Meet the Faculty 8 – Mohamad Shaifulbahri

In this, our 8th short interview, it is wonderful to welcome Shai to the Faculty. I first began talking with him over tea in Singapore when I was seeking to understand the landscape of creativity. Shortly after he arrived at Central School and I was working at Mountview in London – both of us exploring creative producing. Within a couple of weeks of arriving to study his MA in London he was producing a show at the Bridewell Theatre. He has now developed a balance of lecturing, international diplomatic artistic championing, and his own programme of work with his company The Bhumi Collective. He is forging new partnerships across SEAsia and between creatives in the UK, Singapore and beyond.

What inspires you to be a creative producer (and/or keeps you going) ?

Growing up, I’ve always been interested in stories. I used to write stories at one point but discovered I enjoyed being able to facilitate and support the realisation of many other stories. This is something that keeps me going as a producer. Every project is exciting, making every day exciting and the producer’s role isn’t one that gets too boring. It excites me to be able to be a part of the process of bringing an idea to life. I thrive on new ideas and conversations with artists with amazing ideas.

Is there a style of art/theatre you particularly want to create/produce ?

Over the last few years, my practice has expanded to become a more multidisciplinary one and I’ve found that not limiting myself to a single form allows me to work with artists and creatives who come from varying practices. Seeing them find intersections in their ideas and thoughts, excites me. And in these times we’re in, I’m curious to see what else can be created beyond the confines of traditional and conventional spaces and styles as well as going beyond the digital. Who knows?

Are you someone who works on one or multiple projects – tell us a little about your style of work ?

I work on multiple projects at a go out of both necessity and interest. The image I have in my head is that of an octopus who is also a plate spinner. You need the wits of an octopus to be on top of things and their tentacles need to be balancing plates in a calm manner, else it all goes awry. It can get chaotic on the inside but on the exterior, you’ve got just to keep spinning the plates steadily. [Editor’s comment – Shai please commission that image for your website]

As an international practitioner, what might we not know about working in your region/country ?

Singapore has a vibrant arts scene. The arts calendar is filled with stuff and anyone who tells you it gets boring sometimes, isn’t looking hard enough. We’re not just about the tourist spots and the food (ok no, food is a must, which Chris can attest to), our artists, galleries, venues are pretty exciting. We’re a multicultural city so we also have shows and events that are multilingual. One of the biggest challenges we encounter in the arts here is the issue of censorship. Almost every show that happens here requires a license from the government – from a blackbox theatre performance to a mega international act concert.

What are you working on now (which you can tell us about) ?

Right now, I’m working with a number of artists on different types of digital presentations. The one I can share about is called Charlie by Victoria Chen. It’s a 15-minute 1-on-1 interactive experience. You enter a room and you encounter this 12-year girl, Charlie, who has never seen the outside world or met anyone from outside of this lab that she’s known all her life. You’re the first, what would you say to her? We first presented it at the Edinburgh Student Art Festival and have done it in Singapore and we’ve been finding more opportunities to present while also tweaking it with each edition. This November, we’ll be presenting it as an online at Melbourne Fringe. The experience will now occur over Zoom and the process which led to us deciding to go with it took some discussion. Ultimately, we feel the work will resonate in a time when people have had no choice to be confined to their own personal spaces for an extended amount of time due to the pandemic. What would the experience be like to encounter someone who’s been in one her whole life?

Within the Diploma programme/idea what are you most looking forward to helping/experiencing ?

I’m looking forward to discussing contexts, landscapes and ecologies. The “why” and “how” of projects may vary from person to person but they are so important at the heart. I believe that a producer should be more outward looking even when working within a local context and engaging with world views is important. I’m also looking forward to engaging with and discussing internationalisation, looking at a diversity of approaches, philosophies and strategies.

Any lessons learnt or experiences to look back at which are amusing/lifechanging ?

A producer needs to be the calmest person in the room, or on the project. Often, almost everyone will turn to you for answers and it does not help to contribute to confusion or worse still, chaos.