Edwin Sumun is a man of many talents and personae. An entertainer, director, entrepreneur, emcee, a drag queen and even a walking tower named Kay Elle; he is comfortable in any skin. Fresh from his recent win of the Audience Choice Awards at the 11th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards for It’s #MYLife: SHELAH Returns!!! (Music), he chats with Top 10 of Malaysia about turning the big 40 and how he plans to influence Malaysians one show at a time.
A natural born performer, Edwin Sumun takes to the stage like a duck to water. Blessed with striking good looks, an iconic and well-shaped bald head, velvety baritone voice and a dashing figure coupled with a wicked sense of humour and quick wit, he has made a name in the annals of live theatre performances. “When I was young, I wanted to be famous,” he says. So he dabbled in many things including modelling, acting in a film or two and even tried working in full-time in a TV production company. Somehow, none of those endeavours lasted because he only had passion for theatre. “I found that live art is definitely not the sure-fire path to fame and glory. But it is the one thing I have done since day one and the one thing I will keep on doing until the day I die.”
Edwin is forthright and has an opinion on almost everything. So, naturally the stage is the perfect avenue for him to speak his mind. After a year-long hiatus, he brought the larger-than-life and award-winning drag queen character, Shelah back into action last year. “I love Shelah, she is my satirical mouthpiece. However, I don’t see my work as controversial; I see it as current and relevant. Anything that my audience is hesitant to say, Shelah will say it for them,” he says with a devilish grin.
He sees himself as an Agent Provocateur for his audience, inciting them to do their part to make Malaysia into a better place. “I find that today’s society loves to complain and are quick to blame others when things don’t go their way. They also have a greatly misplaced sense of entitlement. So, I take the stage as Shelah and not-so-subtly encourage them to do something about their dissatisfaction. People are always going on about change, but change really starts from that one person first and then it affects another person and eventually the whole society.”
2014 is significant for Edwin as his very own theatre company, Sumunda, turns 10 this year. This year also marks his second decade in the performance arts and his fortieth birthday. “I am thrilled to be 40. I don’t rush to do so many things anymore. I have built my own company and created memorable characters such as Shelah. I’m also proud that I am the glue that binds my relationship with my older brother and sister now that our parents have passed away. As one is in the US and the other is in England, it does require quite an effort!”
But the downside of getting older is that he may not get to do all the things that he wanted to do before death beckons. So, what does he want to do in the next decade? “I want to work with more people and continue being relevant to society. Above all, I wish to see more people doing what I am doing now.”
An independent thinker who likes calling the shots, he loves being self-employed. “It gives me the freedom and luxury of handpicking the people that I want to work with. They have to be open to my suggestions and there should be mutual trust. I will give them every opportunity to stretch beyond their comfort zone. Initially they will complain but later, they will realise that they have grown.” He admits that his perfectionism is a double-edged sword. Perfectionism is the reason behind the numerous rehearsals to ensure a rousing performance every time, but it makes working with others a challenge at times. “Being a perfectionist, I expect everyone to work at the same level – but of course, they do not. So, over the years I’ve learnt to readjust my expectations, make them feel comfortable working at their own pace and then try to bring them up to my level without making them realising that I was doing so.”
He has absolutely no regrets when it comes to his career path. “Everything I’ve been through has made me the performer that I am today, so, no, I wouldn’t change a thing. But if I could, I would tell my younger self not to be so ‘kiasu’ and not try to do everything all at once.”
With five ethnicities swirling in his blood, namely, Minangkabau, English, Irish, Japanese and Chinese, Edwin regards himself as a true-blue Malaysian and has no plans of migrating or living anywhere else. “There is imperfection all over the world, not just in our country. I accept Malaysia for what she is, and I know that more needs to be done and I want to play a part in that.”