For 10 days from 21st July 2018, I was given an opportunity to take part in the Asian TYA Network Programme which was hosted during the International Theater Festival OKINAWA for Young Audiences (ricca ricca*festa). This programme is organised by ACO Okinawa with the support from the Japan Foundation Asia Center and 15 participants from 11 countries were invited mainly from ASEAN countries, who are involved in theatre for children and young people and theatre for children/people with disabilities. This 10-day-long was very well-packed. Starting from the presentations by each participant, we saw several performances at ricca ricca*festa followed by the post-show talk with artists as well as closed discussion within the participants about the works. There were also 3 intense discussion programmes (led as a workshop form), 2 symposiums, and also a meeting with Scottish delegates who were there for the Focus on Scotland at ricca ricca*festa 2018.
What especially impressive to participate in this programme was to find out the diversity of the cultural policies and situations in each Asian country. In Myanmar and Cambodia, so-called cultural policies do not exist and government spares no budget for arts and culture, which makes practitioners depend on foreign resources from countries like the UK. In Philippines, there is a nation-level development for arts and culture through the national theatre, but the budget is not shared with regional towns (still there are administration staff fully committed to theatre companies). In Bangkok, Thailand, while the contemporary theatre scene is flourishing (even to forereach Japan) the lack of performance spaces is serious and they struggle to find venues for the theatre festival for children and young people. In Indonesia, there is a festival organised in the affected area of volcano explosion which focuses on indigenousness. In some countries like China, there is a issue of government’s censorship. Compared to the history of Japan where children’s theatre companies have been commissioned by the government to perform at schools since 1960’s (they could take the commissions because companies established an association with a non-profit organisation status), you may say the TYA in Asia is still under development. On the other hand, considering the issue that protected and structured TYA may result in immobilisation, I would hesitate to judge it simply under development. As the economic aspect is soon to be changed, I suppose the important thing is to keep working on the development of the quality of artistic experiences which children and young people really need, according the time and social situation. In such context, it was a great inspiration that productions presented at ricca ricca*festa all proved its very high quality, which really encouraged to nurture the creativity.
All participants were pioneers of TYA in each country and that was why they were seeking to connect with their fellow practitioners through this international programme across the wall of nationality and language (just to add, Yang Yadanar Soe a young teacher who took part in the programme from Myanmar surprised me that she only studied English a few months before she took part in this programme and managed to communicate by herself). Just as Europe and America have the performing arts circuits (regional theatre directors and festival presenters have established networks across nations and regions to promote works), I believe it is possible for Asian TYA to develop a cross-regional network, stimulate the mobility through sharing various resources and at the same time protect the Asian identity to develop its own literacy. This programme managed to invite passionate practitioners who can be the core of such movement and while I am grateful for this exciting encounter I hope to contribute to this network in the future by sharing information to emerging TYA practitioners in Japan and connect them with other Asian professionals.
To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Shimoyama and Ms. Miyauchi as well as all involved staff for providing such rare opportunity.