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Farewell to Kakiseni and the Cammies

THIS year will mark the eighth, and final, Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, an annual event highlighting and acknowledging the achievements of Malaysian artists and performing groups. The Cammies, as the awards are fondly called, honour arts practitioners for achievements within the categories of dance, music, theatre and musical theatre.

The awards have to close because Kakiseni, the company that supports, promotes and acts as a resource for the performing arts through its website, is shutting down. Kathy Rowland, Kakiseni co-founder and former editor, shares her thoughts:

“Kakiseni has been a labour of love for the past nine years. Keeping the company financially sustainable has been an ongoing challenge. We have, over the years, kept it going by using our personal resources at times. 

“Since 2007, family commitments have had me based outside of Malaysia. While I will return to KL in the foreseeable future, it’s just been impossible to keep the company running, [and] to get new sponsors and funding without being here.”

Kathy (left) with Kakiseni co-founder Jenny Daneels, holding a Boh Cameronian Arts Award
(Pic courtesy of Kathy Rowland)

I have attended the Cammies in my capacity as both a journalist and an artist, and have conflicting feelings about it. Since this year marks their swan song, perhaps it’s time to examine these thoughts. Were the awards merely an excuse for artists to be self-indulgent? Were they important in catalysing appreciation for the Malaysian performing arts? What exactly did Kakiseni and the Cammies achieve?

The view from here

As a newbie journalist starting off with local politics and culture magazine Off The Edge, I attended my first Cammies in 2007, excited at the prospect of hobnobbing with our Malaysian artists. Though I had plans to eventually become a Malaysian arts practitioner myself, I was there as an observer, to report on the event.

Which led to my painful review of the fifth annual awards ceremony, as published in Off The Edge in June 2007:

“The organisers’ intention of lowering the officialdom of the event was more than effectively achieved: raucous in-crowds; presenters trying to cover up technical malfunctions (and then speaking over pre-recorded narration); winners who, in trying to keep things short as instructed, rushed onstage, waved their prize, said ‘Ah, thank you ah!’ and rushed offstage.

“The fun and festivity was an unfortunate compromise on expertise, organisation and credibility. If the Cameronians is meant to showcase the best in performing arts, then it is ironic that the ceremony itself fell short of the very facets it seeks to promote (stage decorum, technical prowess, tight performances and professionalism, plus high entertainment value).

“What we wound up with was a night teeming with fun — incredibly chaotic, self-indulgent fun — but little in the way of actual respectability as a valid indicator of theatrical accomplishment.”

Theme of the 2009 Cameronian Arts Awards (Pic courtesy of Bella Rahim)

On the flipside…

In 2009, the tables were turned when I ended up being a nominee for my work in a December 2008 production of A Christmas Carol by the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. And it was then that I managed to garner a better understanding of the significance of the Cammies, and what it meant to be a part of the awards.

The Malaysian performing arts industry is so small, so focused on the Klang Valley and a few select locations such as Penang, that it really is a tight-knit community. And with that, the Cammies can and perhaps should be an exercise in fun and, for lack of a better term, self-indulgence.

Because Malaysian artists do not only work hard at expressing themselves through the arts and at entertaining audiences. More often than not, they also comment on the state of Malaysia and the world through their subtle — and sometimes less than subtle — productions. So they should be allowed a little bit of enjoyment during the one night that celebrates what they do, should they not?

After all, the performing arts industry in Malaysia is rather underappreciated. If the Cammies didn’t celebrate the attempts and successes of our local actors, dancers, singers, producers, directors, designers and the like … well, then, who would?

(Source: Wiki commons)
So there’s that dichotomy between being an onlooker outside of the circle, and being part of that circle. From the outside, it’s easy to take note of areas where refinement is needed. But from the inside, it’s easy to accept and look past the flaws to be part of something bigger and more champagne-worthy than one’s own self-righteousness.

Yet, for the Cammies to have been seen as a serious arts event — i.e. serious in serving the arts, à la Malaysia’s own Tony Awards — I stand by what I wrote as a journalist. The event’s lack of onstage professionalism might have done the Cammies a disservice, especially in making a more positive impression on outsiders who might not necessarily be used to the shenanigans of performers.

But as one of those performers who has pulled his own share of shenanigans, I stand by the notion that the Cammies are a celebration, by artists for artists. It is perfectly acceptable that the awards should be enjoyed as such.

Goodbye, until tomorrow

Is it sad that we’re losing Kakiseni and the awards ceremony? Definitely, because has been an essential resource for artists. Productions and events, auditions, reviews, interviews — the website has had them all, and the people behind it have put in a mighty effort to ensure as much exposure as possible for Malaysian art and artists.

As actor and director Colin Kirton says: “Kakiseni did an amazing job of creating arts awareness, bridging artists with their audiences, providing a platform for … discussion about the arts, and raising the profile of artists in the country.

“Some say that Kakiseni was there at the time when arts appreciation was beginning to take off, but I personally feel that Kakiseni was one of the key catalysts in that process.”

Adds Kathy Rowland: “I’m sad that it’s come to this … [But] I do believe that there are new platforms to support and publicise the arts now which did not exist when we set [Kakiseni] up, which will help to sustain the growth and prominence of the arts in KL.”

Ida Mariana
As for the Cammies? Actor and singer Ida Mariana says it best: that losing the Cammies is sad, but perhaps now performers can go back to performing for the love of the arts. They can build our national repertoire of works, rather than set their sights, even if subconsciously, on a prize.

“No need for competition and being judged; our industry is much too young for that,” she muses. “Let us just continue to create, and create, and create. And then one day when the awards return — and they will return — we will have even more to be proud of.”

Nick Choo bids a fond farewell.

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