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Non Western Performance


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Non-western Performance – Summative assignment – 1,500 words – 28th May

Write a reflective essay on the basis of your experience in this module, moving from the theoretical and historical part to the performative segment. What did you learn? How did the knowledge you gained of African, Chinese and Indian performance traditions help and inform your summative ensemble performance? What kind of problems did you encounter in your intercultural ensemble work? How did you solve them? Were you happy with the results? [This essay does not need to provide evidence of research and academic rigour. However, I would expect it to be written in lucid and clear English!]

Throughout this module, there has been strong emphasis on three different non-western styles of theatre. The three styles of theatre researched were; Chinese theatre, African theatre and Indian theatre. Through each style that was studied, many different qualities emerged. To begin with, we looked at African theatre by studying the plays; Anowa by Ama Ata Aidoo and Rise & shine of comrade Fiasco by Andrew Whaley. From these plays I discovered how African theatre looks at telling stories within their plays, Also how a strong sense of colonialism and post colonialism dominates many of their plays, with regards to how the western world has influenced and changed Africa. There is also a lot of emphasis on movements, with tribal dances and movements, along with a lot of dream sequences within theatre from this country. Preceding this we looked at Chinese plays, them being Taking Tiger Mountain which is based upon a novel by Qu Bo, and The White Haired Girl by Ho Ching-Chi. From looking at these two Chinese plays, we discovered how theatre within china is very politically motivated, this may be because of the fact that many of the plays written in china are monitored by political powers, making sure there is nothing heinous being written against the government. Through further investigation we discovered how Chinese plays involved lots of movements and dances, and large choreographed pieces which were used to communicate a message, or reinforce a strong political point. Finally we looked at the two Indian plays which are; Hayavadana by Girish Karnad and Charandas Chor by Habib Tanvir. Through examination we discovered that Indian theatre was in a way ritual, it contained chanting and dancing and was written to teach others of the norms and values which they must possess.
Before choosing specifically which type of non-western theatre to go with, we decided first to explore different subjects and how (when we find an acceptable subject we feel we can do a lot with) we can modify and adapt it to suit a theatre practice. We started off by looking at the Westboro Baptist church, we thought that this would be a great subject to look at, considering their strong religious viewpoints and how they create their own homophobic and anti-Semitic songs (Which we could easily incorporate within our own piece.) A lot of the information we gained on the Westboro Baptist church we initially conceived how it could be easily adapted to the stage, especially when looking to create a powerful religious statement, with uses of both singing and dancing easily engaged which are two major factors of all three theatres researched. However, through deep discussion we agreed that even though this would be a great piece to go with, it would be hard to create a viable storyline to progress with and make it believable, so instead we started to look for a subject that is truly non western itself and then adapt that, so that we could relate with greater detail a theatre practice to a subject from the same region. From this we discovered the story of Pedro Lopez, a serial killer from South America, known for raping and killing over 300 girls, who after being arrested and trialled in Ecuador was released after 14 years (two years off the sentenced 16 years through good behaviour). Even though this subject is not from any of the three theatre practices regions, we thought that we could truly horrify and alienate an audience through the dark factors and the repulsion of such a man. From following this story, we wanted to really challenge the idea of “Life imprisonment” and what that actually means, seeing as in Ecuador he only receives 14 years, whereas if he was tried in Columbia or Peru (Two countries he also murdered girls in) he would have received a much grievous sentence.
After we arrived at this subject we then went on to choose our theatre practice. We found Chinese to be the ideal choice for us, as we could tinker with a lot with the movements and the singing within the theatre style, and also incorporate some Brechtian techniques along with these styles, to fully bring to life our political message, helping us engage with the audience to a greater extent. We did however look closely at other theatre styles such as African theatre, but we felt that our piece did not suit the almost tribal nature of this style, even though the surrealism of the dream sequences could help us look at the psyche behind Lopez in a greater theatrical style. We discussed how this would not help us cement our main point of the political statement of the “Life sentence” as much as Chinese theatre did. Furthermore we did look slightly at Indian theatre as well; however we did not feel like we wanted to teach the audience anything or inform them, we merely wanted the audience to question the ideas and facts which we presented, creating an internal conflict.
Within our first few rehearsals, the initial problem facing us was how to create dances which would not only compare to traditional Chinese theatre, but also inform our audiences of the events within the piece. From a strong debate we had already decided on a vague storyline, but when we came to the first dance segment, we were unsure upon how to create the fluidity and gracefulness that was portrayed in Chinese performances. From this problem, we gathered up a lot of information from the internet and the library, involving different pictures of theatre pieces of actors in a tableau, and also video’s of different plays in action. After viewing all this information we came up with several basic movements that matched the fluidity of the Chinese performances, from here all we did was string together these different actions and movements, along with other choreographed movements to create separate dance pieces which fits into our performance. This also helped us solve the problem of scene transitions, as instead of having a typical black out and everyone changes position, we could incorporate dances between scenes, creating a greater smoothness to the entirety of the piece, which would keep our audience engaged and focussed upon the message we were trying to convey.
A second problem that we faced as a group whilst rehearsing, is the use of music and song. In a lot of Chinese theatre, we found strong use of music and singing, so we found the need to portray this within our own piece. Initially, we had the idea that one of our group members would play a Ukulele in the performance, but soon discovered that the instrument took up too much space, and was hard to manoeuvre with. After this we looked at making more noises with our vocals, such as humming and whistling along with a tune to create a sinister feel to the piece, especially when Pedro is murdering someone. This worked out really well as it created an eerie feeling and carrying on from this, we looked at a translator to pick out different Chinese words which would hold a dark meaning such as “murder” “rape” “sodomise” but say them in their corresponding Chinese equivalent. To add to the darkness of the piece we would sing these lines cheerfully, which in turn would alienate our audience and make them question their own sanity, for enjoying something which holds connections to the horrific nature of Pedro Lopez.
Thirdly and finally, a problem we found through rehearsals was how to create a more politically charged piece through Chinese styles. Through the use of so many dances and through a lot of singing, we felt that the message may be distorted and truly unrecognisable by our audience. This lead on to do some research into Brechtian techniques of how to create an alienation effect within our audience, as we were already aware of how a lot of Brecht’s plays were very politically charged. After awhile we discussed the proposal of a scene which would completely contrast the mood and pace of the piece to alienate the viewers, this can be seen in our “Game show” scene. The entire use of the stylistic dancing and singing fades away to a scene which is majorly dominated by the spoken word and acting, the use of contrasting the strong Chinese theatre practices to a scene which is subjugated by a sole speaker creates unease within the audience, especially by the fact that the whole conversation is spoken in a very upbeat manner and is around the subject matter of Lopez only getting a short sentence compared to other criminals getting a much larger sentence for something less grievous.
To summarise everything that happened throughout the module, I can say that I am happy with the results of what we achieved. After learning about different non-western theatre practices and then adapting a certain subject around that practice, I feel that we made a great attempt at bringing forth a politically charged and informative play, which held many stylistic features of Chinese theatre, our main choice of theatre practice. Although, what I believe we majorly lacked in was the precision and grace that the Chinese theatre holds, if we were to redo this piece I would concentrate more on our choreographed dances by improving the timings and the way at which all actors would move together, to create something more slick and professional.

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