Performing arts nurtures creativity, confidence
At Enfiniti Academy, which is celebrating its tenth year as a performing arts training center, students do not just learn about art forms but also how to be creative and adapt to life’s curveballs.
Once thought to be the most important leadership skill of the future, the skill of creativity is now being called to the fore, to deal with challenges posed by the pandemic.
“Being able to imagine, to come up with totally new solutions … having the creative and essential critical thinking skills so that we can adapt and survive in completely new ways, has never been more important,’’ says Joanna Bessey, head of Enfiniti Academy and drama teacher.
Under the ‘Business in Performing Arts,’ which is part of the Performing Arts Certificate, students are trained to apply this innovative attitude and perspective across all fields.
Upon graduation, students at Enfiniti Academy also become entrepreneurs by understanding how they can create their own businesses.
“Those who have gone through a performing arts course with Enfiniti Academy will inherently become more well-rounded individuals.
“Aside from focusing on dance, drama and singing, we also aim to bring out confidence, enhance communication skills and encourage creative thinking,’’ says Puan Sri Tiara Jacquelina, founder and ‘chief dream-maker’ of the Enfiniti group of companies.
Ten years ago, performing arts was not a priority in Kuala Lumpur; Tiara and Joanna had set up Enfiniti Academy to provide an avenue for young people to be trained by the best in the industry.
Besides creativity and innovation, an arts education also helps to boost emotional well-being, which is vital in current times of stress from the pandemic.
Enfiniti Academy is training four scholarship recipients – Eshan Nandan Roy, Renee Loke, Amir Izwan Rahim and Nur Afiqah Azizan – from artisans digital mall The Artisans Haven.
The four scholarship holders are taking the three-month-long intensive Performing Arts Certificate based on five modules that are worth ten university credits.
Jade Lee, co-founder and curator of The Artisans Haven, also ex-banker, used to promote shows including P. Ramlee The Musical, OlaBola and MUD The Musical.
Puteri Gunung Ledang, the 2004 epic fantasy period film which starred Tiara Jacquelina, was considered for an Oscar in the 77th Academy Awrds in Hollywood.
“Tiara Jacquelina was a great partner to work with while our talent in the performing arts is awesome.
“ I really hope to increase the awareness and appreciation for the performing arts, and continue to support it after my retirement.
“I’m hoping our scholarships can give the opportunity for deserving students to pursue their talent with Enfiniti Academy.
“And to shine the spotlight on the great work done by Enfiniti Academy,’’ says Jade.
Enfiniti Academy aspires to be an incubator for future creative thinkers and leaders, where their creative and critical thinking skills will make all the difference.
It aims to teach quality performing arts courses and make them accessible to students of all ages; the age group of its students currently ranges from six to 63 years.
As it celebrates its tenth anniversary, Enfiniti Academy sees its dream of grooming a new batch of leaders, come true.
“Many of our students now have successful careers and are entrepreneurs in various fields.
“It is our greatest joy to see over 9,000 of our talented students pursuing their dreams since 2011,’’ says Joanna.
During this Movement Control Order (MCO) 3.0, all classes are conducted via Zoom; the three courses offered are the Performing Arts Certificate (ages 17 and above); Enfiniti PLAY! A drama-based corporate training program (adults) and Musical 360 (ages 8 to 16).
Before the MCO, Enfiniti Academy was pursuing a hybrid model with a mixture of Zoom and in-person classes happening simultaneously.
The Performing Arts Certificate, which students are currently pursuing, has five modules ranging from an introduction to theatre; basics of voice; basics of acting or leadership and communication; basics of movement/dance and business in performing arts.
Currently, a total of 11 students are enrolled in the Performing Arts Certificate and for the Musical 360 course, there are 25 children enrolled.
Prior to Covid-19, Enfiniti Academy used to receive a total of 80 to 100 students.
Among its milestones, Enfiniti Academy has won numerous awards and accolades:
- An appreciation award in 2017 from the Ministry of Education (MOE) as an outreach partner for its Highly Immersive Program where interactive, drama-based lessons in English were taught to students in rural, urban-poor and underprivileged schools across the country.
- A recognition award from Agensi Innovasi Malaysia in 2018 on its listing on the social impact exchange, as a high impact social enterprise.
- Enfiniti Academy’s Highly Immersive Program was included in the MOE’s education blueprint 2014-2015, and included in the National Transformation annual report 2017.
The Youth-On-Stage professional level musical productions had received awards and nominations for:
- Seussical The Broadway Musical - one award and six nominations, including for best ensemble, in the 12th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards 2015, Malaysia’s premier award for music, dance, theatre and musical theatre.
- Seussical The Broadway Musical won the award for best costume design, styling and make-up in the 12th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards in 2015.
- Aladdin – A Musical Comedy was nominated for three awards for best direction, best costume design, hair and make-up as well as best performance in a supporting role, at the 13th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards in 2016.
A passion for the arts
“Remember diamonds are created under pressure, so hold on, it will be your time to shine soon.’’
