As part of this year’s ricca ricca festa, 3 renowned theatre directors-Gill Robertson, Alex Byrne and Robert Alan Evans, were invited to work with a diverse group of artists from Japan, The Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. This 2-week process drew on the participants’ artistic practices, cultural sensibilities and ways of thinking to explore innovative methods of creating works for young audiences. What was heartening to note is that the emphasis was on the process and not a final production, resulting in safe and less pressured environment for the artists and facilitators to concentrate on cross-cultural exploration, stories, development and artistic expressions. Being part of the Asian TYA Networking Programme, participants had the privilege to observe a rehearsal session of the 2 workshops and the final showing.
The first workshop focused on creating a non-verbal piece for young audiences. During the rehearsal, Gill demonstrated some of the activities and ‘image’ exercises that she used to tap into the imagination and creativity of the participants. This included various tableu games, metaphors and various stimulus that allowed the participants to work coherently as an ensemble. Set against a white background, the final performance had all 6 participants work closely as an ensemble. Tumbling around and playing with soft cushions, the movement and physicality of the participants oscillated between ‘soft and cuddly’ play and aggressive and somethings almost violent gestures. These moments of juxtaposition were beautiful and tensed at the same time. While the performers did not use an official language, they communicated through gibberish and physical movement. Since the aim was to create a non-verbal piece, I wondered if spoken text was necessary. I had imagined using other ways to communicate ideas and evoke emotions. If so, gibberish as an invented language might defeat the function of the term ‘non-verbal’ in an attempt to create a ‘universal’ performance. The best moment of the piece was listening to the sound of fireworks as audiences silently watch one of the performer’s shadow in the background. As the performers took turns to throw and leave paint marks on the white set, this playful moment slowly turned into chaos and mess as they eventually tore down the set, echoing the sound of fireworks that the audience previously heard. It was both visually stunning and gripping to see how play and violence collide.
Also, exploring language as a creative methodology, the second workshop focused on creating a multilingual production for children. Differing from the first workshop, participants are also musicians in their own right. Using a series of games and exercises in the workshop, the aim was to make participants aware of their surroundings, stay focus and importantly to work closely as an ensemble. Participants also shared various songs from their culture and using music as a common language, tried to create new tunes and songs. The final showing was charming, imaginative and insightful as the participants could see how the games and exercises used in the workshops influenced the presentation. The performance was layered with songs, games and stories, with music being the unifying language for both performers and audience. The accidental mistake at the beginning where one of the performer failed to put on the yukata and had to rely the other performers’ assistance became a very poignant introduction. Not only did it reveal the success and importance of the ensemble training, but also reminded the audience of how working with and across different cultures can be challenging and often needs to be mutually supported. This moment provided an excellent entry point for the rest of the piece to resonate sensibilities of the various cultures. Though the audiences might not understand all the languages spoken in the performance, the tonality of the the verbal added a layered depth to the overall musicality of the performance. The most memorable moment for me was the final scene where the performers created a ‘horse’ using everyday objects, rhythm and movement, reminding us the crux of collaborations. The intersection of music, rhythm, puppetry, ensemble work and audience interaction, provided a wonderful opportunity for audience to see the imaginative space and possibilities of theatre.
Though participants and facilitators had only two weeks, both processes and final performances were incredibly thought provoking and highlighted theatre’s multiple dimensions.Importantly, it also revealed the potentialities, possibilities and power of ensemble training across disciplines. As I reflected upon the sharing and conversations, I began to question the role and function of language in theatre for young audiences. Living in the globalized 21st Century, it is safe to say that images have increasingly superseded verbal communication. It in this post-modern climate that the medium of theatre can continue to find points of connections between culture and creation, images and imagination, text and textures across international spaces.