on, to try and raise awareness to locals on how we can shape theatre and the arts into our own cultural entity.
For example, we instil MIB values into our rehearsals and performances and we edit our plays, while being careful about not losing quality. We organize our events to accommodate prayer times, the elderly and we still have VIPs (because it is apparently so Bruneian) but without putting the focus on them.
I think you just need to be selective in what you can and cannot bring to theatre here. As long as the talent is still the focus, there is no harm in bringing Bruneian culture in.
There is a need to change and update. In fact, there is also a need to dig up and study what theatre was like in Brunei historically. I'm sure they never had lucky draws or prizes to be won on show nights!
I know that you try to attend most of the theatrical performances in Brunei. What are your thoughts on Bruneian theatre currently?
Yes, I try my best to attend all performing arts performances in Brunei, not just the theatrical ones. Performer-wise, I believe there is plenty of talent and potential and it is amazing to see the amount going on these days. Unfortunately, most performances here seem to focus more on the event rather than the showcasing of the talent which in my opinion takes the fun away. Theatre especially is not done right in some cases. People need to understand the importance of time management for example when holding a theatrical performance. To say one thing on the posters or tickets and to completely go against that is a breach of trust with the audience. This has happened way too many times in events held by too many different organizers and in my opinion is the number 1 problem that really needs to be solved.
Then there is also the idea of a guest of honour. I am not entirely against this but I think a separate event should be held for such occasions especially when you have paying customers. Organizers need to look into the norms here and really be selective of what to include in their performance. Yes, some things are the Bruneian way and we shouldn't follow everything western but that is not the point here. When it comes to performing arts, it doesn't have to be western-influenced but the elements in these events do need to be logical.
Seeds1 Theatre Sports at Rimba 1 Primary School
Sound of Seeds
The Brunei National YoYo Contest 2013 is happening across Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th November (that's this weekend) at Times Square Shopping Mall in Berakas. Visit their FB page for more details. While you are here, check out these local videos. Ballistic!
As an avid reader and an English teacher, allow me to share with you some methods to get your offspring to pick up a book and cultivate a love for the printed word in three easy steps:
1. Make sure there is lots of material – don't discriminate, don't judge.
Obviously, you will have to have material around. It is no good nagging someone to “go read” when there is nothing that interests them in the house. And DON'T dictate what a good book is. Accept that a good book is anything that the reader is interested in. Treat your children's book choices the way you would treat their movie choices – after a certain age, you should leave them pretty much to their own devices.
Make sure that you don't belittle their choices, no matter how childish you feel the book is. Even at 30, I am reading and enjoying “children's” books with a total of less than 50 words. Sometimes the best stories are told with a minimum of words – Shel Silverstein and Dr. Suess are perfect examples of such writers.
Granted, books are pricey, but you can always go to the local libraries to borrow from a huge selection. Just because a book is not the latest best-selling teen read does not mean it is boring. Alternatively, cultivate e-reading. Yes, your children probably spend more time than you like on their electronic devices so download ebooks.
Personally, I never buy a book until I have tested it out – either by borrowing a copy from a friend or reading the ebook version. When I do decide to buy a book, I go to bookdepository.com. Delivery is free and the books are extremely affordable!
Books are NEVER a bad investment. Some people object because they think that it is a waste of money to spend so much on something that you only read once. A good book is NEVER just read ONCE.
2. Have someone to share with.
A lot of the fun of watching television programmes is being able to talk about why a character did what they did or how dastardly / annoying / funny that character is. I think that this is one of the fundamental things people forget about trying to get their children / students to pick up a book: Half the fun of a hobby is being able to share it.
As an English teacher, I try to get students to read something and then recommend it to their friends. It's tough going for the first few weeks (because we only have one hour a week in class, they read slow and I don't have multiple copies of everything) but it is great at the end when they are telling each other things like, “Baca yang ani – SIOK!!” or, “Berijab this one,” or, “Memberi kesian ah!” I also talk to them about the books they have read so they can discuss it with someone before their friends are ready to talk about it with them. It's awesome to watch happen.
But you don't have to be an English teacher to show genuine interest in what your child is reading. Just casual questions will do. Or, if your child asks you to read something, don't brush them off with an excuse. Make the effort to share.
Ghandi put it best: Be the change you want to see.
3. Reading is not work.
Always remember, READING IS NOT WORK. You don't want your young reader to associate reading with work or a chore of any kind. This means, they shouldn't have to meticulously record the number of pages they are reading per day. As an avid reader, I can assure you that there is no faster to kill the very habit you are trying to cultivate.
Also, do NOT put your readers through the third degree, “Who were the main characters and why did you like them?”, “Summarise the plot in 100 words”. Ugh... Even I shudder at these questions. Your children get enough of these types of questions in school. Why would anyone voluntarily CHOOSE to do this at home for fun?
Remember, show GENUINE interest. Don't fake it. We can tell.
If you insist on some kind of a record, make it fun and keep it minimal. Have pretty forms that are easy to fill in – tick the words that describe what you just read (scary, boring, sad, funny, rude, really really boring, so exciting I couldn't put it down, etc) – and have them stick the review in an old desk organiser. That's what my mum had me do when I was seven. I would write the title, author and give each book a rating out of five stars. As I got older, I decided to include a few more comments on my own.
If a book turns out boring, don't insist that they finish it. Again, use the movie rule. If they are halfway through a programme and change the channel, do you object and insist they finish watching it even if it is boring?
And...that's it! Three simple steps to raising your own reader.
About the Contributor: Joyce is a dedicated teacher at a Sixth Form centre in Brunei where she daily entreats, begs, threatens, cajoles and teases her students in an attempt to develop their skills in the English Language. She is a self-confessed bibliophile and excessive book addict who enjoys doodling, diving once every school holiday, messing about with bits of paper and string, and dancing in her car at traffic lights. In her free time, she annoys her fighting fish and long-suffering hamster who oversee her day to day adventures. She plagiarises from the Pixar cartoon “Up” to remind everyone that, “Adventure is out there!” and from Tae Joon in “A Beautiful You” to say, “Miracle is just another word for effort.”
I came across this video and had to share it.
[Note: This video will unsettle you.]
From the samuel-warde website: "Watching this public service announcement, created by Women’s Aid in the UK, was a jolt of hard reality. Please note there is trigger alert, in that this dramatization contains a very disturbing scene of violence that may bring up traumatic memories and feelings of past abuse. Though Keira is acting, millions of women are violently ‘taken’ by surprise like this everyday, and live in constant fear."
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