Oct 10, 2005

Miss Suki's in the newspaper people!

Waiting to be surprised

THE first time I saw Sukania Venugopal on stage, in The Actors’ Studio’s production of The Box of Delights (2000), I was instantly captivated.

There was something about her eyes that mesmerised you, that kept you looking. They were eyes that were full of life, so much so you could almost hear them say, “Keep watching, you have no idea what I’m going to do next”.

And then, miraculously, four years later our paths crossed. I was roped into a Five Arts Centre production called Riding the Nice Bus and I got the chance to perform alongside some of the local theatre scene’s most talented performers. One of them was Sukania (Suki, for short).

I was thrilled, to say the least, especially because it was one of the most rushed rehearsal experiences for me, ever (we had only seven days to put on the show, and we made it thanks to the guidance and direction of the late Krishen Jit).

Sukania Venugopal puts her voice to good use in Encore – An Evening of Song.I recently got to sit down with Suki over coffee right before her rehearsal for the currently ongoing musical Encore – An Evening of Song and catch up, learn how things have been for her, and to try and figure out what makes this vivacious woman tick.
I wanted to know how her work in theatre started.
“It took off when I was in university. I went to Universiti Malaya (to do a Diploma of Education). In school I was always performing lah, either singing, or dancing, or acting. But when I was in university, since there was nothing else to do, and university seemed like an extension of a Form Six.

“They had this theatre component in which third year students got to direct first years. So I went along for the auditions and got the part, and that was how I started.” (That first uni play was Josef Capek’s Insect Play.)
From then on, she became a regular performer in the local theatre circuit, working with the likes of Lidra, The Philharmonic Society of Selangor, and the Drama Centre among others.

Soon after completing her diploma, Suki was posted at the Kolej Islam in Klang, Selangor, where she taught English. Some seven years later, tired of the slow yet certain increase in toll prices and, frankly, being tired too often behind the wheel – “I found myself falling asleep!” – she asked for a transfer and made her way to SMK Sultan Abdul Samad in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. And there her love for theatre found its way through to her students.

“We started a little theatre club when I came over to Sultan Abdul Samad. We did (Moliere’s) The Miser and little plays that the students wrote themselves. I was lucky because when I went in, there was a bunch of students who were very keen, and a headmistress who took me in because her primary aim was to start a theatre club. She was very into the arts, and had seen me perform with Instant CafĂ© (Theatre, aka ICT), so she knew what my capabilities were.”

Suki was one of the pioneers in ICT, braving the waters of theatre revue for about seven fun-filled years. And then, at a performance that ICT presented at the Carcosa Seri Negara in Kuala Lumpur, she met with people from the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), who subsequently invited her to work on their productions. Suki took this to be a chance for her to polish her dance skills – but found herself doing much more than that...
“All I thought was, why not get back (to bharatanatyam), keep in shape and all that. Then I found that I was getting more and more involved in Temple of Fine Arts productions because they (knew) what I was capable of.

Finally, there came a point when she had to choose between ICT and TFA, because both required complete commitment and she could “only give to one”. Suki decided on TFA because she had already worked with ICT for so many years.

“I met my spiritual mentor, (the late) Swami Shantanand, and the productions that they did were, well, not to say spiritual, but the basis was spiritual – like Ramayana, Shakuntala, those kinds of stories. And it’s different from the usual theatre that you have. So I found that to be very rewarding to do, and I found that I could relate to all (the other work I do) better.”

Listening to Suki up to this point, I realised that a number of things have shifted for her over the years – her optional retirement next year, partly due to her mom’s passing last year, and her choice to work more with the spiritually-attuned TFA – so I wanted to know how she felt things have changed in the local theatre scene.
“I’m not sure if it has grown. I really don’t know how to answer this. I mean, when I think about the people I’ve work with before, like (the late) Mustafa Noor, (the late) Bosco D’Cruz, they were all such strong personalities in theatre.

Ah, those mesmerising eyes!“I don’t think it has grown much because there were such strong people in theatre then?. But in terms of the quality of acting, I don’t know, I cannot say that I actually enjoy watching any one particular performer. Then there was something to watch, but now.?”
But why hasn’t it grown?

“I think perhaps that it’s the attitude towards theatre. Back then there was no money involved – you did it because you loved it. Now, I think it’s different lah, I suppose it’s what the younger actors (choose to) perform, it just seems very flimsy.

“It’s seems like wasting my time – if I sit and watch, I tend to feel like I’d rather be doing something else because I already know what to expect. I want to be surprised, and more often than not, I’m not. You don’t want to come out of a show thinking it was just ‘Okay lah’. And three-quarters of the time, they’re just that.”
What about tomorrow, then?

“I take each day as it comes. So I’m going to optionally retire next year. No teaching, no nothing whatsoever. People assume that I’m opting to retire because I’m going to do theatre full time. But it’s not that. It’s because both my parents aren’t doing very well.

“As to what the future might bring, well, whatever comes, if I can relate to it, I will embrace it.”


:: cream dream :: said...

Sadly, I am not her student but I secretly wished she was. Whenever I stumbled upon her she would give me this warm smile, which makes me happy inside. I dig theatre & performing arts stuff so thx for posting this up!

Su Phing said...

Thanks for posting this up! I was Elise in the Moliere play she directed for Samad. I miss her, and the wonderful theater workshop sessions we've had with Miss Suki.