Actor, Director, Producer, Co-founder of KLPAC & PenangPAC
Often regarded as the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre, Datuk Faridah Merican has dedicated her life to cultivating Malaysian theatre in the hopes of showcasing local talents to the world. She co-founded both KLPAC and Performing Arts Centre of Penang (PenangPAC) alongside artistic director and husband, Joe Hasham in 2003 and 2011 respectively. For more than five decades, Faridah is considered a pioneer of the Malaysian theatre industry.
Her passion for theatre was instilled in her from a young age, and her influence stemmed from watching regular stagings of bangsawan and Chinese opera. Before she became Malaysian Theatre’s First Lady, Faridah was a school teacher, newsreader and radio talk show host.
“I wanted to become a PE teacher, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t a university graduate, but I did become a primary school teacher. I’ve come to realise that primary school teachers are probably some of the most important people in the education field, because they are the people who lay the foundation for the children.”
When TV Malaysia found its footing in 1963, Faridah, who was already doing freelance radio work, felt that it was the right time to move on to the next chapter of her life. “After being in radio, TV was like a very natural step to take next. And when it came knocking on my door, I left my job as a teacher. The salary then was ridiculously low. But life then was easy, so the small salary didn’t quite matter. So I became a freelance broadcaster for both radio and TV.”
Upon reflecting on an era where gender equality wasn’t a priority, Faridah was never shaken by it. “I think because I’m not the kind of person who was actively looking on whether there’s discrimination in my life or not, be it in my personal or professional life.” The doyenne in Malaysian theatre thinks that it’s because she never wavered from her focus in life.
The arts in Malaysia are still growing, struggling, and looking for ways to do better and be greater—not necessarily to compete with our neighbours, but to express our stories, Malaysian stories.Datuk Faridah Merican
“Because I’ve always enjoyed what I do. I enjoyed being a teacher; I enjoyed very much being in the broadcasting industry; I enjoyed being in the advertising industry. My philosophy in life is that if you do not enjoy yourself in doing what you do, you might as well not do it. You always have a choice, you can focus on the negatives, but it may not take you where you want to be.”
When asked on whether she’s satisfied with the local performing arts scene’s current state, the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre thinks that we could do better. “The arts in Malaysia are still growing, struggling, and looking for ways to do better and be greater. Not necessarily to compete with our neighbours, but to express our stories, Malaysian stories.” To her, it is absolutely vital that the stories of Malaysia get recognised. “It is our image that we want to put forward and show to the world. Unless and until we are happy to say that we are happy being recognised, we have not been recognised.”
Despite boasting an illustrious legacy, Faridah thinks that it is absolutely important that she stays motivated and passionate in whatever that she does. “I believe that perhaps I should tell myself over and over again; I must continue to do what I believe in, I must improve my skills, I must try to pass down whatever little knowledge I have to the next generation.”
(Photo credit: KLPAC)