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Staging Nation

Staging Nation: English Language Theatre in Malaysia and Singapore

Jacqueline Lo
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Staging Nation
    Book Description:

    Staging Nation examines the complex relationship between the theatrical stage and the wider stage of nation building in postcolonial Malaysia and Singapore. In less than fifty years, locally written and produced English language theatre has managed to shrug off its colonial shackles to become an important site of community expression. This groundbreaking comparative study discusses the role of creative writing and the act of performance as actual political acts and as interventions in national self-constructions. It argues that certain forms of theatre can be read as emerging oppositional cultures that contribute towards the deepening of democracy by offering contending narratives of the nation. Jacqueline Lo is Senior Lecturer at the School of Humanities, Australian National University. She has published widely on postcolonial theory, performance studies and Asian-Australian cultural politics. She is the editor of Theatre in Southeast Asia, and co-editor of Diaspora: Negotiating Asian-Australia.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-281-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Helen Gilbert

    In the past decade or so, theatre has been increasingly recognised as a critical resource for the study of wildly competing discourses about the nation, particularly in countries with a history of strong state intervention into cultural practice. Always a site of circulating representational forms, theatre becomes, at formative moments in the ongoing narrative of nationhood, a means by which communities register, reiterate and/or contest modes and models of national belonging. To study the production and consumption of theatre, with all its variable constraints and possibilities, is thus to open a fascinating window on the ways in which specific nations...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction: States of Play
    (pp. 1-8)

    Despite assertions from certain quarters of cultural studies of the ascendancy of the postnational in the face of increasing globalisation, nationalism remains a cornerstone of popular constructions of collective identity. While postmodern discourses may celebrate the erosion of national borders and the possibilities of new identities and knowledges as the result of new flows in capital, culture and people, for many in postcolonial societies like Malaysia and Singapore, the nation as both political project and lived reality remains a central aspect of social life. This book is concerned with the ways in which the nation is imagined and mobilised by...

  7. 1 Scripting the Nation
    (pp. 9-30)

    Although the Malaysian and Singaporean governments have deployed very different language and cultural policies towards achieving National Culture, the racially based principles underlying the construction and mobilisation of these policies expose the colonialist ideology that remains entrenched within the upper echelons of power. In order to gain a better understanding of Malaysian and Singaporean forms of nation building, it is necessary to first undertake a brief historical survey of post-independence political developments in the countries concerned, as a way of providing a wider comparative framework as well as drawing attention to the extent to which the histories of the two...

  8. 2 Conditions of Production
    (pp. 31-50)

    This chapter focuses on the different ways in which the Malaysian and Singaporean governments have developed policies on literature and the arts as part of their nation-building agenda. While race and language play a significant role in the construction of an official national literature in Malaysia, it appears that economics is the motivating force behind Singapore’s recent support for the arts as part of its push to become an international arts centre. Such diverse approaches have a significant impact on the political culture of the arts and on the kinds of work being produced.

    Literature (including theatre) as a national...

  9. 3 Return of the ‘Native’: The Cord
    (pp. 51-80)

    Prior to the 1960s, English language theatre in Malaysia was monopolised by British expatriates in the repertory theatre tradition. The main staples of the theatre were pantomimes and light drawing-room comedies, with the occasional European ‘classic’ thrown in. The expatriates worked primarily through the Malayan Arts Theatre Group (MATG), which was established in Kuala Lumpur in 1950. Although there were some local actors in the MATG, they were not given any lead parts to play in either performance or the running of the group. According to K. Das, ‘there were Chinese and Indians with Malays and Eurasians [who] tried to...

  10. 4 Disrupting the Culture of Silence: 1984 Here And Now
    (pp. 81-108)

    Aside from setting up the infrastructure to implement the National Cultural Policy in the aftermath of 1969, the Malaysian authorities were using existing laws to curb cultural activities that were considered politically subversive. For instance, under the Police Act (1967), which is still in force and which deals with unlawful assembly, police permits must be obtained before public performances can take place. To acquire a police permit, all scripts of productions and names of performers must be submitted to the police for censorship and approval before the show.² The decision made by the Censorship Board is final, with little recourse...

  11. 5 Complicity and Subversion: Emily of Emerald Hill
    (pp. 109-136)

    Unlike in Malaysia, where barely any English language theatre was written in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was already a slow trickle of locally written and produced works during this period on the Singaporean stage.¹ However, it was only with the phenomenal success of Stella Kon’s Emily of Emerald Hill, which premiered in Singapore in 1985, that local Singaporean theatre was perceived to have come of age.

    Emily is a monologue set in the interior of a Peranakan² mansion called Emerald Hill, in Singapore. Spanning the period between the 1920s and the late 1980s, the play tells the story...

  12. 6 Competing Subjectivities: The Coffin Is Too Big for The Hole
    (pp. 137-164)

    A local joke which continues to have currency is that Singapore is a ‘fine country’: a five-hundred-dollar fine for not flushing toilets, fines for littering, spitting, urinating in lifts, smoking in public spaces and so forth. These laws are part of the government’s strategy to establish an orderly state. Clammer perceives Singapore as a mature economy co-existing with a very immature society, and cites the constant preoccupation with identity as an example of the latter:

    The constant changes in economic, educational and social policy combined with the PAP’s style of constant sloganeering (speak Mandarin, wash your hands, flush the toilets,...

  13. 7 Conclusion: Playful Strategies
    (pp. 165-190)

    This book has been concerned with the negotiation of power between the theatrical stage and the wider stage of nation-building. Over the past two decades, there has been significant, though not comparable, growth in English-language theatre in Malaysia and Singapore. There is a new generation of artists, an emerging theatre infrastructure and a growing audience base. Of more significance to this study has been the gradual politicisation of English-language theatre as an alternative site for social commentary and critique, which, I have argued, dates to the mid-1980s when, as Sasitharan puts it, theatre underwent a ‘political turn’.¹ While contemporary Malaysian...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 191-212)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 213-224)
  16. Index
    (pp. 225-228)