Q&A with Al-Matin Yatim

18 November 2015 | Journal

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Singaporean Al-Matin Yatim first began his craft as an actor in 2007 when he joined Temasek Polytechnic’s then Malay theatre society, Titisan Temasek. Since then, he has worked with theatre and dance companies such as the National University of Singapore Malay dance group, PanggungArts, People’s Association, Teater Artistik, Teater Kami, TheatreLab, Cake Theatrical Productions and Chowk. He has also worked on collaborative works with Esplanade and Read! Festival by the National Library Board.

After he completes his three-year training at ITI, Matin hopes to share the idea of intercultural theatre on an international level and contribute back to society.

Matin was a recipient of the NAC-ITI Arts Scholarship (2013 – 2015).


Q: What is it like to study here in ITI?

I remember when I was in my first year, I told Sasi, Director of ITI, that being in ITI is tougher than my two years in National Service. Not because of its regimental nature, in fact ITI is far from it, but the demand that the training requires from the student physically, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.

There were days I questioned why it was so difficult to be trained as an actor. When I look back now, I understood why. As the saying goes, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. I built perseverance and patience not as an actor, but as a person.

The mundane routine of getting up early in the morning from an exhausting schedule the day before, and be available and ready at 8 am everyday has really tested my decision of being an actor, a theatre maker, a practitioner.

And I totally appreciate that the school is located on top of a hill, secluded from the hustle and bustle of town, yet which is just 10 minutes walk away. I appreciate the simple facilities and infrastructure, having to cook our own food, make our own drinks, clean our own studios at 7 am in the morning, clean our own toilets, tidy our own dining area, maintaining our own garden, clear our own garbage bags… it is like a boot camp for the soul. It is not easy as it sounds, we grumble and we complain, we resisted and we rejected, but this system taught me the most important value of character building that I think I would never have gained in any other drama school. I believe each and every student can claim ITI to be home – for the simple fact of the effort each individual has contributed to.

Whenever I get complimented for having produced good work, this experience manages to humble me down.

I am less interested in how well my body can move, but instead how my body can move the audience.

Q: How has ITI shaped your identity as an actor?

After learning many traditional and contemporary forms of theatre, I begin to know how to select what is best for a particular work I am doing and what I am interested in. Thus far, I am not interested in how a particular form is shaped, or how beautiful a gesture expresses, but the principle behind it. I believe it is the principle behind every form that I have learnt that helps me create my own original work. It is from the understanding of the principles that I manage to explore more possibilities of creation rather than sticking to the physical form and get stuck to it like glue. I am less interested on how well my body can move, but instead how my body can move the audience.

Q: What has been the most rewarding experience that you will take away from your training here?

The beautiful people I have met from all around the world. The brothers and sisters of different cultural and racial backgrounds whom I have had contact with, eaten from the same plate with, and listened to their beautiful languages; the sharing of everyone’s differences in culture is the most priceless experience that I have gained from being in ITI. What I realise is: after all, we are all the same.

I am really thankful to have shared my own culture with people in ITI and I feel even more honoured when my culture is being respected and appreciated. There was this once I was in class and I wanted to excuse myself to the toilet. So I left the room by bending my body low, lowering my gaze and with a hand gesture of excusing my exit as I walked pass everybody, a practice that my Malay society cultivates from home as a form of respect.

A French classmate came to me afterwards and expressed her awe of that gesture – she found it beautiful and she thought I was dancing my way out!

The sharing of everyone’s differences in culture is the most priceless experience that I have gained from being in ITI. What I realise is: after all, we are all the same.

Q: What do you look forward to most about graduation and what’s next?

I am very excited to be stepping into the industry full-time after seven years of putting one foot in and another foot out. I am keen to contribute whatever skills and knowledge I have gained in ITI to the society and work with as many theatre-makers around the world as I could.

I hope that my work will be recognised on an international level but for now, baby steps at a time.

Q: Do you have any advice for other actors?

Keep striving and keep crafting. What else could we do except for contributing to society in whatever means we can?

And as my colleague Yazid Jalil said in his previous interview, get training, whatever acting/theatre training you can get your hands on.

Q: Thoughts for the future?

I hope ITI will create a degree programme so we, the alumni, and other theatre practitioners can further expand our craft and practice.

I wish all current and future students to do well in whatever they have chosen to embark on in their journey as a theatre practitioner.

Most importantly I would like to tell the whole world that without my mother, I would have never been where I am today. Without her tirelessly preparing me lunch everyday early in the morning, I would have starved miserably for the past 3 years. Thank you, Ma!


Photo by Bernie Ng