SELECTED PROGRAMME INTERPRETATION
THEATRE-IN-EDUCATION PROGRAMME, YOUNG THEATRE PENANG & FIVE ARTS CENTRE
Interpretation is based on Archive Record Inventory of the programme, entitled: “THEATRE-IN-EDUCATION PROGRAMME, YTP & FAC” as well as participants’ recollections. Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)
CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND
As in the west, the practice of theatre for social change in Southeast Asia grew in relation to developments in political activism and the theatre. While political activism was largely confined within the ivory tower of the university in the late 60’s, by the mid 70’s it had transformed into cultural activism involving citizens and communities. New developments in the theatre form emerged; such as collaboration between laypeople and artists, theatre practice moving into community spaces, and the application of theatre in various fields such welfare, health and education, all of which supported the idea of theatre for transformation.
Between 1980- 1982, PETA’s (Philippine Educational Theatre Association) educational arm CITASA organised an Asian outreach program, the Asian Theatre Forum (ATF). The forum included the introduction of PETA’s Basic Integrated Theatre Arts Workshops (BITAW) for creativity, cultural awareness, and social change to theatre practitioners and cultural workers. The ATF became popular with an Asian activist network made up of NGO leaders, artists, teachers, academics, and cultural workers. Its working methods had a strong impact on other Asian companies such as MAYA and MAKHAMPOM (Thailand), The People’s Theatre (Hong Kong), and Black Tent (Japan) all of whom would later influence the direction taken by TIE in Malaysia.
In the year 1983, BITAW instructors came to Malaysia by popular demand, to offer additional training to several Malaysian activists who also worked at a grassroots level and were interested to use the arts as a medium to concientise communities through cultural action. Following their many workshops, PETA instructors ultimately developed the BITAW manual in 1998 which encompassed PETA’s philosophy and curriculum for a Peoples’ Theatre.
PETA’s commitment to theatre for the people was to influence their work with children as well. In 1990, PETA formed the Children’s Theatre Collective (CTC) which focused on a pedagogy for children’s empowerment, to address issues of child welfare and rights. From 1990 to 1993, CTC worked with marginalised children, children with disabilities child rights advocates, teachers, etc. using the Basic Integrated Arts Workshop method.
In 2001, Marichu Belarmino was appointed Children’s Theatre Programme (CTP) director. CTP focused on development work for children, child focused NGOs, and adult caregivers. In the same year, Pillai from Malaysia and several theatre activists from the Asian region attended the Asia Pacific Conference-Workshop on Theatre, Culture Work and Civil Society organised by PETA. This conference included exposure to working with partners and stakeholders dealing with the social, mental, physical, and development of marginalised children and youth. (Source: Samson, et all. (2008), The Story of Peta, Pg 219-223 and 353-356.)
Lecturing in institutions of higher learning provided these educators with an opportunity to contribute to the development of the arts curriculum, and to transmit their artistic and pedagogical knowledge to diploma and graduate-level students, who were orientated towards careers as art teachers or artists. Arts pedagogy and theories of child development were incorporated into the visual arts curriculum in the 70s, while music education transitioned from performance to pedagogical orientation in the late 80s.
About this time, the 1969 political and racial unrest triggered a wave of discussions, rethinking and reshaping ideas about ‘Malaysian’ arts and culture, and identity. A National Cultural Congress was called which paved the way for a National Culture Policy (NCP). The policy – which gives precedence to the Malay arts – was to influence artists, educators, and the development of arts curriculum in the 70s and 80s.
By the 80s, post-colonial sentiments had taken root at local institutions, dominated by a Malaysian academic community trained in western academic culture but determined to promote Asian form and content, theory, methodology and techniques alongside Western ones, in both research and curricular. Graduates students coming out of this new school of thought and practice, contributed towards the development of interesting experiments in contemporary Malaysian arts education which took place within institutions, as well as outside the school environment. The teaching curriculum and creative work became more infused with indigenous forms and content.
To an extent, the educational and political developments in the 60s and 70s brought arts and culture to the fore; leading to a surge in support, mentoring, and programming for the arts by academic institutions and government agencies. Arts at a tertiary level, arts in schools, and non-formal arts programmes for young people began to emerge, marrying new ideas of child art and art-making with local content and form.
Examples of such programs include the Komplex Budaya Negara Children’s Theatre Program led by Elizabeth Cardosa and Janet Pillai (1978-82), the course in children’s theatre at University Sains Malaysia led by Zainal Latiff (1979-1985), drama and puppetry programmes at libraries such as Pustaka Bimbingan Kanak Kanak and the National Library (Perpustakaan Negara) and the Children’s Creative Classes at the National Art Gallery (Balai Seni Lukis Negara).
The Program Seni Kreatif at Universiti Sains Malaysia can be catagorised as one of the non-formal initiatives in arts education from the 80s which consciously experimented with the application of pedagogical theories of learning and development; while making drama, music, and art with children. The exposure of the two initiators of this programme to early Malaysian arts educators and arts institutions explains and contextualises the orientation of the programme.
