Conference Presentations

Some of the conference papers can be downloaded at http://manchester.academia.edu/EdmundChow

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30 Jun – 5 July 2015
8th International Drama in Education Research Institute (IDIERI) 
National Institute of Education, Singapore.

MEMORY BOXES, AUGUSTO BOAL, AND TRACES OF GHOSTS IN AFGHANISTAN

ABSTRACT: Memory Boxes is an initiative created in 2011 by the Afghanistan Human Rights Democracy Organisation (AHRDO), a local non-governmental organisation that utilises playback and forum theatre as their methodology to break the cycle of violence and tragedy in Afghanistan. Using Augusto Boal’s Aesthetics of the Oppressed as a framework, this project seeks to document the violence and human rights abuses of the past. It also functions as a memorial, as women and war victims put on public display personal belongings of their family members who had gone missing or had died. Twenty boxes were showcased in an exhibition in Kabul. This study is based on a documentary video by the organisers and a TEDxHagueAcademy presentation by the Founder of AHRDO through the lens of memory studies. Using Maurice Halbwach’s concept of “mémoire collective”, or collective memory, this paper critically examines the politicisation of memories and the impact of applied theatre practices in Afghanistan. It argues that giving visibility and voice to an otherwise private affair of bereavement and memorialisation has produced and circulated a discourse of victimhood, followed by the participants’ ideological claims to justice and human rights to trace the ‘ghostly’ perpetrators of their suffering. (196 words)

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28 July – 1 August 2014
International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) World Congress
University of Warwick, UK

AFHANISTAN, SHAKESPEARE AND A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS

ABSTRACT: French director, Corinne Jaber, directed Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost in 2005 in Afghanistan which was construed as controversial and evocative. 2012 saw the same director export The Comedy of Errors from Afghanistan to the Globe Theatre, with raving reviews from audiences. For what purposes were these performances made, and what implications were there for drawing on theatrical forms when public performances were still considered taboo in Kabul? Borrowing Adorno and Horkheimer’s concept of the “culture industry”, this paper seeks to identify the power dynamics involved in theatre-making, especially between director, producers, actors, audiences, and funding organisations, all of which, this paper posits, are complicit in the production, consumption and fetishisation of an Afghan culture. Drawing on specific documentary material of their rehearsal processes, the live performance in London, as well as theatre reviews, this research uses the Applied Performance Matrix (Chow 2012) to question the reception of the Afghan culture, to problematise the Art for Art’s sake argument, and to raise the importance of respecting local customs, values, and cultural practices in Afghanistan. The Applied Performance Matrix highlights three contexts for consideration – context of culture, context of situation, and the context of international relations – but privileges the context of culture as the most critical and reflexive exercise in preventing greater threats to the lives of the Afghan actors. While this discursive position supports Bharucha’s argument on interculturalism and Said’s orientalism, this paper is an extension of the existing research done in conflict zones (see Hughes 2011; Thompson, Hughes, & Balfour 2009; Kuftinec 2009; Taylor 2007; Balfour 2001; Obeyesekere 1999), with a more urgent call for foreign theatre practitioners to exercise caution when making theatre in a community whose culture is already severely ruptured. Importing Shakespeare to Afghanistan has led to violence, a tragic lesson that should not be callously forgotten. (300 words)

 

REFERENCES

Balfour, M. (2001). Theatre and War 1933-1945: Performance in Extremis. London: Berghahn Books.

Hughes, J. (2011). Performance in a time of terror. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Kuftinec, SA. (2009). Theatre, Facilitation, and Nation Formation in the Balkans and Middle East. 1st. ed. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Obeyesekere, R. (1999). Sri Lankan Theater in a time of terror. London: SAGE Publications.

Taylor, D. (2007). The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. 3rd edition. ed. London: Duke University Press.

Thompson, J., Hughes, J. and Balfour, M. (2009). Performance in Place of War. Calcutta, India: Seagull Books.

