CANADA READIES ARTISTIC OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL by Carla Powell
Every two years in May, the small seaside village of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, becomes a hub of international amateur theatre activity for five days. This year, the 12th Biennial Liverpool International Theatre Festival will take place between May 14 – 18, hosting troupes from around the world.
This year’s Fest will unfold under the guidance of Eva Moore, an accomplished Canadian actor, director and producer. She is currently the Artistic Director/Producer of Canada’s New Actor’s Colony Theatre in Ontario, and has chaired the LITF on several previous occasions. “We’ve invited a strong and diverse selection from among a record number of entries” says Ms. Moore. “I am especially excited about the Kutasi Youth Theatre from Georgia, who were invited to LITF 2012, but unable to attend due to visa issues. I think it speaks to the stature of LITF that this group continued the fight to participate, and will perform this year.” Along with Georgia, troupes from Algeria, Ireland, China, the USA, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are slated to present work, as well as troupes from Nova Scotia.
With each play performed in the language of the visiting country, audience members experience brilliant shows as proof that art transcends language barriers. “The cast knows that most of the audience do not speak the language that they are performing in,” says Jean Robinson-Dexter, Chair of the festival, “which requires great emphasis on the visual component of the plays…thus the audience is rarely in the dark as to what is happening on stage.”
Off stage, there are additional learning opportunities for delegates and visitors. Adjudicator Annette Procunier will provide morning commentaries and host discussions of the previous day’s plays during the famous morning ‘Coffee Critiques.’ Ms. Procunier brings to the LITF years of experience in community and professional theatre, having worked festivals in Europe, Asia, Ireland, the USA and Canada. In 2009 the American Association of Community Theatre honored her as a Fellow for “single handedly raising the level of community theatre in America,” the only non-USA artist to win the award. Ms. Procunier is also the author of the 2010 book, Do You See What I See?: How to Adjudicate Theatre Festivals. The LITF adjudication process is not only educational and entertaining, but an essential building block for troupes that want to develop their productions to a higher level.
Afternoon workshops help teach the fine points of theatre and this year Richard Finch, a native Trinidadian living in South Africa, will conduct workshops for school children and participants. Richard was a featured leader of colloques at the 2013 aita/iata Mondial. (See also the November 2013 issue of the aita/iata ARTS NEWSLETTER for an in-depth article on his work.)
“LITF is about more than 50 minutes on stage,” states Ms. Moore. “It’s a place where theatre standards are raised, limits are tested, risks are taken and knowledge is attained.” Delegates participate in the cross cultural exchange by visiting local schools to talk about theatre and their home countries, creating further understanding through culture.
Learn more about this year’s 12th Biennial Liverpool International Theatre Festival by visiting the website at: www.litf.ca.
NEW TROUPES FROM PALESTINE AND CANADA WILL GRACE THE LINGEN FESTIVAL
Aita/iata’s Standing Committee for Children and Youth has long sponsored the World Festival in Lingen-Ems that occurs every four years. It is one of the largest youth festivals on earth, attracting dizens of groups from nations around the globe. From July 25 to August 1 this summer, hundreds of children from eighteen nations will gather in Lingen once again to celebrate the 13th aita/iata World Festival of Children’s Theatre. The creativity, dedication, and artistic expressiveness of young artists in Lingen has always been a hallmark of this Festival, a major cornerstone of the aita/iata organization. And one of the truly exciting artistic experiences at Lingen is the participation by new troupes each time the Festival occurs. This year, several groups will present work in Lingen for the first time. According to Anne-Marie Jansen-Wieschebrock, Public Relations Director of the Festival, the eighteen troupes selected to appear in Lingen show “a wide diversity in content, form and artistic means.” Anne-Marie also hopes that bringing new groups to Lingen “may be a good chance to set up new networks, and link them to the global work of aita/iata”
One of these new children’s theatre companies is the Yes Theatre from Palestine. Yes Theatre (YT) is an NGO that has has been working since 2008 in the Hebron governorate--Palestine, in particular, and in other Palestinian governorates--implementing drama and theatre projects and programs with youth inside and outside schools, in cooperation with the Palestinian Ministry of Education, UNRWA and with other regional bodies in the Hebron Governorate. The group is led by the artistic staff of Ihab Zahda, Muhammed Titi, and Hamam Amero.
Yes Theatre aims at creating a generation that is aware of the significance of theatre and its positive effects on the individual and society. “These people have come together to create somehow a kind of cultural life, and to enhance life skills for Palestinian children and youth,” remarked Mohammad Titi, one of the group’s leaders and spokesmen. Yes Theatre’s core programs include plays for adults, youngsters and kids. In addition to that, YT offers training for teachers and school counsellors to use drama, storytelling, acting and other methods in teaching and dealing with students at schools.
“Yes Theatre is the product of a long and difficult process that has lasted fifteen years,” according to Managing Director Mohammad Issa. YT’s projects include Kids4Kids, Play4Kids, drama workshops, puppet workshops, Yes4Youth Training Program, and Yes4Future. We certainly welcome this Palestinian company to Germany and hope that this will not be the troupe’s only appearance on international stages, showcasing the fine work that they do in this troubled region of the mideast.
A second troupe making their first appearance in Lingen this summer is The Original Kids Theatre Company (OKTC) from Canada. Founded in 1991, OKTC has grown from 12 members to now over 300 young actors. Led by Artistic Director Andrew Tribe and Program Coordinator Karen Hamilton-MacDonald, Original Kids Theatre Company enriches and celebrates the lives of young people through the arts, providing them with opportunities to mature and to learn positive values through a variety of theatre experiences in a safe and challenging environment.
Each summer, over 700 young people create lifelong memories at their Summer Camp, operated out of Huron College in Western Ontario. The Company presents an array of theatrical projects including Broadway musicals, Shakespearean dramas, collective creations, contemporary plays, as well as offering programming in performing arts technique and leadership development. An annual March Break trip to New York City has become a highlight for senior-level Original Kids.
The troupe’s primary focus, though, is not fame and stardom, but the providing of a safe and creative haven for artistic youth. Dream Journey, a 50-minute play, is created by children under the direction of Jim Schaefer and Kathy Gerber. The focus is on the dreams of our young people; their hopes and fears in this multicolored world. The group uses music, movement, dance, pantomime and song as its theatrical language to move the story away from spoken text and towards more universal means of communication. By transcending language barriers, young audiences from all over the world can understand and enjoy our Dream Journey.
It was in 1995 that Dr. Chua Soo Pong was appointed by the National Arts Council to be the Founding Director of the Chinese Opera Institute (COI). He took up the challenge and commit himself to the major task of revitalizing the tradition of Chinese Opera in Singapore ever since. At that time, after 200 years of vibrant existence in this island nation, there were less than 20 Chinese Opera troupes still in existence. Today, traditional theatre is very much alive in the city state, with over 70 groups performing annually at theatre and community clubs. Since the 1990s, Dr. Chua has taken students and artists of COI troupes as well as several other opera groups to international festival performances in Europe, North and South America, and throughout Asia.
Dubbed “Singapore’s doyen of Chinese Opera” by Singapore Magazine in 2013, Dr. Chua has written over 30 operas himself, he has directed numerous performances of the COI troupes, and is the editor of the 1995 book, Traditional Theatre in Southeast Asia, and co-editor of the 2001 text The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre: Asia/Pacific. His 77 international tours have led COI artists to present work in Turkey, the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, Iran, Japan, India and many other places.
Few of us who have attended amateur festivals over the years are unaware of Dr. Chua’s work. A long-standing member of aita/iata, his troupe’s amateur performers training at the Chinese Opera Institute have splashed aita/iata’s world stages with the blazing color, physical energy, combative and acrobatic skills, sensational costumes and otherworldly vocal styles that are so much a part of what most of the world knows as “Chinese Opera.”
But Chinese opera is in fact an impressive collection of theatrical styles loosely gathered into the genre. Like “musical theatre” in the Western tradition (grand opera, Broadway, music hall, light opera, cabaret, operetta, etc.), the “Chinese Opera” developed many forms over the centuries, and under the influence of many different cultural regions. Unlike western musical theatre forms, Chinese opera is very old, tracing its roots to the early 3rd century C.E. However, the style that emerged in the court of the Qing dynasty in the 19th century known as Beijing opera (Jingjiu) is perhaps the most familiar.
Dr. Chua, however, is not strictly Chinese in his approach to the art form. He was born and raised in the cultural melting pot of Jakarta where the fascinating world of theatre, music and dance in wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) and wayang wong (Javanese dance theatre) was a part of life. This love continued after he moved to Singapore at four years old. Here, his grandmother brought him to Chinese operas at temple fairs. “These stories used to be enacted at different temples on different days,” he remarks, “and grandma and I used to follow them.”
Dr Chua believes that Singapore’s multicultural ethos is another advantage for Chinese opera. His casts are often multi-racial: Chinese, Malays, Indians and even Europeans have played lead roles. Indeed, the multicultural interest has broadened the base for appreciation of Chinese opera in an evolving art scene. The music and movements determine that these experiments essentially remain Chinese opera. “Being able to portray the diversity of cultures is so beautiful,” he remarks.
In writing his own operas, Dr. Chua has tried to push the boundaries of the traditional Chinese Opera. “All art forms are dynamic,” he declares. “They change over the years. My operas always keep the aesthetic principles intact. For example, in Ramayana, I kept the storyline but reset it in ancient China. In Mahabharata and Tale of Bukit Merah, I used Indian and Malay costumes but kept the original names of characters, and the music and songs are in Chinese opera style.”
This year marks a big change in the work that Dr. Chua has been doing. In 2010 he retired from his post at the Chinese Opera Institute in order to catch up on his writing, and in 2013 he was appointed Senior Consultant of the Centre for Chinese Studies, SIM University in Singapore. Since 1983, he had also been serving as the Artistic Adviser of Singapore’s I-Lien Drama Society founded in 1957. The group experiments with a broad spectrum of plays, both Asian and western, and tours widely throughout Asia. I-Lien Drama Society is a recent new aita/iata Associate, and in 2011 co-organized the Asian Regional Center’s Asia-Pacific Theatre Conference in Singapore.
Aita/iata members fortunate to attend the 2012 Toyama Festival were able to enjoy the I-Lien Drama Society’s young audience show, Run! Little Rabbit Run! Dr. Chua’s own play, Mouse Daughter’s Marriage, was seen at the Monaco International Theater Festival in August, 2013.
Dr. Chua is touring again this year to several international festivals affiliated with aita/iata. One noteworthy appearance is scheduled for June in Venice, Florida, at the U.S.A.’s international festival where his actors will present the rarely seen form of Chinese Henan Qu Opera. Written by Dr. Chua himself, the presentation of The Mouse Daughter’s Marriage “will be the first time we perform it in the USA by a company from China,” he declares. “I went to rehearse the Qu Opera Troupe of Henan province in 2012 and a new cast will go to the U.S.A. Festival.”
Dr. Chua remains very much an advocate for Chinese opera and many other Southeast Asian theatre forms at local and international levels. He has certainly accomplished his mission to bring Chinese opera to a new level of acceptance and appreciation. “The Chinese opera scene in Singapore is now much more vibrant than before, with a new generation of organizers and performers,” he declares. “There are not just better facilities, but also better opportunities to perform overseas. With the new media, the Chinese opera communities are now better connected with the theatre world.”
Let us hope that his work and that of his young performers continue to grace our world festival stages in the decades to come.
BELGIUM PLANS ARTISTIC EXCITEMENT AND CHALLENGES FOR AITA/IATA’s 2015 WORLD FESTIVAL AND CONGRESS
Plans are well underway for launching aita/iata’s World Congress and Festival to be held in Belgium in 2015. Sponsored by the Flemish National Theatre Association, Opendoek, the event will take place in Westouter, in the vicinity of Ypres, between July 6 - 13.
The 2015 event will offer participants a number of exciting artistic challenges not ordinarily encountered at other world festivals of amateur theatre. Rob Van Genechten, President-Elect of aita/iata and the current President of Opendoek, noted that aita/iata’s 2015 World Festival and Congress is designed to attract adult theatre groups as well as youth groups, 16 - 26 years of age. The diversity of the accommodations offered to participants as well as the variety of performance venues serving “fringe theatre,” outdoor drama, traditional staging and other approaches “should lead to a healthy mix of theatrical productions, participants’ origins, ages and other features.”
The Flemish Amateur Theatre Association, Opendoek, will build the aita/iata event upon their annual “Spots op West” festival held each year in the western region of Belgium. Frank Verdru, President of the Spots op West Steering Committee, explained that the theme of the 2015 event will be “On the Run.” The concept refers to the commemoration of the Great War of 1914-1918, “but also to the broader and more specific phenomenon of refugee issues.”
The theme of “On the Run” will pose the first challenge that troupes will encounter in Westouter. All presentations must deal with this in some form. Plays might focus, for example, on refugees fleeing war-torn nations where millions today are threatened by civil unrest. Other theme-related possibilities could include population diaspora resulting from natural disasters, grinding poverty, and similar causes. Plays that treat historical situations are also a possibility, especially the upheavals in Europe following WWI and WWII, the founding of the Jewish state, and other situations that displace millions of individuals even today. Or troupes may present work dealing with the flight into exile of notable individuals, such as Trotsky in Russia, Brecht and Peter Weiss leaving Germany, and so many others. The works can deal with the disruptive processes of the flight itself, the challenge of assimilation into another culture, or other issues. “On the Run” embraces many possibilities, and spectators can expect to encounter much variety in theatrical approach and new topics on the Festival stages.
The stages themselves will present a second artistic challenge to Westouter audiences. Some venues will be outdoors, some will be “found spaces” at monuments or in different converted buildings and farm structures; and several shows will be able to utilize a “traditional” auditorium stage. But all of the venues will accommodate only small audiences so some of the troupes will be asked to perform their work two or three times. Festival planner Lot Van Uffel expects that street theatre and site-specific work, in addition to more familiar types of staging will create unusual artistic challenges for the international ensembles.
Opendoek’s Spots op West Festival has always been a very popular annual event attracting participants internationally, but next year’s event will greatly enlarged by the participation of so many global troupes. The Festival production list--with its accompanying colloques, the aita/iata Congress, and social networking opportunities--will challenge audiences and participants alike with unusual themes, different performance traditions, and different players to share ideas and exchange working methods.
The United States National Center is gearing up to present its international festival this summer in Venice, Florida from June 16 - 21. Organizers expect all six continents will be represented at the “AACTWorldFest,” in addition to numerous workshops, social events, and awards activities. The American Association of Community Theatre has been producing World Festivals every four years since 1990.
This year’s Festival will be held at Venice Theatre in Venice, Florida. The venue features two stages for amateur theatre troupes: a 432-seat main stage auditorium to accommodate spectacle and large cast shows, as well as a 90-seat “black box” theatre to serve smaller casts and events with more intimate audience-actor contact. The resort city of Venice is located on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast, boasting sunshine and balmy weather throughout the summer. The Venice area also offers Festivalgoers convenient airline connections, and a host of nearby tourist attractions for Festival participants.
One of the salient artistic features of this USA Festival is the stringent focus upon theatrical work alone. The Festival does not include performance art, dance, video/film screenings, or other media on the week-long program. And in keeping with the international thrust of this year’s festival, the shows invited to AACTWorldFest 2014 have strong visual appeal and expressiveness for multilingual audiences. As Festival co-chair Murray Chase explains: “Each group may perform in its native language, but all productions are chosen so that anyone can follow what’s happening.”
A second notable artistic feature of this Festival is the strength of its workshop offerings. AACT has long been committed to providing educational resources for the amateur theatrical community in the U.S.A. Festival Co-Chairs Murray and Lori Chase have scheduled 15-20 free workshops by master teachers in skills such as Chinese opera (led by Dr. Chua Soo Pong), multimedia staging, musical theatre performance, voice master classes, sound production, directing, commedia dell’arte acting (led by guest artists Cinzia Grande and Andrea Lattari from Rome, Italy), and other areas. Broadway legend Ben Vereen will also offer a low-cost master class in musical theatre performance. And young actors can take advantage of a 4-week intensive training workshop, prior to the Festival opening, offered by the Italian Company, Maner Manush. Commedia guest artists Cinczia Grande and Andrea Lattari from Rome, Italy, will work with younger students for a month and present a performance piece developing from the workshop, entitled The Inn of Crossed Destinies. You can look over the range of workshop topics by visiting the special Festival site: www.aact.org/world.
Strong artistic responses to the shows are also a feature of Community Theatre festivals in the United States. The American Association of Community Theatre feels this is important for artistic growth to occur, and over the years has set in place a number of procedures and programs to accomplish it. AACT’s frequent workshops strive to educate its members about "best practices" in stagecraft, acting, directing and other areas. AACT also trains individuals as play "adjudicators," critiquing shows for casts and for the public following performances. Often these responses are rigorous, and take the form of rankings for artistic excellence at regional and national AACT festivals.
This year's Festival will have three adjudicators responding to the plays for special recognition at the Festival's conclusion. Professional stage director Benny Sato Ambush from Massachusetts will be one of the play responders; he will be joined by Kathy Pingel from the Des Moines Playhouse. The third Festival adjudicator will be Thomas Hauger from Denmark, past aita/iata President, adding an international perspective to the post-performance critiques.
Some of the presentations this year have been seen at other aita/iata festivals over the past few years such as Argentina’s offering, Our Daily Bread, and Georgia’s Bald Soprano. Most of the 17 invited performances, however, are fresh and rarely seen by aita/iata festivalgoers, and none have ever graced the shores of the United States.
For example, Singapore’s The Mouse Daughter’s Wedding, written and directed by Dr. Chua Soo Pong and presented by the Henan Qu Opera Group, is a rarely-seen example of this particular style of Chinese opera. Dating from the Ming and early Qing dynasties, the Henan opera form has only rarely been seen in Europe, although the troupe has toured through China, as well as to festivals in Istanbul, Taipei and Hong Kong. A second unusual Festival offering will be a 30-minute social issues drama from South Africa's Stellenbosch University, Lucky the Hero! The mini-musical will be presented as an "alternative offering" at the festival, and is performed in Afrikaans and English. The show is designed to tour the Stellenbosch region educating audiences about the need and value of testing for the HIV and AIDS diseases.
Other troupes presenting at the AACTWorldFest this summer come from Germany, Bangladesh, Denmark, Armenia, Togo, Latvia, Israel, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Russia, New Zealand and the U.S.A. Notes Murray Chase: “The diversity we will see at this festival is truly remarkable.” The Festival website (multilingual) contains complete information on festival schedules, travel arrangements, admission prices, shows, registration forms, workshops and more. Visit it at: http://venicestage.com/international/.