Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Updates from Myanmar

After two weeks’ time in Myanmar and working closely with the Gitameit Music Center, Artistic Director Joanna Sherman sent this detailed update of the work Michael McGuigan and she have been doing. Read on ….

From Myanmar, November 27, 2009:

So we have completed our workshops with Gitameit we did three shows and feel
very happy to have made this connection. The Gitameit people are
really nice and there is no doubt that there is a tremendous need here.
There is indeed no modern theatre. This was verified emphatically after our
talk at the American Center. One elderly gentlemen sitting in the front
started off the Q+A at the end with that statement -- "There is no modern
theatre here." Turns out he is the former Myanmar Ambassador to France and,
as I have now learned, the older generation remember a time when there was a
flourishing theatre here. Now nothing.

It's an interesting history -- and has a similarity to Afghanistan in a
way. All things cultural stopped in Afghanistan after the Soviets were
ousted. The Soviets had initiated many advances -- modern theatre, for
example, and women having a place on stage. When they left, the immediate
civil war put an end to everything and then the Taliban put a lid on
cultural expression. Here, culture thrived until the junta and the present government has eyes everywhere to see who is saying what... even
indirectly. They actually closed ALL universities several times as they
were deemed too outspoken -- they were closed for three years at one point.
And any theatre except the traditional is just too dangerous. A point I
just found out today.... they had three gov’t spies at our little show in the
empty lot across from Gitameit yesterday! They surrounded Moe Naing
(Gitameit Director) and asked who are these people, what are they doing
here, and what is this show about? Moe Naing said -- look at it -- they are
just entertaining the neighborhood children!

Other news we discovered, Thila Min, our great friend and fellow theatre
artist here at Gitameit spent four years of his young life in jail. Can you
imagine spending age 20-24 in jail.... in Burma?! He was attending the
Yangon Technical University studying engineering, and there was a student
action against the way the educational system was operating -- they wanted
improved education. Thirteen out of the 100 or so students were arrested
and sent to Insein Prison sentenced -- seven years in jail! He got out after four years but some of them are still there... in a bit better prison, not the infamous Insein Prison.

After he got out, he signed up to study English at the American Center and it essentially saved his life. They got him a scholarship to finish his
degree at Indiana University Online, and he also worked with their small
theatre program there, run by Phillip Houze through Open Society
Institute, I think. Phillip was his mentor in a way and now Thila Min is
hired by Gitameit to start up a good theatre program there. He has no
formal training but has just read everything he can. He said
that what we did was illuminate some of those terms he read but had no idea
what they really meant -- isolation, opposition, balance, etc. -- in the
theatrical sense -- the physical principles. We spent a lot of time on the
physical principles of theatre... and then some on the psychosocial work for
children. We packed as much as we could into those three days!

The show today was for really little kids -- 90% of them orphaned by
Nargis. The monks set up a small school for local children but, after Nargis, they went down and gathered children who were just lost with no parents and no home. The monk told us that some of the children are still very impaired and still ask when their parents are coming. It’s incredibly sad. And Nargis was in June 2008 so they were even younger then. When we came out on the stilts, however, I think we scared them. But then we made them laugh and all was well. Whew.

Tomorrow we go to Mandalay, the cultural capital of Myanmar, and find out
new stuff. We will see and meet the infamous Moustache Brothers who have been imprisoned many times but still come out and resume their satirical comedy which has become a tourist favorite (so perhaps the gov’t hesitates to really close them down for good). I will report on this

~ Joanna & Michael