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Communities of Imagination

Communities of Imagination: Contemporary Southeast Asian Theatres

Catherine Diamond
Copyright Date: 2012
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  • Book Info
    Communities of Imagination
    Book Description:

    Asian theatre is usually studied from the perspective of the major traditions of China, Japan, India, and Indonesia. Now, in this wide-ranging look at the contemporary theatre scene in Southeast Asia, Catherine Diamond shows that performance in some of the lesser known theatre traditions offers a vivid and fascinating picture of the rapidly changing societies in the region. Diamond examines how traditional, modern, and contemporary dramatic works, with their interconnected styles, stories, and ideas, are being presented for local audiences. She not only places performances in their historical and cultural contexts, but also connects them to the social, political, linguistic, and religious movements of the last two decades.Each chapter addresses theatre in a different country and highlights performances exhibiting the unique conditions and concerns of a particular place and time. Most performances revolve in some manner around "contemporary modernity," questioning what it means-for good or ill-to be a part of the globalized world. In addition, chapters are grouped by three general and overlapping themes. The first, which includes Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali, is defined by the increased participation of women in the performing arts-not only as performers, but also as playwrights and directors. Cambodia, Singapore, and Myanmar are linked by a shared concern with the effects of censorship on theatre production. A third group, the Philippines, Laos, and Malaysia, is characterized by their focus on nationalism: theatres are either contributing to official versions of historical and political events or creating alternative narratives that challenge those interpretations.Communities of Imaginationshows the many influences of the past and how it continues to affect cultural perceptions. It addresses major trends, suggesting why they have developed and why they are popular with the public. It also underscores how theatre continues to attract new practitioners and reflect the changing aspirations and anxieties of societies in immediate and provocative ways even as it is being marginalized by television, film, and the internet. The book will be of interest to students and scholars of theatre and performance, Asian literature, Southeast Asian studies, cultural studies, and gender studies. Travelers who view attending local performances as important to their experience abroad will find it an essential reference to theatres of the region.19 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6575-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    The small auditorium is hushed, no one moves, no one breathes as all eyes are intent upon the two figures on the bare raised platform, one of whom cradles the other. A moment before, the two elderly exiles from Ho Chi Minh City had been singing and romping at their first experience of snow, when suddenly thecai luongperformer slumped into the arms of his friend. For two hours they had been entertaining the spectators with songs, witticisms, memories, and foibles as they resurrected old rivalries and struggled to come to grips with their new life in the United...

  5. PART I The Growing Impact of Women

    • CHAPTER 1 Mae Naak and Phra Ram: Keeping Company on the Contemporary Thai Stage
      (pp. 27-59)

      In the On Nut suburb of Bangkok, behind the large Buddhist temple complex of Wat Mahabute, is a small dark shrine. Fortune-tellers and vendors, selling everything from cold drinks to turtles and birds that one can buy and set free to obtain merit, congregate in its courtyard. Beneath tall broadtakientrees wrapped in multicolored ribbons by devotees, the jerry-built shrine has walls lined with glass cases filled with women’s traditional dresses. Offerings of dolls, flower garlands, baby bottles, incense, makeup, cakes, and fruit are set before a seated figure whose face is covered in flakey gold leaf pressed upon...

    • CHAPTER 2 Staging the Doi Moi Generation and the Treasures of Vietnamese Tradition
      (pp. 60-90)

      Drama begins on the back of Nguyen Thi Minh Ngoc’s motorcycle as she heads directly into oncoming traffic with the sangfroid of a Ho Chi Minh City native. Although Vietnam has one of the highest motorcycle fatality rates per capita in the world, it is only by motorcycle that the actor-playwright-director can zip around the city to make her daily dozen consultations, rehearsals, and performances. Her schedule is particularly frenzied during Tet, the Lunar New Year, when the HCM City theatres work overtime to accommodate holidaymakers’ leisure, bonus packets, and desire for entertainment. Some theatres present three performances a day,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Looking Within: The Balinese Rwa Bhineda and Readjusting Complementary Opposites
      (pp. 91-118)

      The outdoor performance ofOedipus Rexwas not out of place on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2004.¹ The tragedy’s rituals undertaken to purge Thebes of the plague, the proud king taunted by a blind fortune-teller, and the revelation of coincidences that expose his guilt had resonance for the local audience after the terrorist bombing in 2002. When confronted with disease, crop failure, and other disasters, Balinese traditionally employ the performing arts to appease their deities and attempt to restore the cosmic balance. Narratives for communal exorcism include the story of Mayadanawa, the defeat of a powerful king who...