PROGRAMME ORGANISATIONS AND KEY PERSONS
Kami Bukannya Patong: Marion D’Cruz and Janet Pillai
Setumpuk Pisang: Marion D Cruz and Charlene Rajendren
STOP! LOOK! GO!: Janet Pillai
OK Tak OK and RESPEK: Women’s Center for Change and Janet Pillai
Kami Bukannya Patong and Setumpuk Pisang: Five Arts Centre, KL
STOP! LOOK! GO!: Young Theatre Penang (in cooperation with Five Arts Centre, KL)
OK Tak OK and RESPEK: Women’s Crisis Center, Penang & Young Theatre Penang
The introduction of Theatre-in-Education (TIE) into Malaysia was influenced by several factors; the popularity of TIE in schools in the UK and Australia, increased understanding among non-government organisations in Malaysia regarding alternative forms of awareness-raising using theatre, and an increased understanding among theatre practitioners on applied theatre in new settings (Peoples Theatre, Theatre for Social Change, etc.). Some of the more activist Malaysian NGOs and theatre practitioners dealing with youth were also eager for youth to take on a more critical perspective on social issues which were not being addressed by the school system.
In 1987, Pillai was exposed to issue-based theatre for or by youth at the Come Out Festival in Adelaide in 1987 (part of the 9th ASSITEJ Congress), and in 1987 Pillai attended a series of workshops which were part of the International Symposium of the Vancouver Children’s Festival. These workshops: Popular Theatre Techniques by Augusto Boal (Brazil), Power Play by David Diamond (Canada), and The Politics of Form by Angela Chaplin (Australia), crystalised for Pillai the notion of theatre as a medium for social transformation.
Pillai first experimented with Forum Theatre in a 1991 performance entitled ‘Kami Bukanya Patong’ (We are not Dolls), which was produced and supported by Five Arts Centre. The theatre company, Five Arts Centre (FAC) in Kuala Lumpur, was one of the first Malaysian theatre companies to practice pedagogical theatre by and for young people. The play revolved around young peoples’ experiences of harassment, was devised and performed by students of an all-girls secondary school (SMK Sri Puteri, Kuala Lumpur).
In 1996, Five Arts Centre (in collaboration with the Malaysia-Australia Foundation and the Australian High Commission), worked with an Australian guest director Steven Gratian and FAC member Charlene Rajendran on what would be possibly the first TIE performance in Malaysia entitled ‘Setumpok Pisang’; which dealt with the pressures of identity and self-image faced by teenagers.
Between the years 1991 to 1994, Pillai with the support of Five Arts Centre in KL, began to experiment with a creative arts pedagogy for young people in FAC’s Teater Muda series. In 1994, after 4 years, Pillai undertook a 6-month sabbatical to research deeper into Theatre-in-Education and Youth Theatre in the UK. Upon her return from the UK, Five Arts Centre founder Krishen Jit facilitated a meeting between Janet Pillai and Swedish researchers who were interested to explore educational forms of drama as a mode of conflict handling. In the 1998 phase of this research project (termed DRACON), TIE was employed as a means to teach conflict literacy to schooling adolescents in the performance entitled ‘STOP! LOOK! GO!’
Convinced of the effectiveness of TIE as participatory platform to broach issues of concern and interest to young people. Pillai went into partnership with a Penang NGO, Women’s Centre for Change (WCC, then known as Women’s Crisis Centre), to support awareness raising campaigns for students on topical issues related to sexual abuse, sex education, and gender relationships. Pillai carried out two extended TIE projects in collaboration with WCC; OK Tak OK (1998 and 1999), and RESPEK (1999).
TIE in Malaysia borrows eclectically from several forms of applied theatre, which deal with social issues (Popular Theatre, Theatre for Development, Theatre of the Oppressed) and incorporates several forms of participatory techniques (Devised Theatre, Forum Theatre, Image Theatre, etc). Although the techniques were developed in the West, the form and content were adapted to suit local socio-cultural contexts and needs. While directors and writers may have been professionally trained, actors came from various disciplines (college/university students, working youth, NGO workers, etc.)
TIE in Malaysia tends to operate within a framework which is age appropriate, and issue or theme oriented; topics may include: cultural diversity, gender relations, sex education, bullying, etc. The form generally uses the medium of theatre as a vehicle to achieve an educational objective, by interrogating a social issue critically; with intention to change perception, attitudes, and even behavior.
TIE projects in Malaysia are usually devised by actor-facilitators, working closely with educators and a client, such as a school administration or an NGO. The topic/issue is researched by the director and/or a dramaturg, together with the actor-facilitators themselves. Research may involve direct discussion with intended audiences, or indirect culling of information using interactive theatre techniques such as improvisation, role play, etc. This culling of information directly from audiences, combined with secondary source research on the topic and the age group, helps ensure that the form and content is relevant and appealing. The TIE team (composed of a director, a writer and actor-facilitators) then interpret the young peoples’ issues, tensions, and conflicts into a devised piece of fictional drama.
The performance itself may involve the audience in role play, decision-making, or discussion. This mode of theatre allows participants to experience and participate in an interactive performance both as audience and actor. When soliciting participation or response from audiences, the trained actor-facilitators elicit various points of view from the audience, trusting the innate ability of children to reason, interpret, and construct solutions. It creates a safe platform for audiences to access their own ideas and impulses.
PROJECTS WITHIN THE PROGRAMME
1. Kami Bukannya Patung (1991)
2. Setumpok Pisang (1996)
3. OK Tak OK (1998-2002)
4. STOP! LOOK! GO! (1998)
5. RESPEK! (1999-2004)