Substation’s Noor Effendy Ibrahim About His Life in Theater

I was a good, sweet boy. Quiet and sedate. I’m not now. I have a temper, though I can still be sweet.

I remember childhood loves and crushes and my kindergarten years but nothing too impactful; nothing that really changed my life. My circumcision was memorable.

I grew up in a middle-lower class Malay Muslim family. The environment wasn’t exactly liberal, but I was exposed to music and arts and crafts which allowed me to be expressive and creative.

I wanted to be a nuclear physicist in secondary school.

The education system here didn’t do any justice for me but somehow I managed to bulldoze my way through it.

I got into the Theatre Studies program at Victoria Junior College but it wasn’t because of a love for the arts. I thought it came with the possibility of kissing girls. I didn’t get to though, except outside of theater. What a f**king waste of time!
I’d started working in Malay theater in Junior College, and in my National Service days I dabbled in performance arts, so I became more multi-disciplinary and mixed with the visual arts community. In 1997, I left for Chicago to do a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and came back in 2000 when I got my first job. I became the Artistic Director of Teater Ekamatra.

The Substation is the Ekamatra experience multiplied 10 or 20 times; it’s a much greater responsibility.

Managing an arts group or producing a work by another artist is a legitimate art practice in itself.

I never had any delusions that this was going to be an easy ride. I took on this job on my conviction that there are things The Substation needs to provide for and contribute to the community.

What we’re doing is injecting reality into the current process of turning the arts into an industry. It should slow down; it should not be hastened at the expense of artistic development or the health of the community.

The Substation has to be affordable but “affordable” doesn’t mean “cheap.”
The Substation must remain porous. The idea that you can have a traditional Indian dancer in the same room as a skinhead; that’s it. The next step is for them to freely interact.

I believe in diversity and the beauty of chaos in diversity; you have to embrace it and acknowledge it.

The most difficult thing today is recognizing potential. We’re so stuck with KPIs, criterion, order and structure, that we fear potential because it isn’t finite. The possibilities of potential are endless.

Mistakes need to be protected because a lot of good art is born out of mistakes, accidents and randomness.

As you get older your peripheral vision gets wider, but your focus gets narrower. You realize you don’t need too many things.