- Sope Agbelusi, managing director, MindsetShift
Aristes at Enfiniti Academy show true grit and determination in dealing with the challenges posed by this unprecedented phenomenon called Covid-19 pandemic.
We interview past students of Enfiniti Academy and those who had taken part in its memorable productions.
Brian Chan, who won ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical’ at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards 2019, has just finished shooting a 20-episode drama series called Scammer.
This drama series by production house RadiusOne and Astro, will premiere at 11pm this Monday (May 24).
“I’ve made a very small mark in the arts world but I strive everyday to hopefully, expand that mark.
“Every performance is different; an actor can never repeat a standing ovation performance, but what an actor must strive to do, is to be as consistent as he can be, and as truthful in the moment,’’ says Brian.
Every night, he has to act as if his character is saying and feeling his lines for the first time, to create a world for the audience to believe and accompany him on that journey.
At Enfiniti Academy, Brian’s first play was Alladin Reloaded directed by Joanna Bessey; he later went on to star in the lead role as “Tauke’ in OlaBola The Musical under the direction of Tiara Jacquelina.
“Playing ‘Tauke’ was the hardest thing I’ve ever done so far; I’m eternally grateful to Tiara Jacquelina because she believed in a 22-year-old actor to carry a lead role of a lifetime in Malaysia’s biggest musical to date,’’ says Brian.
OlaBola The Musical is an adaptation of the 2016 Ola Bola movie about the historic bid by Malaysian football team, the Harimau Malaya, to qualify for the 1980 Summer Olympics.
One of the most nerve-wracking scenes, for Brian, in OlaBola The Musical was on the opening night, when ‘Tauke’ opens the show with a solo; then, the curtains rise to reveal the rest of the Harimau Malaya.
“I remember that my heart was pumping .. my knees felt like they were going to give way .. my ankles like they were going to make a quick getaway .. my voice like it had been taken away by the universe. It was a ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ moment.
“But just before the curtains were raised to reveal me, ‘fight’ overcame ‘flight,’ and my body was mine again; the crowd roared and that was magic,’’ he recalls.
The scene that Brian struggled with most in OlaBola was when his character received news that Malaysia will not be going to be the Olympics.
“The scene required me to be broken, sing, run around the stage, fall and continue singing.
“I struggled for all two months of rehearsals; on our final dress rehearsal night … when it came to the scene where I had to run … I could hear my cast mates cheering me on, and on that night itself, I knew I’d overcome a two-month long battle,’’ says Brian.
Throughout this time, Brian’s parents have been his biggest fans; he had approached them saying that he wanted to ‘tell stories and play’ for the rest of his life.
(We often hear of Asian parents disapproving of their children’s choice of a career in the arts industry.)
To his surprise, they paid for his arts education and came for every one of his shows.
Jayson Phuah, who played lead roles in three of Enfiniti Academy’s biggest productions, has evolved beyond focusing on performance skills, to take on other skill sets in the world of arts.
As he matured and after working with many directors, producers and veterans in the industry, he learned to take on other skills sets that include teaching drama, assisting in productions and creative works as well as in stage management.
He used to focus on skills such as acting, singing and dancing, while being cast to play lead roles in many different productions.
Jayson’s greatest achievement, to date, was to work with Jesse Eisenberg, American playwright and actor, during the run of his off-Broadwway play Happy Talk in the summer of 2019.
He was the education intern at a theatre company called The New Group in Manhattan, New York City.
“I was learning as much and as fast as I could since I was in the theatre hub of the world; I remember it was my ability to juggle multiple and many different responsibilities that I was hired for,’’ says Jayson.
Before the pandemic, he was cast in the leading role for a web series that was planned in New York City but the first day of the shoot also happened to be the first day of lockdown for the Big Apple.
Jayson was also invited for a job interview for the post of general manager at the New York Stage and Film Company that produced the world-renowned musical Hamilton.
Due to the lockdown, the company had to put on hold its hiring process until Broadway is allowed to re-open, which is this coming September.
Among his lead roles in Enfiniti Academy’s productions, Jayson had played ‘Meng’ in the original MUD: Our Story of Kuala Lumpur in June, 2014.
“That musical holds a special spot for me; it was my first collaboration with an Enfiniti Vision Media production as an actor; the role of ‘Meng’ was also my first lead role in my nine-year career as a professional actor ,’’ says Jayson.
The story, set against the humble beginnings of Kuala Lumpur, tells of the challenges faced by three friends, Mamat, Meng and Muthiah, who had travelled from their village to this small mining town to find their fortune.
The second production was Aladdin: A Musical Comedy, a pantomime staged in December, 2015.
“I definitely enjoyed playing the famous street rat … who wouldn’t?’ says Jayson.
Aladdin is a Broadway musical based on a 1992 Disney animated film of the same name; after being referred to as a ‘worthless street rat,’ Aladdin expressed his dreams of showing the world that he’s more than just a common urchin.
The entire experience was enjoyable; Jayson was working alongside singer/actress Tria Aziz and actor Peter Davis.
