Monday, November 20, 2017

Cross Cultural Connections: An Account of Ann Shaw Fellowship Recipient

My goal in traveling to Singapore on the Ann Shaw fellowship observing Patch Theatre Company’s Asia-link residency at the Esplanade Theatre was to research the process of transitioning visual theatre-making for young audiences into a new cultural context. It was my hope to gain an understanding of how a visual theatre piece, which transcends traditional language barriers, would shift in being remounted within a different country. To truly come to an understanding of how the visual theatre piece and the process of theatre-making shifted I needed to not only observe rehearsals and speak with the Singaporean creative team for mOOn ballOOn but I also needed to gain an understanding of Singaporean history, culture, artistry and views on children. For this I spent time observing drama programming in schools, watching Theatre for Young Audience performances, sitting in on theatre rehearsals for a number of upcoming shows and talking to Singaporeans about culture, children, education, and art.

On the first day of my trip to Singapore I wandered out of my hotel with no real plans. It was Sunday and I wasn’t expected at the Esplanade to begin my project until the following day, however I figured I would walk toward the theatre stopping wherever seemed interesting along the way. A few short blocks from my hotel I came across a giant street market and began to walk around, I stopped at an outdoor café. Just after sitting to have a mango crème and coffee a couple approached me and asked to share my table, I welcomed them and to my surprise found the woman, Esther Tan, ran a drama education company called Voiceworks. Esther and I chatted for quite some time while her husband, a banker, listened patiently hearing our excitement at finding common terminology and sources within our work. We exchanged contact information before I left the café and I arrived at my hotel that same evening to find a message from Esther awaiting me.

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Esther Tan and I following a dinner meeting

Esther would prove to be a vital part of my connection to Singaporean schools and culture. Each time Esther and I spoke a new possibility for collaborating emerged as she would invite me to observe classes in schools, to meet colleagues throughout Singapore and eventually to teach a workshop for her drama teachers on using puppets as a teaching tool. In observing Voiceworks classes I found that drama is often used to build student’s confidence in speaking and expressing themselves in English. While English is the official language of education and business in Singapore, many students speak one of the other three national languages of Singapore in their homes. This parallels with the many students I encounter in Texas schools whose primary language is Spanish. Esther and her colleagues provided me valuable insights into Singapore’s culture, the educational system and the role of drama education with youth. In the weeks after leaving Singapore, Esther and I have connected via email on numerous occasions.

In addition to the research I conducted through observations of mOOn ballOOn, I looked toward my time in Singapore as an opportunity to take place in a tri-cultural exchange. This exchange was envisioned with Dave Brown bringing his Australian sensibilities as a theatre-maker, my expertise in designing arts engagement activities being utilized to help shape pre-show engagements and the local artists and atmosphere shaping the piece to fit Singapore. With my visit in July occurring so far prior to the performance of mOOn ballOOn in October my role is developing audience engagements would stand to be in the development rather then the actual execution of engagements. Within my first few days at The Esplanade I found that some resistance existed to pre-show audience engagements as several of the artists felt previous attempts failed to excite audience members. Others feared that Singaporean parents would not properly supervise or assist their children causing things to be uncontrollable. Dave and I persisted explaining the importance of deepening audience engagement with the piece, as well as calling on previous successful experiences we had both had. Ultimately I was able to work alongside Luanne Poh, who runs youth programming at the Esplanade, and Dave to craft a simple pre-show activity where children could decorate balloons to add to a collective art piece in the lobby of the theatre. With the performances having gone up this recently (October 4-6, 2013) I was excited to see photos of the pre-show engagement posted online. I look forward to recapping with the mOOn ballOOn artistic team in the coming weeks on how the performances went and learning more the execution of the audience engagement activities.

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Observing a mOOn ballOOn rehearsal at the Esplanade.

In traveling to Singapore on the Ann Shaw Fellowship I was able to expand upon the professional relationship already in progress with Dave Brown of Patch Theatre. Our continuing collaborations in Singapore allowed us to explore new possibilities and to continue learning from each other. In addition I gained an understanding of Asian culture, Arts Education and Theatre for Young Audience in Singapore that cannot be found within books. I have come to understand that there is a level of understanding that can only come from human connection, from firsthand observation and interaction. The opportunity to travel to Singapore through the Ann Shaw Fellowship allowed me to shift my understanding of Asian culture, of how to create theatre, of audience engagement and of the arts. Now I hope to bring this new understanding to my artistic and scholarly work so that as I continue to connect and interact with new audiences and colleagues I can be a catalyst that helps to shift the understanding of others.

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Enjoying some sushi with the mOOn ballOOn cast during a dinner break.

Attention all TYA practitioners and adventurers! Applications are now being accepted for the 2013 Ann Shaw Fellowships. Designed to support the continuing artistic and professional growth of TYA/USA members, the Ann Shaw Fellowship provides monetary grants for members to travel to a conference or festival, study with a mentor, conduct research or connect with fellow artists. Dream!  Plan!  Apply!  Deadline is February 15!   http://www.assitej-usa.org/#/fellowships/how-to-apply.

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