A new home for live theater, performing arts in Petaling Jaya

The adrenaline. Bright lights. The cheering crowd.

It was something she hadn’t experienced in nearly two years of a pandemic. When actress Joanne Kam Poh Poh took the stage at the Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Center (PJPac) for her recent Kamthology stand-up show was like a new start for the veteran artist.

“I really felt like I was alive again! It was so good to be able to hear the laughs instead of checking the chat to see our online audience typing “LOL” or “hahaha” or even “5555”! Kam said, referring to the virtual pivot that many artists have resorted to during the various blockages.

Like so many live artists, Kam and his comedy group can’t wait to get back to work.

Joanne Kam (left) is hoping that a new comedy show scene emerges at PJPac. Photo: Alywin Joshua

At PJPac, there are clear signs that life on the stage is slowly returning during this phase of the “recovery race”.

From comedy to live indie music, PJPac has opened its doors with a diverse roster of events. There’s even a Chinese calligraphy pop-up exhibit to welcome visitors to the site this month.

Located in a newly constructed space in the 1Utama Mall, PJPac hasn’t had the easiest of starts, especially with long pandemic shutdowns disrupting its inaugural schedule last year.

At a time when the Malaysian performing arts industry is recovering, the introduction of this new theatrical space is a bold move, signaling that an international venue can have an impact in Petaling Jaya and beyond.

The right balance

The PJPac creative team, owned and operated by Bandar Utama City Center Sdn Bhd, also took care of organizing “Open Day” tours to introduce the venue to the public and potential partners.

PJPac, consisting of three floors, offers a main theater, a black box, the Nero event space and the 1ncubator studio.  Photo: Raymond OoiPJPac, consisting of three floors, offers a main theater, a black box, the Nero event space and the 1ncubator studio. Photo: Raymond Ooi

The 2752 m² venue, with its modern retro design, occupies three floors, with a 686-seat main theater (Stage 1), a Black Box with a capacity of 300, the Nero Event Space and the 1ncubator Studio (which contains four rehearsal rooms and recording studios).

Earlier this year, the Multipurpose Arts Hall opened to the public before closing again for MCO 3.0. It even served as a vaccination center (for retail) from July to September.

“Our mission is to facilitate the growth of the performing arts and entertainment industries in Malaysia by providing top quality spaces with fully equipped facilities,” says Brian Kwan, Theater Director of PJPac.

For the public, PJPac’s location also offers easy accessibility, the venue being connected to the Bandar Utama MRT station and the 1Utama Transport Hub.

New experimental artistic productions will also be presented in the black box space of PJPac.  Photo: The Star / Azman Ghani New experimental artistic productions will also be presented in the black box space of PJPac. Photo: The Star / Azman Ghani

“It will enhance the creative and cultural opportunities for the people of Petaling Jaya and beyond,” Kwan adds.

“Ease of access and connectivity to space is a key asset of PJPac. For too long we have heard excuses like “no public transport”, “too far” and “no parking” when it comes to going to an art place.

“We believe that by making things accessible, we will be able to bring the arts to a larger and more inclusive audience,” he explains.

The theater is still at the heart of PJPac’s plans despite a first wave of non-theatrical events during its reopening phase.

Later this month, performing arts / storytelling show Hasrat, led by art director Lee Swee Keong, is expected to be a reunion of seasoned artists including Sukania Venugopal, Dida Mallik, Bhajan Jeff, Amelia Tan, Andrew Pok Chong Boon and Azmie Zanal Abdden.

Local theater is at the heart of PJPac's projects, with upcoming shows like Local theater is at the heart of PJPac’s projects, with upcoming shows like “Hasrat”. Photo: Handout

For Tim Johnson, a theater regular, the idea of ​​a performing arts center in Petaling Jaya is appealing, especially if the venue intends to promote local and family theater programs.

“From watching shows in the old The Actors Studio, in the caves of Dataran Merdeka, to being used to the new spaces that have popped up over the past two years, I look forward to seeing shows at PJPAC.

“It sounds pretty impressive and very accessible to me and the family. Theater and the arts have to bounce back in this rampant age because without the arts, where else could we captivate and nurture our souls,” Johnson said. .

Darwin Raj, KL-based engineer and fan of local theater, agrees that distance is not a problem if the arts hall offers quality performances, and has a program to develop creative relationships with young directors and artistic collectives. here.