The following year, he was cast to play Aladdin again in Aladdin Reloaded.
“I have high respect for the directors and producers of the shows; they put in a lot of effort into their creative direction and artistic layout,’’ says Jayson.
For example, in MUD: Our Story of Kuala Lumpur, the LED screen using 2D animation was used as a backdrop, and a giant fabric representing water, during the flood scene.
The choreography was also brilliant, says Jayson, it was a fusion of traditional Malay and modern contemporary dances.
“I can’t forget the sets and costumes that made Aladdin such a memorable show for the audience; it was visually appealing and the script was filled with jokes and punchlines that never failed to trigger roars of laughter every night during its musical run,’’ says Jayson.
Among his success factors, he sees that charisma, confidence and discipline are the great assets in his career as an artiste and practitioner in the arts.
His advice to current students is ‘’never ever stop your training! It doesn’t matter if classes are being held virtually or in-person; you don’t want to tell people that you have wasted the free time during lockdown when you could have easily committed a little time a day to hone your craft,’’ reminds Jayson.
Ernest Loh, who won best male actor In the Short+Sweet Malaysia 2019 Film (Kuala Lumpur) festival, had found life during the pandemic incredibly tough.
Jobs were scarce and big budget productions were on the halt, but he used his creativity and changed his life.
“I doubled down on my craft and pursuits, booked two travel adventure TV shows – Living in Borneo and Spices Across Borders - for an entire season,’’ says Ernest.
They are 13 episodes long and hosted by Ernest himself; the projects are currently in post production.
He had also taken up an Aussie-based drama class, studied who the movers and shakers in film and TV in Malaysia were, and reconnected with peers in the industry.
Ernest had taken the Acting for Adults course at Enfiniti Academy in February, 2019, and way into the pandemic of 2020.
To current students, his advice is ‘always be your biggest cheerleader, visualize your goals like how you would approach a major script and work on it daily.’
Educate yourself in the showbiz industry, study the career progression of your biggest idols and learn how they overcame obstacles to become the star that they are today.
Ernest had been working in film and TV since 2016; he was able to take what he learned at Enfiniti Academy and further elevate his craft, especially when it came to breaking down scripts, understanding himself as an actor, becoming more confident in auditions and more prepared on production sets.
Ernest has found that after passing the fundamentals, the film and TV world has a lot to do with ‘personality.’
“With training and experience, I was able to build a sense of identity, esteem and confidence, which allowed me to share creative input with directors/producers,’’ says Ernest.
In the Short+Sweet Malaysia 2019 Film (Kuala Lumpur) festival, Ernest had won best male actor in the film Door Jumper.
In preparing for his short film submission, Ernest had to overcome a few challenges as apart from himself and another student, Melissa Tan, everyone else in the class was from a non-TV/film production.
But they through a game designer and a very creative writer, Aidi G.V., who won the festival directors award in the same short film festival, they had a final script.
“Getting accepted in the festival was already a win for us, and the fact that they screened our film along with other amazing short films made us so proud,’’ says Ernest.
He had a moment of disbelief when his name was announced as best male actor; he called up his Mom that evening and exclaimed ‘Mom, I’m a REAL actor!’
Bil Musa has learned to adjust to the pandemic this year, and to get creative in trying to maintain her connections with her fans.
“We can’t have live shows; the future seems bleak as we haven’t had any sense of security for the past one year. But trying is important,’’ says Bil, adding that she was hit hard mentally and financially last year.
To keep the momentum going, perseverance is important. “A million people can tell you it’s going to be alright but it’s up to you to pick yourself back up.
“The most important thing is to believe in yourself; also, try to surround yourself with honest, hardworking and inspiring people,’’ says Bil.
To current students, Bil’s advice is: “Do not let anyone tell you who to be, or try to fit you into a mould.
“Do things with conviction , go out of your comfort zone and try new things.
“Diamonds are made under pressure!’’ says Bil.
Bil was in the first batch of students at Enfiniti Academy in 2011, in the ‘Starmaker Bootcamp,’ an intensive musical theatre bootcamp.
“I learned to be more confident, project my voice and navigate the stage,’’ says Bil.
In university, Bil had juggled between her studies and music; she had always played the piano and some other instruments but discovered a passion for writing and singing.
“After I realized that I had a voice from my time at Enfiniti Academy, and with encouragement from friends and family, I began to release my music online and perform at small venues,’’ says Bil.
In 2014, she signed up with a record label, and moved onto bigger shows, concerts and festivals.
Bil had travelled abroad for music, and released a number of songs, including two albums, over five years.
These are extremely trying times; as the pace of vaccinations quickens, and control over Covid-19 improves from all angles, it is hoped that life can bloom again.
To quote Brian: “With the pandemic, it is ‘this huge thunderstorm bearing over the skies,’ but just like the lyrics in ‘Bring On Tomorrow’ from Fame The Musical, ‘the sun will come up on a beautiful day and it will be yours and mine.’