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2-4 July 2014
Arts, Peace and Conflict Conference, Archibishop Desmond Tutu Centre for Peace and War Studies
Liverpool Hope University, UK

‘DOING CULTURE’ ERRONEOUSLY IN AFHANISTAN: A CRITIQUE OF ‘THE COMEDY OF ERRORS’ AT THE GLOBE

How can theatre be a platform for storytelling and cultural empowerment in a conflict zone? What, and whose stories will be told, and for what purposes? Performance research has identified the various functions of the arts, for example, in peacebuilding (Shank & Shirch 2008, Liebmann 1996), providing therapy and healing (see Furman 2013; Ledarach 1999), relief and entertainment (Balfour 2001), protest and resistance (Hughes 2011; Obeyesekere 1999), and facilitating social justice, educational or political messages (see Thompson, Hughes, & Balfour 2009; Kuftinec 2009; Taylor 2007). In seeking to examine the use of the arts with Afghan actors and non-actors by foreign directors, this paper will critique the Afghan performance of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors at the Globe Theatre in May 2012. This paper further problematises the use of the arts in a war zone, primarily in commodifying an Afghan culture, which then results in more security risks for the Afghan ensemble themselves. Using material from a BBC documentary, the live performance in London, and theatre reviews, this paper first borrows the concept of “consumer culture” from Adorno and Horkheimer, then seeks to interrogate the power dynamics between director, actors, audiences, and funding organisations with the Applied Performance Matrix (Chow 2012). I will then argue that “doing culture” is not only unethical, but dangerous when the role of the arts in a conflict zone has not been sufficiently understood, or when local practices, values, and customs are negligently ignored. There is then an urgency for cultural interventionists to reconsider their complicity towards violence when seeking arts-based approaches to peacebuilding. (281 words)

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30 May – 2 Jun 2013
SDEA Theatre Arts Conference, Arts House
Singapore

PLAYING AGAINST/BY THE RULES: WHAT IS SO DIFFICULT ABOUT DRAMA AND RUBRICS?

WORKSHOP ABSTRACT: By exploring the issues and difficulties of capturing the liveliness, ephemerality, and ‘in-the-moment’ moments of drama sessions in schools or community settings, this workshop aims for participants to engage in an improvisation leading to a dramatic presentation, and eventually creating diagnostic, as well as assessment, tools for measuring both drama processes and products within and outside the action. Principles in creating drama rubrics will be investigated, both theoretically and practically. There will be segments of personal sharing, theoretical discussions, role-playing and group presentations.

Teachers or cultural workers in community settings who might be struggling with a bureaucratic language would benefit from this session, as the facilitator demonstrates examples drawn from the repertoire of educational theories, drama therapy theories, and drama/theatre/performance theories in process drama and applied theatre connected to personal, social and emotional goals to, possibly, larger organisational outcomes. While this workshop offers participants a tangible experience that may be adapted to their own needs, these exercises are perhaps more instrumental in equipping participants (and eventually their charges) by asking the right questions – as a qualitative measure of positionality, criticality and reflexivity.

<Note: Withdrew from conference because laptop was stolen weeks earlier>

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5-7 Sep 2012
8th TaPRA, University of Kent
Canterbury, UK

MEASURING ARTS PROJECT OUTCOMES:
A PROVISIONAL FRAMEWORK FOR ELDERLY PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA

ABSTRACT: Assessing the impact of applied theatre projects, according to Etherton and Prentki (2006), tends to gravitate towards impact assessment that is extensive not just in time and expenditure, but expands to areas in economics, development, sustainability, human rights, and politics. To enquire to what effect applied theatre projects bring about social change is not only unhelpful to the artists and communities they are serving, but it undermines the quality of work in itself. We are asking the wrong questions to artists working in often marginalised communities. Artists create Art. This paper examines impact, perceived and accepted unidirectionally, with ‘art’ as the cause, and ‘society’ as the effect as inadequate. I argue that ‘society’ is the cause, and ‘art’ the effect, while considering potential omni-directionalities towards impact measurement. In other words, the essential questions to be raised are: to what extent are our arts practices impacted by outside forces, locally and globally, and how should we re-negotiate the making of art to meet a community’s needs? The belief that our arts practices can create impact on society, I argue, is not only ambitious and idealistic, seeing the arts as a panacea for all social injustices, but also inherently arrogant, with the superior positioning of artists proselytising neoliberal values. With an example from an interdisciplinary arts project for the elderly with dementia, this paper proposes a framework borrowed from Bloom’s Taxonomy and Laban’s Movement Analysis to help artists monitor project outcomes which are more immediate, but no less impactful. (247 words)


