– A Truly Malaysian Experience
“Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung. Have you heard this before? It means where we plant our feet is where we must hold up the sky.” – Hanna Alkaf, The Weight of Our Sky.
On November 15 – 17, the ISKL Community was treated to the stunning and atmospheric Middle School (MS) dramatic adaptation of the novel The Weight of Our Sky by internationally acclaimed Malaysian author Hanna Alkaf.
When asked why the MS PAC team had chosen this adaptation, Philip Oosthuizen, MS Drama Teacher and Director of the play, said he had wanted to find a genuinely Malaysian story this year. He says, “I saw Hanna Alkaf’s work online and downloaded a few of her books because they looked fascinating. When coming across the novel The Weight of Our Sky, I thought this is not just a Malaysian tale; it’s also anchored in history through its place and time, and just like a modern-day story, it influences people’s expressions and interactions. It was a story everyone could connect to, and even our expat community can identify with this as we live in Malaysia and need better to understand our host country’s culture and heritage.”
The adaptation portrays the journey of a young girl named Melati, who struggles with OCD and anxiety, as she braves the challenging times in Kuala Lumpur in 1969, all while grappling with her djinn. To prepare for the play, Philip shares how many of the MS ensemble cast, crew, and parents walked around parts of KL city to understand the story’s historical significance by visiting famous landmarks that are mentioned in the book, such as the Stadium Negara and Chin Woo Stadium, which has Malaysia’s first-ever built Olympic-sized swimming pool. “We decided to go on a cultural walk, as in the play’s climax, Melati talks about all the places she had been to in KL,” explains Philip.
As for staging the play outdoors in the Dr. Norma J. Hudson Amphitheatre, apart from this being the first time an outdoor performance has taken place there, Philip mentions how the production team wanted to bring more elements of Malaysia by taking on the unpredictable weather. “During the three performances, we had lightning, thunder, and rain, so having those elements gave this idea of the sky. I don’t know how many audience members looked up, but we had a beautiful sky every time the rain cleared. So we had that metaphor running throughout the play: the weight of a sky,” he adds.
Even the casting of the play took a non-traditional approach. Philip explains how when the students auditioned, they had no roles. “They had to trust us unquestioningly as we said we were auditioning for an ensemble as the whole play was ensemble-based and each actor was expected to use their body to create a story.” Once the students understood the characters and roles, they knew which roles they wanted to try auditioning for.
He added that looking at the production as a whole, it embodied collaboration. “There were so many aspects of cooperation. The creative team sat down together, and we said, how do we tell the story? It wasn’t the view of one person. It was like, what do we do? ” Philip shares how this also applies to the cast and the crew. “When we were rehearsing, I had a student Assistant Director, Rosie, working with me since last year. We’d send her off with a group of MS students and say, okay, for this scene, go and do a workshop, or we need tableaus, create them, and they’ll return with their work. So much of what the audience saw were moments in work created by students. I was more of a curator.”
Congratulations again to our MS students who performed with passion, energy, and total commitment for the two-hour show; their resilience and focus throughout were truly remarkable. Together with the support of the technical crew, PAC team, and other volunteers, they performed so spectacularly, providing a platform for an authentic Malaysian story to this year’s play.
Philip concluded, “I am so glad the community came together and made this creative and unconventional production a reality. Ultimately, the performance celebrated our community here at ISKL, which is rather beautiful.”