The Asian TYA Network (ATYA Network) aims to understand the current situation of TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) in East/Southeast Asia and to connect TYA professionals towards promoting TYA in Asia while developing long-term relationships and co-operation across countries.
I was invited to attend the ricca ricca*festa 2016 by Mr. Hisashi Shimoyama as a participant of the ATYA Network to share my knowledge and experience gained through my years of involvement in theatre and the arts, as well as my work engaging communities.
Perhaps the most beneficial thing I gained from this experience was the opportunity to dialogue with TYA practitioners who shared with me their stories and insights into the particular objectives and challenges that each practitioner faces in their home environment.
The two-day conference gave me a lot of valuable insight into how organizations around the world are working to engage their communities in a deep and meaningful fashion. Some notable examples at the festival, which I felt were taking bold and progressive strides beyond the conventional boundaries of theatre are:
As part of the exchange, we were each requested to give a short presentation introducing ourselves, practices, goals and personal experiences with TYA.
On my turn, I came up on stage to share the photos and experiences from my involvement with the Kijimuna Children’s Theatre (the predecessor of the ricca-ricca*festa) and collaboration with Japanese director and playwright Makoto Sato (ZA-KOENJI Public Theatre) to create theatre for children. I spoke about how TYA practitioners should learn to value the aesthetics of children, and the importance of using children’s natural creativity and expressiveness to create spaces where they can feel truly welcome.
In addition to networking, the other focus of the exchange was for the participants to experience a bigger picture of TYA by observing the many shows being performed at the ricca ricca*festa by individuals and troupes from Japan and around the world.
The Kangeki Ticket we were each given was really, really useful during my stay, and I used it to watch every show that I could. Among the pieces that I did manage to watch, a few of the more noteworthy ones which really impressed me were:
The opening Okinawa Sansan performance which I really appreciated for the glimpse it gave me into the value and pride the people of Okinawan place in their own culture.
LEO by Y2D Productions which was one of the most masterful performances (I watched it twice).
Raw by kabinet k for their powerful and raw performance which pushed the boundaries of TYA.
Baby Space by the JUTCCYP which was an eye opener about the possibilities of engaging infants through theatre.
A Mano by El Patio Teatro which was an absolute delight to watch (also watched twice)
Overall, I found that my involvement with ATYA was a very good experience for me and I learned a lot from everyone. TYA is not quite limited here in Malaysia, and there is currently little acknowledgement or support for the arts for children. After attending ATYA, I however, feel more inspired and confident about how to tackle these challenges thanks to the many friends and professional connections I have established through the network.
I am also pleased to report that upon returning to Malaysia, that I have set into motion plans to organize a medium-sized TYA festival named the ‘Little Door Festival’ which aims to facilitate (1) experiential learning through theatre and the arts, (2) creating spaces where children can truly feel welcome, and (3) being a skill exchange to help improve the quality of TYA in the country.
Ultimately, our challenge at this stage is to clearly define the scope and agenda for our festival, as well as how we can use theater to enrich our community. To borrow a quote from fellow participant Luanne Poh from Singapore: “We need to find the context and relevance when we conceptualise our festival”.
My team and I are presently applying for research funding to observe the working structure and best practices of established TYA festivals in our neighboring countries such as the Harmony World Puppet Festival in Thailand and Indonesia’s Pesta Boneka. Wish us luck.
In closing, I would like to extend my special thanks to ricca ricca*festa and Japan Foundation Asia Center for hosting us, and especially to the following individuals who welcomed and took care of all of us during our stay:
Last but not least, I’d also like to close this report with a big arigatou gozaimashita to all the friends, festival and crew members who made this event a truly memorable one.
Kung Yu Liew