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10-15 July 2012

IDiERI 7, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick
Ireland

TRANSLATING AESTHETICS FROM THE PERIPHERY TO THE CORE: A CASE OF THEATRE IN SINGAPORE PRISON

ABSTRACT: This paper aims to explore the concepts of aesthetic evaluation of one theatre performance, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, in a Singapore prison. Performed by incarcerated youths to an inmate population, as well as to invited members of the public which comprised professional theatre practitioners, the play evoked two extreme responses amongst these diverse audiences. The inmates enjoyed it, but the theatre-makers presumably thought nothing of it. This paper takes from that one significant, albeit subjective, moment in which the theatre-makers left the prison premises with pursed lips of silent appreciation, not for the quality of the show, but for having been invited to watch it in a prison. The implied disapproval by the theatre-makers, many of whom are engaged in schools and community-based work, has raised questions of production values, professional standards, and the nature of aesthetic impact. A production is normally judged according to standards esteemed in Performance Studies, but this paper argues that it is inadequate. By taking on a theoretical framework from Translation Studies, this paper offers a preliminary understanding of the differentials in aesthetic appreciation. This paper goes on to  propose that applied theatre performances should be evaluated from the core, not periphery, and argues why aesthetic evaluation cannot be divorced from the aesthetic process and pedagogical goals. In this paper, I will first examine Kant’s paradigm of “disinterestedness” towards creating art for art’s sake, Bharucha’s dialectic between “good intention” and “effect”, and Ranciere’s argument for the “emancipated spectator”, and then claim that this performance, if seen from the usual Performance Studies frame, possibly reduces what applied theatre stood for: active engagement and participation. I will illustrate some of the rehearsal methods that fail to meet the expectations in many respects – from the selection of a play to the facilitation by the director. Furthermore, there was no provision for measuring ‘impact’, which is quintessential in applied theatre practice today. But if analysed from Translation Studies, the differences in aesthetic responses could be understood in terms of formal equivalence (Kant’s fidelity to content and form), as well as dynamic equivalence (Bharucha’s and Ranciere’s relevance to culture and effect). Eugene Nida’s translation process and Susan Bassnett-McGuire’s communicative process diagrams are especially helpful in situating these conflicting responses on a continuum. However, this paper suggests that aesthetic judgements of prison performances – when swung to the right, nearer to the receiver’s end in the translation diagram – is unhelpful and unethical. This paper argues that an aesthetic judgement cannot be separated from the aesthetic experience that is found and structured within an educational process. By introducing new art forms, for example through jazz dance, stage combat and shadow puppets, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde offers prison inmates an alternative aesthetic experience. This paper therefore positions performance aesthetics within prison discourse as an expansion of cultural capital, and argues that the lack of exposure to different art forms and cultural spaces re-imprisons inmates to familiar spaces of crime. Those are the creative and pedagogical goals from which aesthetic evaluations must consider.  (500 words)

REFERENCE:
Bassnett-McGuire, S. (1980). Translation studies. London: Metheun & Co. Ltd.

Haseman, B. & Winston, J. (2010). Why be interested?’ Aesthetics, applied theare and drama education. Research in Drama Education: The journal of applied theatre and performance, 15(4), 465-475.

Venuti, L. (Ed.). (2001). The translation studies reader. London: Routledge.

