Is There A Future For Theatre Graduates?

t’s been over three years since the World Health Organisation first called COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. While the job market had started to roar back, it’s a different reality altogether for performing arts graduates in the country.

Hanafi Mohd Jais has been longing to pursue his passion of becoming part of the ‘performing arts family’ in the local theatre production. After completing his studies at an institution of higher learning in 2014, he decided to get the wheels in motion and pursue his dreams.

Six years have passed and Hanafi, a first class Bachelor of Drama from Universiti Malaya and with a Diploma in Performing Arts from the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (ASWARA), was still waiting for an opportunity to come his way.

 The 33-year old, who was born in Batu Pahat, Johor, eventually came to terms with his fate, and decided to seek other career options.

Hanafi Mohd Jais or Nafee Jayy

Hanafi now works as a takaful adviser, a profession that is entirely different from what he learned at the academy, noting that he realised that the theatre and performing arts industry is still grappling with stiff competition and an oversupply of graduates.

 “Jobs are hard to come by for arts graduates not only in the government but also those related to stage productions hosted by private companies. I once applied for a job as a cultural officer for B29 grade but was not accepted due to the degree and diploma that I hold.

 “For years I have been waiting for an opening and I have also applied as an arts teacher or an arts trainer in Putrajaya, but without success. What’s frustrating, non-arts graduates were selected for the post of cultural officer,” he told Bernama. However, Hanafi took it in his stride, and remained adamant in his decision to pursue his passion in the theatre world, by seizing whatever opportunities available to him.

His patience and perseverance finally bore fruit when Hanafi, who is known by his stage name Nafee Jayy, is now working as a freelance production crew, taking part in small productions in addition to becoming master of ceremonies as well as a jury for arts and cultural festivals.

 “I am not alone as my friends are also struggling to gain a foothold in the industry as a stage actor or a production crew, but it does not mean that this industry is no longer relevant,” he said.



There have been concerns over the limited opportunities in the performing arts industry, with no solution in sight to the problem.

Deputy Director-General of Policy and Planning for the National Department of Culture and Arts, Rosnan Nordin was quoted as saying recently, about 4,000 performing arts graduates are produced every year, resulting in many graduates remaining unemployed.

 “However, the workforce demand for performing arts graduates in the country is limited, maybe only 10 per cent,” he said.

 “The mismatch between the (low) demand and the influx of students has resulted in graduates working in fields that do not match their qualifications,” he added.

 Senior arts activists as well as association leaders have described the current oversupply of graduates as becoming serious especially when various public and private institutions of higher learning are also offering similar studies.

Actress-director Sharifah Amani, who has always been vocal about the local film industry and the plight of industry players, was quoted as saying that many talented people in the industry were struggling with bread-and-butter issues due to among others, lack of job security.

Frankie Billy Tadius..

Meanwhile, Inspector Frankie Billy Tadius, 33, who was born in Keningau, Sabah, shares his experience for not being able to pursue his passion in theatre. He is now attached to the Royal Malaysia Police Force (PDRM).

Frankie, who holds a Bachelor in Performing Arts (Drama), and currently PDRM band director at Sarawak Contingent Police Headquarters, told Bernama, after completing his degree, he then continued his studies by pursuing a Master in Business Administration at Universiti Mahsa as he aspired to be a theatre instructor.

“That’s the reason why they asked me to go for the PDRM interview and I passed the test,” he said adding that, he managed to complete his Master’s programme, but his passion for the performing arts has not faded, and expressed hope that he could become a part-time lecturer within five years’ time.

President of the Malaysian Theatre Association Sakrani Shamsuddin, 56, opined that the issue faced by performing arts graduates demands a holistic approach from various parties, especially in providing a platform for new entrants in the industry.

 The need for a place with no fees involved is crucial to enable them to build up their career, especially among new players who have yet to carve out a niche in the industry.

This is because, certain fees are imposed for performances at performing arts centres in Klang Valley, such as the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MATIC), Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), Panggung Bandaraya Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), Istana Budaya and the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC).