“I will definitely be going to PJ to watch a show as there are good art spaces scattered around the Klang Valley,” he says, adding that art spaces – new or old – can play an important role in supporting efforts. of post-pandemic recovery in the theatrical scene. .

Threesixty’s theater show Orang Bulan, directed by its co-founder Christopher Ling, was the first theatrical production to be presented at PJPac at the end of April.

PJPac's Stage 1 theater, with a capacity of 686 seats, is the latest state-of-the-art theater in Malaysia.  Photo: Raymond OoiPJPac’s Stage 1 theater, with a capacity of 686 seats, is the latest state-of-the-art theater in Malaysia. Photo: Raymond Ooi

Ling, known for his minimalist ideas in a performance space, says PJPac’s technical specifications will impress theater directors.

“For me, PJPac is primarily distinguished by the cutting edge technological facilities available in both Stage 1 and Nero Event Space. Both venues are also fully equipped to handle a full range of non-commercial and commercial events.

“I have a personal preference for Nero, as it is structurally and technically very close to KLPac’s Pentas 2 and PenangPac’s Stage 2 – both excellent sites in their own right,” Ling says.

He is also currently busy rehearsing for his upcoming multilingual adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic. A Christmas Carol which will open at PJPac on December 2nd.

How about an orchestral concert on Christmas Day? PJPac has also announced that it will host the Philharmonic Winds Of Malaysia (PWM) debut concert on December 25 after two years without being able to perform.

When Ballet Encounter Contemporary Dance (December 26), a dance performance by the La Danza Theater, is also on the holiday program.

Support live shows

At PJPac, the recovery program has hosted live performances – with pandemic restrictions and a limited number of participants – which typically take place in Kuala Lumpur venues during pre-pandemic times.

Indie rock band Hujan sold all four of their shows, drawing 350 spectators each night.  Photo: EhhafishahIndie rock band Hujan sold all four of their shows, drawing 350 spectators each night. Photo: Ehhafishah

Last month, indie rock band Hujan’s 16th anniversary celebrations took place at PJPac, where all four shows sold out and drew 350 spectators each evening.

At this rate, the indie music scene could see a gradual shift from boutique gigs from KL to Petaling Jaya, especially with retro rock band Masdo’s performances at PJPac later this month, which are expected to sell out soon.

“As a center for the performing arts, we believe that all art forms should have a welcoming space to host their performances. The more types of performing arts we can offer to the public, I think, the greater the chance that someone will find their love for the arts, ”Kwan said.

PJPac CTO Mark Felix notes that the venue’s behind-the-scenes inventory is ready to support a variety of productions.

“As Malaysia’s newest performing arts center, we are honored to be able to offer the latest technology in our spaces, such as an LED screen, transparent and fully connected audio system and Follow Spot tracking system.

“We believe that access to such technologies will offer theater creators and event planners the opportunity to explore and not be limited in their ideas when performing their activities,” he said. he declares.

A visitor looks at the calligraphy works of artist Ong Chia Koon at the A visitor looks at the calligraphy works of artist Ong Chia Koon at the “Sing A Song 2.0” exhibition at PJPac. The theater will also host a series of art exhibitions over the coming months. Photo: The Star / Azman Ghani

As live sites across the country begin to emerge on the other side of this pandemic, many are also prepared for the ‘new normal’ of the event industry, with public health guidelines and SOPs. in place.

At PJPac, Kwan says that in addition to regular site disinfection, temperature and vaccination checks, additional disinfection and air filtration technology such as Merv12 air filters and UV filters have been installed. .

“Fresh air intake is maximized with 100% nighttime purging of stale air and replacing it with fresh air to ensure optimum indoor air quality,” Kwan explains.

Public health safety considerations continue to be a top priority at PJPac, but it has not forgotten the need for creative content, including with independent film screenings, art workshops and art exhibitions filling. regularly its monthly programming.

At the local level, PJPac also wants to ensure that arts practitioners who have been severely affected by the pandemic and the various lockdowns can organize shows on its premises.

“We are showing our support for the creative industry by offering a 50% discount on our rate card published on their first room rental with PJPac. We hope this will resolve some of the difficulties encountered when producing a show, ”Kwan said.

With only two months to go until the end of the year, at a glance, PJPac is definitely making up for lost time.


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Corina C. Butler

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