Download pdf notes here: EdChow_IDIERI2012_TranslationalAesthetics_ScriptWithDiagrams

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26 May 2012
Impact: Postgraduate Research Symposium, University of Manchester
Manchester, UK

MEASURING ARTS PROJECT OUTCOMES:
A PROVISIONAL FRAMEWORK FOR ELDERLY PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA

ABSTRACT: Assessing the impact of applied theatre projects, according to Etherton and Prentki (2006), tends to gravitate towards impact assessment that is extensive not just in time and expenditure, but expands to areas in economics, development, sustainability, human rights, and politics. To enquire to what effect applied theatre projects bring about social change is not only unhelpful to the artists and communities they are serving, but it undermines the quality of work in itself. We are asking the wrong questions to artists working in often marginalised communities. Artists create Art. This paper examines impact, perceived and accepted unidirectionally, with ‘art’ as the cause, and ‘society’ as the effect as inadequate. I argue that ‘society’ is the cause, and ‘art’ the effect, while considering potential omni-directionalities towards impact measurement. In other words, the essential questions to be raised are: to what extent are our arts practices impacted by outside forces, locally and globally, and how should we re-negotiate the making of art to meet a community’s needs? The belief that our arts practices can create impact on society, I argue, is not only ambitious and idealistic, seeing the arts as a panacea for all social injustices, but also inherently arrogant, with the superior positioning of artists proselytising neoliberal values. With an example from an interdisciplinary arts project for the elderly with dementia, this paper proposes a framework borrowed from Bloom’s Taxonomy and Laban’s Movement Analysis to help artists monitor project outcomes which are more immediate, but no less impactful.

From Dementia Studies

Presentation made on 26 May 2012 at Impact: Postgraduate Research Symposium, at the University of Manchester.


If the above clip does not load, you may download/watch the video presentation here: https://vimeo.com/edchow/impact2012

Download presentation script here: EdChow_Dementia_Script_Impact2012
Download proposed rubric here:  EdChow_DementiaRubric_Impact2012

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Aug 2011
UNESCO-NIE CARE, National Institute of Education
Singapore

CARE FORUM SERIES “Applied Theatre: Examining the Singapore Context”
APPLIED THEATRE IN THE PRISON SCHOOL

ABSTRACT: What effect does drama have on prison inmates in Singapore? What are the challenges faced by both inmates and facilitator? How can an applied theatre programme be sustained for long-term rehabilitation? These are some of the issues that will be raised as Edmund shares his experiences working as a full-time educator in a prison school from 2004 to 2009.

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Jun 2011
SDEA Theatre Arts Conference, LaSalle College of the Arts
Singapore

REHABILITATION IN A PRISON SCHOOL

<missing abstract>

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Dec 2007
Arts Education Conference, New York University
New York, USA

EXPLORING (DRAMATIC) PRINCIPLES FOR SUSTAINABILITY:

LESSONS FROM SINGAPORE PRISON SCHOOL

ABSTRACT: The arts enjoy premium status in Singapore schools. For many years now, performances in drama, dance, band, and choir have become a platform for schools to showcase the quality of the arts on a national level at the Singapore Youth Festival Competition organised by the Ministry of Education. In the fight to win prestigious awards, school administrators have resorted to hiring theatre directors, actors, playwrights to hone their secondary students to perform ‘professionally’. Based on such pursuits, funding and material support are often part of the budget planning in mainstream schools, a leverage that is sadly not equitable in all schools, especially in Kaki Bukit Centre (Prison School).

Support in the prison was characterised by serious censorships, security lockdowns, and non-funding of materials three years ago. Today, this team of incarcerated drama students has proudly performed to both inmate populations and members of the public with works of theatre and visual arts, while negotiating art for themselves through a series of therapeutic expressions. This continuous cycle from ‘theatre as product’ to ‘drama as process’ has woven a network of support that has enabled the arts in the prison school to flourish and be self-sustaining in a multi-disciplinary manner. Since building community and forming partnerships in this educational context has redefined the role of arts education as a system for long-term community building, within and without, this paper explores these principles for sustainability, wherein the artists meets the arts to promote a structure for personal rehabilitation and civic engagement.

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