ricca ricca*festa 2017 Event Report

For a diverse group like us, this exercise in critical thinking is definitely a valuable learning process that can only help improve the quality of our thinking and the work we produce.
Kung Yu Liew (Malaysia)

To summarise for readers who might not be familiar with what the programme is about, the Asian TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) Network Programme is a programme initiated by ricca ricca*festa in 2016 to connect TYA practitioners in South East Asia.

Writing from the perspective as the artistic director for the Little Door Festival in Malaysia, I am extremely grateful to be part of the Asian TYA Network. Not only has it been an invaluable experience for me to become better exposed to the situation of TYA in the region, it has given me a tremendous boost and opened me up to the possibilities of further developing TYA in my home country.

More than just the learning and cross-exchanges of ideas and techniques, however, the Asian TYA Network was also a fantastic opportunity for me to network with a host of TYA organisers, researchers and practitioners from around the world, and form long-term relationships and cooperate across borders with these professionals.

As a follow-up to the first Asian TYA meeting in 2016 and to gain a better understanding of the situation in South East Asia, the organisers of the Asian TYA Network initiated a research trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia in 2016 and 2017. As experienced facilitators and directors, a few of us were invited to participate in the research trip, namely Caleb Lee (Singapore), Adjjima Na Patalung (Thailand), Liew Kung Yu (Malaysia) and Dara Huot (Cambodia).

The research visit was quite fruitful and we met with several groups of performers and theatre practitioners in each country and interviewed them about their own practice and the state of TYA in their country, as well as the support they needed to improve. Some of the more pertinent key findings that came up from the research visits are as follows:

  • Despite proximity in terms of geography, each nation is deeply grounded with own distinct culture and heritage, so it can be risky to make any assumptions that they might share common cultural backgrounds.
  • Out of the South East Asian countries that were visited, the practice of TYA was well established only in Singapore. It is practiced to varying degrees in other countries around the region as well, but there is a lot of room for further improvement.
  • Our research in Cambodia was particularly eye-opening as we found no performances that specifically catered for young audience, which is not too surprising though as the country is still opening up to the world. Despite this, we observed that there are organisations that work closely with children which can be approached to help catalyse the growth of TYA in the country.

From these findings, it was determined that the best way we could help seed the growth of TYA in this region is to expose the practitioners to new ideas and techniques, and to educate them about the possibilities of how theatre can help nurture young minds. It was also determined to continue using ricca ricca*festa as a platform to provide practitioners and observers from these Asian countries with a chance to experience TYA performances of international quality and standards.

Asian TYA Network Programme 2017

For Asian TYA Network Programme 2017, 10 participants from 7 South East Asian countries were invited to participate. As with last year, they’ll have a chance to present their own practice to the group and to the public, and would also have a chance to watch the performances going on during ricca ricca*festa 2017 (Naha City, Okinawa, Japan).

The participants attending this year’s Asian TYA Network programme were: Sreyleab Nov (Cambodia), Ariyo Zidin (Indonesia), Khamhou Phanludeth (Laos), Lattanakone Insisiengmay (Laos), Ho Shih Phin (Malaysia), Linda Ang (Malaysia), Roger Sangao-wa Federico (Philippines), Natalie Alexandra Tse (Singapore), Pinya Chookamsri (Thailand) and Suchawadee Phetpanomporn (Thailand). Facilitating the programme were Caleb Lee(Singapore), Adjjima Na Patalung(Thailand), Liew Kung Yu(Malaysia) and Dara Hout(Cambodia).

Based on the developments from the preceding research visits, this year’s programme was substantially different and angled towards further exposing and educating practitioners about the possibilities of TYA. To facilitate this, we implemented several changes to the format of the Asian TYA programme, the most pertinent of which I have listed below. These changes were mainly to help new TYA practitioners better understand the methodology and the creative thinking processes that went on behind the making of each show, as well as delving into the backgrounds, mindsets and intentions of the performers.

  1. To better facilitate these objectives, overcome language barriers and provide a network of friends and emotional support; the participants was paired with 4 facilitators throughout the Asian TYA programme.
  2. Participants were also given an opportunity to talk to the performers after the performance. This was particularly beneficial as it gave us a better understanding about the objective, concept and challenges faced by the production. Most of the participants mentioned that they learned a great deal during this part of the exchange as some of the shows, especially the ones from European countries, dealt with issues and subject that the participants were not familiar with.
  3. After the discussion with the performers, the Asian TYA group would have our own debriefing session moderated by the facilitators, where we would sit down together to have our own discussion about the performance.

Out of everything that we took back from this year’s Asian TYA Network, I felt that the exchange of opinions during our own group discussion was the most valuable part of the process. The sharing of perspectives and opinions in this manner not only provided us with different entry points to the show, it also provided each of us with a clearer and better understanding of each other’s cultures and values.

To illustrate this, I am listing down the following three examples of performances we watched, and the things we discussed after the show:

  • One of the dance performances we watched was a show titled ‘Puzzle’ which a lot of us had different opinions on. Some contended that the age group should have expanded from 0-3 to 0-5. However, as a storyteller, Ariyo told us that children at the age of 5 already have the ability to follow storylines, so this performance would be uninteresting as there was no clear story. We also discussed whether the performers should have been more expressive, however Linda and Ariyo both felt that the way it had been presented was just nice for toddlers of that age, as over expressiveness might scare them.
  • Another show we watched, titled ‘I on the sky’, brought up the issue of exiles and refugees and we had a very good discussion about whether the concept of being a refugee was something that young audiences could understand, much less relate to. However, Natalie reminded us that in Canada, where this production comes from, they take in quite a lot of refugees and talk about the refugee issue in schools, so the young audience in Canada would be able to appreciate the story and message of the presentation.
  • Another significant issue that came up was about assuming the universality of certain cultural concepts and references. This observation was in relation to the performance titled: ‘Three Little Songs’ which was a retelling of three classical Western fairy tales in a modern-day context. The performers were of the opinion that the three fairy tales referenced in the show: Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Beauty & The Beast were universally known and required no further elaboration. However, the participants from Cambodia mentioned that those fairy tales were completely unknown in their country, so they had no reference for the three stories and felt that they were very strange.

Among our group we have participants with different training, such as actors, directors, musicians, designers, producers and even managers. As we all come from different training with different cultural backgrounds, we each have our own way of interpreting the show basing on our own experience so our personal views about the performance that we just watched can be rather different.

Discussions like this helps us to look at the performance from different perspective and gain insights which we might not be aware off. Not only that, this exchange of opinions and experiences will also help us to understand things better. For a diverse group like us, this exercise in critical thinking is definitely a valuable learning process that can only help improve the quality of our thinking and the work we produce.

This concludes my report. In closing, I would like to offer my gratitude to the host: ACO Okinawa and co-host: The Japan Foundation Asia Center and also the sponsors of Asian TYA Network Programme. I would especially like to thank Mr. Hisashi Shimoyama, Ms. Nao Miyauchi, Ms. Yumi Sakai and everyone in the team for initiating the programme and inviting me to be part of it. I have gained a lot from the Asian TYA Network and I hope to fulfill all the expectations that have been placed upon me.

Participant at ricca ricca*festa
Kung Yu Liew
Little Door Festival
Festival Director
Participant at ricca ricca*festa