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Power, Politics, and Performance


playfulrevolutionThe Playful Revolution: Theatre and Liberation in Asia
by Eugène van Erven
Published by Indiana University Press, 1992

In this groundbreaking book, van Erven reports on the liberation theatre movements throughout Asia, which include a diverse collection of creative artists whose politics range from liberal to revolutionary but who all share a common goal of using grass-roots theatre as an agent of liberation. His book features numerous case studies throughout Asia, however the majority of his work focuses on political theatre in Southeast Asia. The author devotes multiple chapters to Philippine drama, including the well-known political theatre group, PETA (The Philippines Educational Theatre Association). There is also a chapter on Wayang Kulit of Indonesia acting as a theatre of liberation and another chapter devoted to liberation experimentation in Thailand.

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singaporetheatrestate The Theatre and the State in Singapore: Orthodoxy and Resistance (Routledge Contemporary Southeast Asia Series)
by Terence Chong
Published by Routledge, 2013

This book provides a comprehensive examination of the contemporary English-language theatre field in Singapore. It describes Singapore theatre as a politically dynamic field that is often a site for struggle and resistance against state orthodoxy, and how the cultural policies of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) have shaped Singapore theatre. The book traces such cultural policies and their impact from the early 1960s, and shows how the PAP used theatre – and arts and culture more widely – as a key part of its nation building programme.

Terence Chong argues that this diverse theatre community not only comes into regular conflict with the state, but often collaborates with it – depending on the rewards at stake, not to mention the assortment of intra-communal conflicts as different practitioners and groups vie for the same resources. It goes on to explore how new forms of theatre, especially English-language avant garde theatre, represented resistance to such government cultural control; how the government often exerts its power ‘behind-the-scenes’ to preserve its moral legitimacy; and conversely how middle class theatre practitioners’ resistance to state power is strongly influenced by class and cultural capital. Based on extensive original research including interviews with theatre directors and other theatre professionals, the book provides a wealth of information on theatre in Singapore overall, and not just on theatre-state relations.

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Power Plays: Wayang Golek Puppet Theater of West Java (Ohio RIS Southeast Asia Series)
by Andrew N. Weintraub
Published by Ohio University Press, 2004

Based on ethnographic fieldwork spanning twenty years, Power Plays is the first scholarly book in English on wayang golek, the Sundanese rod-puppet theater of West Java. It is a detailed and lively account of the ways in which performers of this major Asian theatrical form have engaged with political discourses in Indonesia. Wayang golek has shaped, as well, the technological and commercial conditions of art and performance in a modernizing society.

Using interviews with performers, musical transcriptions, translations of narrative and song texts, and archival materials, author Andrew N. Weintraub analyzes the shifting and flexible nature of a set of performance practices called Padalangan, the art of the puppeteer. He focuses on “superstar” performers and the musical troupes that dominated wayang golek during the New Order political regime of former president Suharto (1966-98) and the ensuing three years of the post-Suharto period. Studies of actual performances illuminate stylistic and formal elements and situate wayang golek as a social process in Sundanese culture and society. Power Plays includes an interactive multimedia CD-ROM of wayang golek.

Power Plays shows how meanings about identity, citizenship, and community are produced through theater, music, language, and discourse. While based in ethnographic theory and methods, this book is at the center of a new synthesis emerging among ethnomusicology, anthropology, and cultural studies. Its cross-disciplinary approach will inspire researchers studying similar struggles over cultural authority and popular representation in culture and the performing arts.

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51wZn9PSZwLEarth In Flower: The Divine Mystery of the Cambodian Dance Drama
by Paul Cravath
Published by DAT Asia, 2008

Since the dawn of recorded history, Khmer royalty nurtured a dance style unique to their Asian kingdom, yet instantly recognizable throughout the world. Spiritually, the graceful dancers embody the essence and strength of the Khmer race. Earth in Flower thoroughly covers choreography, musicology, costuming and stagecraft. The surprise is learning how these women profoundly affected Asian history for a millennium, as living goddesses, priestesses, queens, concubines, hostages and diplomats. A twist of fate gave the author rare access to the formerly sequestered troupe of royal dancers, teachers, theater and archives. Earth in Flower offers new insights into this beautiful art, its long-hidden history, and how the dancers balance the Khmer relationship between heaven and earth. In 1970, a military coup deposed King Sihanouk and seized control of the royal dancers. Surrounded by war, scholars sought to document this cultural treasure by engaging researcher Paul Cravath. He arrived as a circle of war gripped the capital city, becoming one of the only Westerners in history to gain firsthand access to the dancers. In April 1975 Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, initiating one of the worst genocides in human history. Cravath escaped Phnom Penh only ten days earlier, with his research intact. The archives he accessed were destroyed. Most of the dancers perished in the Killing Fields. Earth in Flower is his historic account of their Cambodian legacy.

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