By Tang Ching Yee
Ivan Alexander Francis Gabriel, 23, plays the role of Jim in the The Glass Menagerie. In this exclusive interview, Gabriel tells Han Chiang News about his journey making on the theater stage and his devotion to performing arts.
Can you tell me about your acting background?
I started acting when I was 7 years old. The first role I got was Prince Charming in Cinderella. That was the time when I stuck to Disney-like shows. At one point, I was offered a villain role. Having played the good-guy for a very long time, I thought maybe it was time to try something new. So I took the part as the villain for this original play named Happily Never After. I played the villain role that was inspired by Gargamel from Smurf.
Because the character had such a comedic role, I was getting good response from the audience. That was when I realised that I love making people laugh. Since then, I only did comedy in plays.
I also played Sir Francis Light in a play that had a Night-in-the-Museum-twist; they wanted somebody who could speak English in a British accent.
Then, I became a teacher, so I did not do as much theatre as before, but I still direct plays in school.
How did you get the chance to perform theatre arts when you were young?
The plays I was involved in back then were all school productions. At first, I went to SK Batu Maung where I did my first show as Prince Charming for the end-of-year concert. Having a play was a new idea initiated by my English teacher. During the show, I felt that we made the classical fairy-tale story come to life on stage.
However, I moved a lot at that time. Eventually, I settled in a private high school. Being a student there allowed me to develop more of my acting skills because they had drama as a subject. Furthermore, I did a lot of public speaking.
Do you consider yourself an extrovert?
I consider myself very opened-up, and I like meeting new people in general. But it’s hard to determine if I am an extrovert or an introvert because it depends on the situation – whether or not it is the right time for me to be my loud-self or reserved. But, most people would have the impression that I’m an over-extrovert.
Did you face any challenges while you were pursuing performing arts?
Yes. For one, it is hard to get the right role. It also takes hard work to go through so many rehearsals to perfect everything. But I like that Penang PAC are doing so many wonderful things and giving a lot of opportunities for people like me to be able to perform in public. I really enjoy my time and I feel more alive on stage.
What are your future goals?
I am an art teacher. Since the school knows how much I am involved in the theatre industry, I get to initiate drama shows with the kids and I will be directing a school production called Anne in two months.
How do you calm your nerves when you perform?
I used to get so nervous when I was younger. It’s human to get nervous before a show starts. I have this giant mirror in the dressing room and I would talk to myself. I would ask myself: why are you doing this? Why did you audition for this? Why did you say yes? I just tell myself that if you think you can do it, you can do it.
My students always ask me: Sir, are you going to Hollywood one day? I would answer: No, I do it because I love performing and entertaining people. It is not for the fame or money.
Speaking of Hollywood, do you think the mainstream, pop-culture kind of movies are stealing away the traditional art of performing?
I think they are two different things, because a lot of people think that every kind of acting is the same. But being in theatre, having a live audience and doing films where the audience only sees the finishing product are not the same. I have been in both films and plays and the feelings I get from them are different. I do like theatre more, especially comedy, because the quick response I get is so uplifting. It boosts my ego so much. I get so excited to do more and more right within that moment.
In Malaysia, people are not so appreciative of arts. What is the importance of bringing arts into the scene through Penang pac?
Being a sculpture artist myself, I agree with you that Malaysia does not really focus on arts. Speaking from experience, performing has been able to help one gain self-esteem and confidence. A lot of people do not think those are important, but those are the values that drive achievements.
It is very important to expose students to the arts such as having them try out drama and public speaking. This way, students learn how to overcome their fears. It is fine to not feel satisfied with your performance at the beginning, as long as you keep moving forward. Most of all, the audience would see us having so much fun and they would want to try.
Do you have any advice for those who are interested in the Arts?
Just try, it does not hurt trying. I would not be here if I did not try. If this is your dream, go for it. If you tell someone your dream, and they laugh because they think it is ridiculous, then you know that you are going to have to chase your dream for the rest of your life. I would not say my dream has come true yet because I still have so much further to go. That is why I keep moving forward like a train.
What do you do when you are not performing or teaching arts?
I am involved in a charity auction held by Persatuan Kebajikan Suara Kanak-kanak Malaysia (SUKA) that aims to spread awareness and prevent human trafficking.
I will also be having my first solo exhibition in June 2017 in the Penang Pac gallery. And my theme – oh, sneak peek! I have not told anybody yet – is black and white. It will be an exhibition of all my works throughout my journey as an artist.
Han Chiang News wishes Ivan the very best for his upcoming exhibition. Stay tuned for more…