Thursday, November 03, 2005

Notes from the Course Instructor

Theatre for a business university? But of course, for what is a theatrical production but a business project: Students have to come up with a creative vision which they must realise in a marketable product. They have to win over an audience (customers). They must raise funds and work within budgets. Theatre is about team effort and leadership. And theatre is about total communication – using the body, the voice, words, and images.

But our Post-Modern Theatre Studies is not just about putting up a show. The course concerns itself mainly with an interrogation of social and cultural behaviour based on the premise that all in life is theatre. For example we have investigated gender roles, and the shaping of public taste. In the making of theatre, we are not concerned with dramatic craft. Instead our theatre explores strategies such as alienation, subversion, transgression and ritual to communicate ideas and meanings. A well-made play is not the objective of this project. The emphasis is on process rather than end-product so that work-in-progress as much as the final show is scrutinised.

In Wayang Ramayana the students have chosen to use the idioms of traditional Javanese wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) and wayang wong (human theatre), but to distort the performance perspectives through the prism of their youthful (and largely Anglo-American informed) imagination. I hope the students will interrogate this clash of cultures and the tensions between traditional and modern theatre in post-production reflections.

Interculturalism is a “hot” topic. Do we celebrate a people’s culture when we “borrow”, or do we appropriate and so reduce authentic identities? But is there ever a “pure” cultural product? And what of the political subtext. Is hybridity a colonial discourse on the exotic Other? In the first place, is the notion of “the traditional theatre of wayang kulit” just a figment of the imagination of Dutch colonialists? The Europeans discovered an intriguing village theatre and exalted the tradition into “high art” by sponsoring schools of puppetry. But the very essence of wayang kulit is personal interpretation by individual dalangs (puppeteers) who were ritualists as much as entertainers; storytellers as much as political commentators.

For the majority of the 38-member cast and crew of Wayang Ramayana, this will be the first time they are taking part in a theatre production. Not a single person has seen, let alone performed wayang kulit or wayang wong. Does this fact dilute the authenticity or authority of their production?

Thank you for coming to our show.

Dr Margaret Chan


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