Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Starting Anew in Myanmar: Update 2

Joanna Sherman's update from Myanmar on blending the East and West on stage, Burmese culture "opening up," and the future of theatre in the country.

Finally -- greetings from Myanmar!  All is going very well.  We have been having some fascinating discussions with Thila Min about Buddhism, life, theatre, making sense of the recent violence here, Myanmar cultural history, and... the play.  All endlessly interesting. 

Basically, we have been exploring how Burmese performance styles and US/European styles can blend in style, character, setting, music, dance, and structure of the play. We are watching DVDs of famous zat pwe performers and performances, looking mostly at structure: for example, they always begin with the Nat pwe, a dance to certain spirits to get on their good side. Otherwise these spirits seemed to me to be a bit shady or hedonistic (tricksters?) who could play some nasty pranks during the performance.  So perhaps we might start with such a dance -- what fun!  At the same time, the costumes and altar to these spirits are, as Thila says, very "bling bling", which fits right into Volpone's love of "bling".  The altar to the spirits could very easily become Volpone's altar to his gold, and the play does open with he and Mosca's worshiping their stash. 

We have had further discussions on where the show will travel, what kind of venues, and who would our audiences be??  These are huge questions since modern theatre is really unknown!  Just like Afghanistan... for slightly different reasons.  In one, the government forbade it on religious grounds, and the other, the government forbade it on political grounds. As things loosen up, the Thukhuma Khayeethe folks seem to think it is time to take modern theatre public. But still, who will our audiences be?  The National Theatre here in Yangon still stands idle except for rentals for big events. But even the concerts lose money.  The zat pwe is very cheap and everyone knows exactly what to expect.  Could we do some scenes in the pwe?  Thila says not.  People go the pwe to have a night out of entertainment, but actual attention to what's on stage drifts in and out depending on personal taste, who's awake and who's sleeping, what's to eat, who you're with, etc.  It's a night-long picnic. Everyone knows the stories so no need to actually pay attention.  A serious tale (however comical) would not command attention with the pwe crowd. 

So we are thinking that perhaps cinemas might offer a venue, or maybe schools... we are starting anew here. There is no knowledge of modern theatre. If we succeed, we are opening a new door.  It is quite like what we were doing in Afghanistan with Exile Theatre -- first people who saw our work were aghast at what they saw in our abstract surreal storytelling... then slowly they all tried to mimic it.  (At least in Afghanistan they had a tradition in the Stanislavsky style from the Russians two decades before).  Here we hope Thukhuma Khayeethe can lead the way. I expect it will have a tough start, and that's why we are trying to cagily introduce some mix of East and West to ease in some new ideas.

We still have a lot more decisions to make about language, costume, character, staging, music, etc. but we are off to a good start.  We made a great start in our prior rehearsal process, and now (especially since things are truly looking like they are opening up... even just over the course of one year) we can really plan to take our show public!  Not just hidden away at Gitameit or the American Center or Alliance Francais. 

We have a hiatus now in our work on the play during the Water Festival.  It officially starts today and we will report!


DingDong said...

thx for helping Myanmar people!

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