Founder & Producer of RUMAH Nur Khairiyah talks about their debut online Festival #RUMAHFest

Due to showcase new work earlier on in the year, RUMAH have adapted their festival into an online event – a mixture of spoken word, scratch performances and comedy skits highlighting Asian voices, advocating for much needed representation on our stages. Presenting #RUMAHFest Online, founder and producer Nur Khairiyah talks about how she’s adapted to the current climate as a theatre maker and freelancer, the importance of creating these types of platforms and spaces for artists and her hopes for the festival moving forward.

You’ve produced #RUMAHFest Online, a festival including spoken word, sonic performances, scratch works, food treats and comedy skits taking place on Saturday 26th September. How are you feeling ahead of the festival?

Honestly I’m excited, nervous, exhausted, thrilled, happy…It’s an adrenaline rush, and I get high from all this rush. This is the first time I’m presenting something on my own, and in London, so it’s very special to me. 

RUMAH is committed to highlighting Asian voices, #RUMAHFest Online featuring Asian artists from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, the Sri Lankan diaspora and more. Why is it important to create these platforms and spaces for artists? 

Building communities has always been part of my work, RUMAH is sort of my social purpose. I believe change starts from you, and this passion project aims to bridge the gap of what’s lacking in the cultural landscape in the arts. I firmly believe that culture, diversity and representation matters, as it becomes part of your identity. As artists in the creative industry, you aspire to inspire the younger generations and the community, and no matter where I may be, I would experience and explore the same questions of traditions, modernity, difference, authenticity and survival.

The festival promises an eclectic line up of art forms, how did you decide which artists featured?

Most of the artists I’m featuring are artists whom I’ve worked with, or I’ve seen their work, heard of them.. Sometimes I stalk them on social media. I think that’s how you network in this day and age. You nudge or poke or send them a DM.

But I’m excited with the artists that I am working with for this online edition. Most of them are artists who I am collaborating with for the first time, some I only liaise with via socials or email. Gosh technology is an amazing engagement platform!

RUMAH were to launch a festival in March however it was postponed due to the Covid crisis. How have you found having to adapt your practice during this unpredictable time?

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, and it’s not just about how I adapt my practice during Covid, but there are 1001 things that I am worried about. Sustainability, Money, House, Bills… I am a freelancer, so most of my projects are my source of income. My side hustle is being a theatre/venue host and that too is uncertain. 

So it’s not all positive. There’s a shared balance of good and bad days. And I see a lot of toxic positivity on social media, and that pressure for attention. Honestly I really take the time to  work on my relationships with my fellow artists, peers, friends and family. Checking in on them, and just reminisce and reflect. 

Reflection is so important, not just in your practice but as a human being. What can I do better? Who have I ignored on and off stage or in my relationships? I didn’t pressure myself to make work online, but I took the time to identify the gaps in our current landscape, and we lack the dialogue of representation, identity, cultural diversity, race. So the projects that I initiated during this pandemic are some of the baby steps to move into the action of change. 

Monologues from My Bedroom allows artists to explore various wasy to take that plunge about adapting their work on a desktop stage. Rumah’s Solidarity Project collates Singapore Malay plays to start archiving excerpts from plays written in 1980s to present and to highlight Malay playwrights in Singapore. 

The festival has been supported by Rich Mix, Ignite Fund, Metroland Cultures Fund, Society for Theatre Research and the ACE National Lottery Project Grant . How does it feel to have received this support?

To get any kind of support whether its in-kind space, time, or monetary, it’s all valuable to a project. I’m very lucky to have had support from Rich Mix, a venue that really programs a ‘rich mix of work’. Josh McNorton, the previous Head of Programmes at Rich Mix was one of the first few people I spoke to about the idea, and he was so generous and open with his feedback from the very first phone call I had with him, when #RUMAHFest was just a speculative project. That was in late 2018. Tickets Ignite was the only funding I received last March to run the festival at Rich Mix, and I was very thankful that the panel saw that this is an urgent and timely intervention. 

Honestly, if this were to be held last March, I wouldn’t have gotten the support from Metrocultures Fund, Society For Theatre research Covid-grant and ACE. These 3 funding bodies were awarded to me during Covid and at a time when I was really determined to go ahead with this project online, and get the idea across. I think the time spent reflecting and talking about the festival made it easier to converse and pitch the idea. 

At the end of the day, knowing that the support form these funding bodies could also remunerate my artists proper, especially during these difficult times, made it all worthwhile. 

What can audiences expect from the festival?

A festival reimagined on a digital platform, to highlight Asian artists from the various Asian diasporas. You get to see new work and new collaborations.

What are your hopes for the festival moving forward?

I hope RUMAHfest will be an annual festival to house the various Asian diaspora artists. 

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

#RUMAHFest will be shown from 6pm to 8:30pm on Saturday 26th September 2020. To find out more, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop