by Richard Chua
The first roundtable for the Chinese performing arts community was held on 13th March at the Purple Cane Tea Square at Shaw Parade by veteran theatre practitioner Loh Kok Man. This much needed session has been established by Chinese theatre association ASLI with support from INXO Arts and Culture (L) Foundation.
Formerly known as the Tokyo Performing Arts Market (TPAM, for short) established in 1995, the annual event is organized to promote exchanges among theatre practitioners in Asia. Now shifted to the Yokohama prefecture, essentially an event of ideas, Loh Kok Man was still very much affected by the accumulation of ideas from the session. He felt that he was fortunate to have travelled to the event. In a positive and open environment, TPAM provided a place to discuss mainstream ideologies in Asia, as well as personal practices, in an attempt to establish commonalities among the practitioners. Started out as an arts marketplace, the event has established a conference and fringe events that compliment the main conference. Delegates and participants come together to get inspired by ideas and discover new productions and practices by performing artists from different cities. Sharing of information; mutual understanding; getting each other inspired – all hallmarks of the event are carried out while delegates exchange contacts and engage in conversations that will bring about new ideas and exchanges. All delegates could freely speak to anyone and establish new contacts and links with performing arts companies and artists.
This event also focuses on the how Southeast Asia and Japan could come together to promote more collaborations. Curated by three curators with three different programmes – namely TPAM Exchange, TPAM Direction, TPAM Fringe – all programmes are carried out concurrently in the duration of the arts market festival. One such interesting event highlighted by Loh Kok Man was a roundtable discussion held over two to three days, where each participant was given 20 minutes to host a panel sharing their activities. Participants came from different countries. Each host could set a topic. Participants could decide on which panel to go to.
Loh Kok Man highlighted two recurring themes of interest: Asian Dramaturgy and Open Network for Performing Arts Management. Dramaturgy is the process of research in dramatic composition and the representation of theatrical elements on stage. As the idea of dramaturgy originates from the West, there is limited discussion about the profession dramaturgy in Asia, let along Malaysia. Discussions were carried out in the roundtable about how dramaturgy could be deployed in the performing arts in Malaysia. On another front, performing arts management is also a topic not widely discussed in Malaysia. As most of the theatre companies in Malaysia operate on a tight budget and not able to afford the necessary administrative team to support their artistic work, most artists in the company double up as administrators, marketing and sales personnel. In fact, one important aspect of arts management is the role of producers. In Malaysia, Tan E-Jan is probably one of the small group of aspiring creative producers willing to create and produce performing arts productions in Malaysia. She has been invited to share in the next roundtable session.
The idea of the producer hasn’t been very clear in Malaysia. No doubt, he/she is a very important person. They set the direction in which the performing arts scene should be headed. They also establish relationships with the society on the whole. This is especially important in the definition of how artists and audiences relate to each other, rather than just being a person looking for funding the arts. One important aspect of producing is to constantly keep links with artists and through exchanges and conversations, definition and upgrading could take place.
Finally, as Tan E-Jan has bene nominated to host the next sharing session, there is a need to further advance the conversation on producing in the local arts community. Capacity building is a long road, but it needs constant perseverance to achieve progress.