GEORGE TOWN, Oct 11 — The Sin Ngah Seng Hokkien Troupe has been staging Hokkien opera and potehi puppet performances for more than 40 years until this year when Covid-19 stopped everything.
Troupe leader Ng Kee Gee said they suddenly found themselves with barely any bookings.
It was just the loss of income they had to contend with but the losing touch with their skills as months went by without donning the costumes, putting on the thick makeup for opera or in Ng’s case, playing the musical instruments as part of the main orchestra behind the stage.
They were isolated in their homes and since they were not familiar with social and digital media, they had no way of reaching out to audiences.
Ng and his troupe were not alone.
There were wood carvers, rattan weavers, flower garland makers, stonemasons and countless other traders, artisans and craftsmen who faced the same fate.
According to George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) general manager Ang Ming Chee, there were many local traders, artisans and craftsmen in George Town who were losing touch with their art while at the same time, losing revenue due to fewer visitors coming into the city.
“They have stories to tell about their trade, art and cultural practices but they don’t know how to tell their stories and put it on a digital platform to reach a wider audience,” she said.
This is where GTWHI’s “George Town in the New Normal” project comes in.
The project, launched in July, was aimed at helping cultural heritage professionals in George Town transition to the new normal.
The project is divided into three components: digital marketing support for local businesses that are more than 10 years old, one-off financial reimbursements for repair of heritage premises and heritage videos of cultural heritage practitioners to showcase their skills, knowledge and craft process.
Under this project, these cultural heritage practitioners are encouraged to showcase their skills or craft process in a video.
“We want them to think of the content they want to shoot and we want them to be involved in the shooting of the video and to do it themselves,” Ang said.
She said this helps artisans and craftsmen reconnect with their trade and art while at the same time, make them think outside of the traditional way of doing business.
“For example, Ng and his troupe are used to performing ‘live’ to an audience so this project forces them to do it before a camera and also forces them to think of the content of what they want to showcase to people,” she said.
Since the launch of the project, GTWHI has received 299 applications for all three components, out of which 96 were for the heritage video component.
GTWHI has approved 75 applications for the videos and has received 32 videos while the remaining are still under process.
“We have another 267 openings for applications for the heritage videos and we do hope more cultural heritage practitioners will apply for this,” she said.
She said the criteria to apply is simple as the applicants need to be cultural heritage practitioners based in Penang who depend on their skills, knowledge and services as the main source of income and their proposed video submissions must be between five to 20 minutes.
She said GTWHI will process the videos received by putting in subtitles and translations before putting these up under its website to promote them.
She said so far, those who had successfully submitted their videos, were inspired to shoot other videos and put it up on their own social media accounts.
“This is what we want them to do, we want them to think outside of the box and to showcase their skills on the digital platform so that they can reach a global audience,” she said.
Ng submitted a video of himself playing his musical instruments after introducing himself as a troupe master and rattan weaver, Sim Chew Poh, submitted a video complete with subtitles that his son did for him.
Sim, a fourth generation rattan and bamboo furniture maker, has been weaving rattan and bamboo into baskets, furniture and decorative items for decades.
In his video, he demonstrated his rattan weaving skills to his grandson and even let his grandson take over the weaving.
Another applicant who submitted a video is flower garland maker, P. Gunathan, who showcased the flowers at his stall and demonstrated the process of making a flower garland.
“Other than these videos, we will be assisting all local businesses that are over 10 years old to set up digital marketing, we will help to promote their businesses on our website,” Ang said.
Successful applicants for the heritage repair and video components will receive one-off RM1,500 cash reimbursement each.
The first phase of the project ended on August 31 but phase two of the project will be open for applicants from October 15 onwards.
Those interested can call 04-2616606.