Wednesday, June 24, 2015

FRIENDS OF SUPER COOL BOOKS // Kamil Haque says: Be brave, be Asian, be true

Hello! This week I’d like to introduce you to my friend Kamil Haque

Kamil spent many years in the US studying and working as an actor, and is the only Asian to have taught at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles. In 2013, he returned to Singapore and started the Haque Centre of Acting & Creativity (HCAC), an acting school that hosts lots of exciting workshops, community events and creative projects. Like his popular Metaphors Be With You series, where writers get a chance to read and discuss their writing. 

Kamil also been working with Super Cool Books this year, helping us grow our creative options and deliver our unique Super Cool Books message to a wider international audience. Thanks, bro! 

And now it’s time to hear from him.

— D


Hanging out with Kamil Haque at his acting studio. 

You spent years as an Asian actor working in Los Angeles. What was that experience like?
LA was where I found the permission to risk, to express myself and to fail. I found my unique authentic voice as a human being (and artist) with less fear of judgement and criticism.

I learnt that acts of genius are inspiring but hard and smart work gets results. I learned to value the power of focus, observation, flexible preparedness, specificity of thought and action. I learned that as an actor I can and must be the voice of the voiceless.

The lessons I learnt in Los Angeles are and were universal for all actors. That I was an Asian was perhaps an appendix to my journey. If anything, I learnt that Asians still have to fight the good fight to show we can lead a play, TV series or film beyond the casting stereotypes. Things are changing but ever so slowly. Would you believe that casts with greater ethnic diversity tend to have greater box office revenue? That to me is such a joy to hear.

Who are some Asian storytellers that you find especially outstanding?
For Asian literature, two names stick out in my mind. The first is R.K. Narayanan. As a young boy, his book of short stories Malgudi Days conjured up some glorious images of village life. I was absolutely thrilled when they adapted it for a short lived TV series. Closer to home, I’d say my favorite writer must be Rex Shelley. His books, particularly People of the Pear Tree, was for me my first formal education in understanding the maternal side of my family, their lingua franca and customs. I would love to adapt his novel into a TV series or a feature.

As a side note, I do think Asia has a plethora of stories that are only now becoming the focus of the West. Likewise we are learning the tools of the trade to also tell our stories in a variety of mediums in a way that is accessible and has wider appeal beyond our shores.

How would you explain the connection between acting and writing stories?
Writers to me are the first people to grasp the full significance of life and interpret it in a way that sheds light on issues and people that we would otherwise never hear about. Let me state for the record how difficult I think it is to write good stories. I can write but I am by no means a writer. It’s incredibly difficult to create great stories. I am in awe of writers. In fact, I’m deeply indebted to the writers. Without them I wouldn’t have the material to bring to life on stage or on camera.

I’ve been fortunate to work on some amazing material and the difference between great material and poorly written material is definitely palpable and tangible. Writers and actors have a symbiotic relationship. In fact, the Hollywood writers’ strike in 2010 literally brought the industry to its knees.

Once on the page, actors have to then dedicate themselves to further interpret the words of the writer and then express them in such a way that it does justice not only to the writer but also to the story itself. A great piece of writing gives actors the sandbox from which we can play inside and around.

What's up with your Metaphors Be With You series?
Metaphors Be With You is a monthly curated personal essay showcase that was created by my LA-based writing mentor Claudette Sutherland and myself. We designed it to be a monthly series of original essays that would be written around a theme, for example “Turning Points” or “Food Stories”. The stories themselves need not be memorized or acted. There is something so magical and transformative about hearing the power of the written and spoken word. We’ve had a few episodes so far to completely full houses. Now the series is co-curated by writer/director Sarah Howell and I.

What do you hope to achieve? 
We want Metaphors to be an incubator for writers without fear of censorship and a space where they are nurtured from the page to the stage. I believe that giving writers a platform for their stories is the cornerstone to inspiring people to tell their own.

Metaphors Be With You:
Workshops at HCAC:
Claudette Sutherland: