Ah, love! Feelings of passion and passions of feeling. Often, a very dramatic thing to experience. And even more when it’s born from drama. Theatre drama, we mean.
At first thought, the theatre may sound like a WONDERFUL place for love. You spend lots of time in rehearsal with your partner, ‘building chemistry’ and hopefully acting a love scene or two.
Then again, the theatre may also be a TERRIBLE place for love. How can you tell real emotion in a place where everything is make believe? And who has energy for getting jiggy after countless hours of physical warm-ups and strenuous rehearsals?
So what’s love in the theatre really like? We decided to ask five theatre couples their experiences of performing arts romance.
HANA NADIRA and ARIEF HAMIZAN
In a relationship for a year and a half
HANA ( actress in Tragedi Hamlet, Riwayat, The Swordfish and the Concubine): It’s surprisingly great! Haha. Surprising because, after my first break up, I vowed to never date anyone involved in the performing arts again. I thought the lesson was not to poop where you eat because the repercussions of it is awkward.
But of course, I ended up with an actor again, and it has turned out to be rewarding in every way. Not only does he understand what I’m talking about when ranting about work, there are also a lot of ideas exchanged between us, and immense support, mentally and emotionally, for each other’s work. Fully understanding the commitment and energy required makes it worth it in the end.
ARIEF (actor in The Pillowman, Tragedi Hamlet, The Swordfish and the Concubine): I can’t imagine anything better. Her thoughts inspire me, her work inspires me, her devotion to her craft inspires me. Working in the arts often means struggling with finances, creative frustration, and those awkward schedules where you’re only free after 11pm on Mondays and before 10am on weekends or something. But she understands it all.
To know that there’s someone with me on this strange, uncertain journey in the arts, and loves it as much as I do, is to remember why I’m even here in the first place.
SAFIA HANIFAH and IVAN CHAN ATIENZA
Married about two months
SAFIA (actress in You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Marble Hearts, Mak Yong Titis Sakti): We understand each other’s work and we don’t question the odd rehearsal timings. There would also be times when we are needed in the theatre from morning to midnight (in the case of bump in and tech rehearsals). Having a partner in the same industry means he would be understanding towards this. It is also fun to be able to creatively share ideas and being on the same page when discussing work at home. I look forward to collaborate with him one day.
Challenges are when we have to travel for work, which means we have to be apart. This is hard especially in our case, we’ve only been married a month plus now.
IVAN (actor in You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, The Pillowman, Tick Tick Boom): We would understand each other’s schedule. Safia and I are actors, and if I have problems expanding my creativity, I can have a conversation with my wife who is an excellent actor to help me develop ideas and ways to create a character. Furthermore, she’s an actor….she entertains me and I entertain her when we’re at home.
Challenges? I’m married to an actor. She is drama.
ANRIE TOO AND MICHAEL CHEN
Married about four years
ANRIE (actress in Titus Andronicus, Rashomon, L5-7-44): It’s absolutely wonderful. To have someone who understands why you need to sacrifice personal dating time, spending it on rehearsals after an already long day at work. Also, having a partner who shares the same passion also means, we can work on our craft together to do better, encourage each other in ways to where only someone involved in the industry can understand – plus it’s nice to have a line-read partner at home!
The only challenge that comes to mind is that you have to be okay watching your partner kiss another person on stage – understand that it’s all part of the job and well, also because you expect the very same understanding from them as well.
MICHAEL (actor in Tombiruo, Rashomon, Angels in America): It’s amazing to have a partner who is also in the performing arts! I cannot imagine any downside at all. My wife and I met at a dance workshop virtually 10 years ago. By then, both of us already had some experience performing individually, we watch new shows together and we still connect on those levels.
One of the common challenges with a ‘non-performing arts partner’ is the lack of time spent together during rehearsals for a show, which could take up several nights a week for a 3 month period. This would normally put a strain on a relationship. However, in our case, we understand that this happens and sometimes we get lucky to be performing in the same show.
JC* and KD* (Names have been changed to protect privacy)
In a relationship for over 10 years
JC: Two heads. Two-pairs of eyes. Sometimes thinking about the same issues. Sometimes seeing a scene the same way: “This character can move the boxes and trap the others in the middle.” Sometimes not. Nothing surprising.
But on the days of ‘differences that matter to me’, I wish he’d disappear deep into the woodwork, choke on the sawdust and be silent. On some of these days, ‘the self’ I don’t want to be rears up, and my uncontrollable tongue takes over. Theatre folks who know us well, laugh at what I say. Then on the drive home from rehearsal, thick silence.
Eventually we debrief and then move on. I respect the amount of time he puts into studying, researching and thinking about a work before we pull in the actors. He even memorizes all the lines. So I concede.
Because outside of theatre we are quite similar. Neither of us is extravagant in our lifestyle. He likes to sit at the dinner table. I have ants in my pants. We are silly with each other. We laugh at each other’s stupid antics. Our shared values and interests, I feel, help cement our goal to make our productions successful–artistically and financially.
KD: It means talking, arguing about and doing theatre 90% of our time together, whenever we are not in theatre. It means dinner conversations are all mostly on scenes we have rehearsed, shows we have watched, or the latest theatre gossip. It means going to sleep discussing what we can do for the next play, or greeting each other in the morning with funding ideas.
Sometimes because I know him so well, I have a much higher expectation of him. I am harsher, more critical and less patient. I have to remind myself not to rush to the results.
Looking at some theatre companies that have been around and active for a long time, I see that many are led by a couple. I think as a couple you strive harder to work out the differences, to push and support, to work as a team. True, there are days we want to kill each other. But there are more days when we realize: what a blessing it is to have someone to share your passion!
DATO’ FARIDAH MERICAN and JOE HASHAM
Married about 28 years
FARIDAH (actress in Sisa-Sisa, director of Uda & Dara, and Thunderstorm): Time together has flown by so fast we have not had a chance to be too unhappy with each other. Of course there are moments, maybe more of those moments when I was younger, at the beginning of our partnership when emotions were more difficult to control. But lets talk about these later years as they are much happier ones. The best is when our friends say you both are so always together. They are right. I would not want it any other way.
What do I wish for more though? That the handphone does not come out when we are enjoying a meal. Aghhh!
JOE (actor in Sisa-Sisa, director of ‘The Betrayal‘ and ‘Men in Heels‘): Sometimes I want to scream. Having Faridah involved in the performing arts with me is glorious, most of the time, but can also be the most frustrating experience I am forced to endure.
On the upside: Faridah is my muse. She protects and guides me in so many ways. BUT, on the downside … she also infuriates me … to the point of distraction! Possibly because most of the time she is ‘right’.
Because we work together, at the same place, we are seldom apart. Some people might find that disturbing; I find it comforting. There are many times where we would disagree … but that only helps to add spice and sparkle to our creative relationship.
[All submissions have been edited for clarity and length.]