“Not all performing arts graduates are given the opportunity to become theatre actors or to work as production crew at any theatre associations or production companies as there are too many of them in the market, hence resulting in a glut compared to only a handful of companies and associations engaged in the sector.

“As such, the government should provide a free venue for performing arts graduates, so that they can produce and market their works of art, hence carving out a name for themselves as well as building up their resources,” said Sakrani. Concerns over the high cost of staging a show, faced by graduates, were also voiced by popular actor, director and screenwriter, Namron or Shahili Abdan, who said that starting with a zero budget or low cost project with friends is a step in the right direction.

Namron, who brings with him over two decades of experience in the industry, said it is crucial for new entrants to carve out a name in the industry first and tap on the available opportunities, including via the social media platform.

 “During my era, I was forced to stage a theatre, non-stop, one after another as we had to be productive to prove that we were really committed, to be able to get the support,” he said, adding that every stage performance should be of quality, and should not be purely profit-driven.

 Noting that job opportunities for graduates are rather limited, he said they can join the government sector such as the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture as well as universities which offer them positions as cultural officers.

However, there is still room for them, such as becoming production crew or using theatre as their business platform by conducting stage performance, workshops, etc, he said.

Asked on the funds or assistance for the graduates, Namron, who is also actively involved in film and television, said they should not be over-reliant on government assistance.

 “They should start from scratch. It’s good to have funds but for how long do we need to depend on assistance or loans. Since my involvement in theatre, I have not taken any loan for my work as it would only be a burden once you default on your payments.

 “If possible, avoid taking loans in the early stages and if they want to apply for funds, they can do so. But, from my experience, I have not been able to secure any funds, and what I did was to jointly collect money from my friends who shared mutual interest to stage a production and at that time, it was not money-driven but more for promoting our own brand,” he shared.



This situation has caused some quarters to perceive performing arts as irrelevant and should no longer be offered for studies, but senior lecturer at the Faculty of Music and Performing Arts, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Dr Nor Shuradi Nor  Hashim begs to differ.

 He said, as an example, industry training courses conducted by theatre graduates from various public universities have often piqued the interest of  companies, production houses as well as non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

 “These include corporate giants such as Genting Highlands Resort and Sunway Resort which also offer theatre graduates to undergo industry training given the need for skills in creative arts, management and performance at their companies,” he said.

Dr Nor Shuradi Nor Hashim

He said the course is still relevant based on studies conducted by the Ministry of Higher Education and the Entrepreneurial Development & Graduate Employability Centre (EDGE), UPSI, which found that the number of students pursuing a degree in performing arts (theatre) increased from 95.6 per cent in 2021 to 98 per cent in 2022.

This was significant among diploma in theatre students, with the number increasing from 97.6 per cent to 98 per cent in 2022.

 “Feedback from respondents found that 94.8 per cent agreed that the programme fulfilled the basic requirements, 96.3 per cent, described the programme as relevant with current industry needs while 93.5 proposed that the courses offered should include social media, theatre education, performing arts research and school co-curriculum management.

 "Besides that, 92 per cent of respondents proposed suitable fields or positions for qualified personnel such as teachers, cultural officers, lecturers, arts teachers, sales marketing, professional services as well as acting, directing, cinematography and media screen,” he said.



As such, he said, career prospects in performing arts should be aggressively promoted to create awareness among the people.

 “There are several ways of doing this, and that is by publicising the prospects of acquiring theatre skills to the public through accurate information on the capabilities of theatre students. Many people may not be aware that having skills in creativity, engagement and public speaking are much sought after by various industries,” he said.

 Besides that, Nor Shuradi said the achievements of theatre graduates should also be highlighted, especially through their success stories in various fields.

 “A student’s success story can inspire others and change public perception towards theatre graduates by making him a guest speaker or mentor.

“This serves to strengthen the bridge between the academic and the industry. As such, more information can be accessed for the public on the relevant skills required by the industry. These include avenues for creative arts and production as well as promoting visits together with theatre graduates and industry players,” he added.


Translated by Salbiah Said





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