  6. PART II Censorship and Global Economics

    • CHAPTER 4 Cambodia’s Artistic Renaissance or a New Culture of Dependency?
      (pp. 121-150)

      Before 2006 if you walked straight up Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard past the art deco Psar Thmei (Central Market) on the right and Boeng Kak lake on the left, you could easily find the dilapidated but charming “north campus” of the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA). In 1958 the university was formally known as École Nationale du Théâtre, or Sala Cheat Phneak Lakhaoun Niyeay (The National School of Spoken Drama). In 1965 it became RUFA when it included all of Cambodia’s traditional performing arts, and then in 1970, after the Lon Nol coup d’etat, it was renamed the University...

    • CHAPTER 5 Singapore’s Cosmopolitan Identity and Its Theatrical Shadow
      (pp. 151-183)

      In the Bugis Junction Shopping Centre, located in Singapore’s once famous red-light district, is a fountain. Nothing is visible but concentric holes in the ground from which spurt an amazing array of water formations—from leapfrogging droplets to ten-meter high columns; interlocking arches to hiccupping geysers. Its antics are the best free show in town. It is irresistible to children, who dash into its circumference and try to chase the elusive water. After the initial shock, they delightedly seek to be surprised again. It always catches them off guard.

      The fountain enlivens the otherwise banal mall. Something happens here that...

    • CHAPTER 6 Dancing with the Censors: Burmese Performing Arts Keep Time
      (pp. 184-212)

      Opening night had been postponed; spectators, who had to register their names at the gate, were kindly invited to return the following night for the Yangon premiere of Kafka’sMetamorphosis(2009). Directed and adapted by Paris-based Burmese Nyan Lin Htet, director of the Theatre of the Disturbed, and Thai-American Ruth Ponstaphone, the performance was the culmination of Ponstaphone’s two-weekbutohworkshop at the Alliance Française. Later that night one of the participants was visited by the police, but the following evening, the performance went on without a hitch. The actor playing Gregor remained constrained in a chair throughout and expressed...

  7. PART III Toward a National Culture

    • CHAPTER 7 The Philippine Theatre’s Quest for a Hero(ine)
      (pp. 215-245)

      When it was announced that the air conditioner had broken down in Tanghalang Huseng Batute at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) just before a performance of Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa’sLa Chunga(1994), no one knew just how hot and sultry it was going to get in the small black box theatre. While the Philippines shares several affinities with Latin American countries besides tropical heat—hundreds of years of Spanish colonization, Roman Catholic domination, an oligarchic power structure, poverty, dictatorships, and American neocolonialism—La Chungaexplored the underbelly of another Spanish inheritance—machismo. The play opened to...

    • CHAPTER 8 From Fa Ngoum to Hip-Hop Boom: The Faces of Lao Performance
      (pp. 246-275)

      In January 2003, a grand ceremony marked the 650th anniversary of the founding of Lan Xang with the unveiling of King Fa Ngoum’s statue in Vientiane, the capital of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR; Laos): “The statue of King Fa Ngoum is not only meant to be a symbol for the nation but also to inspire courage among Lao people of all ethnic groups for national development. Dreams of a newly civilised nation comparable with the ancient kingdom are already afoot.”¹ Fa Ngoum (1316–1374), the founding father of the Lao nation, is credited with being the first...

    • CHAPTER 9 Durians, Diversity, and Independence: The Malaysian Theatre Stages Its Multiethnic Heritage
      (pp. 276-308)

      Showing him standing in front of the Malaysian flag, singing the national anthem interspersed with Mandarin and Hokkien rap about the Malaysian police, government officials, and Malay-Chinese relations and accompanied by a montage of stereotypical images of the country, Wee Meng Chee’s “Negarakuku” caused an uproar when it appeared on YouTube in July 2007. Perhaps because sensitivities were heightened with the approach of the fiftieth anniversary of Malaysian independence, the satirical music video touched a raw nerve all the way up to prime minister Abdullah Badawi’s office and provoked ministers to call for his arrest under the Seditions Act.¹ His...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 309-330)

    The nation-states of Southeast Asia, emerging from the colonial empires of Europe and America, and then wartime occupation by Japan, and impacted once again by their proximity to the growing power of China, the Middle East, and India, are the site of both superficial adaptations of cultural difference, and a profound layering of historical fusions. The theatres that stem from such cross-fertilization reveal their own as well as their societies’ conscious applications and unconscious penetrations, and the accommodation and resistance to such influences. Now marginalized by societies that are infatuated with electronic communications and entertainments, the theatres reenvision the national...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 331-358)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 359-376)
  11. Index
    (pp. 377-392)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-395)