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Loke Kurtina - East Timor Theatre Retreat 2005
In one room they are they are pulling on red noses, in another they are balancing sweat-soaked bodies, on the terrace they are scripting dialogues and in the garage they are busy with scissors and cellophane creating shadow puppets. East Timorís first theatre retreat is in full swing and wandering from workshop to workshop one canít help but be swept up in the creative buzz.
Opening the Curtains to Theatre in East Timor, (Loke Kurtina ba Teatru Iha Timor Leste), took place for seven days in late August 2005, at a spectacular hilltop location overlooking the sea in Maubara, about 1.5 hours southwest of Dili. Fifty-five young East Timorese theatre makers aged 16-25 years, gathered with five professional Australian theatre artists, plus locally-based theatre tutors, for an intensive week of skills-sharing, discussion and networking.
The project was initiated by a committee of locally-based theatre workers drawn from Bibi Bulak Theatre and Music Troupe and Kuna Buka Hatene's Expressional Arts Project. The committee saw the need to bring together representatives from the many theatrical groups that had formed in East Timor since independence. Working in partnership with Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the committee was successful in attracting funding from UNICEF and AusAID, through its East Timor Community Assistance Scheme.
The enthusiasm of donors and local organisations for the project, highlights the important role that theatre has played in East Timor since independence. Live performance and radio drama have been increasingly used by NGOs and UN agencies as an effective tool for educating communities about health, environmental and human rights issues. There has been an overload of workshops and pamphlets designed for this purpose, but in a country with high illiteracy, the idea of combining information with entertainment has gained ground.
The Loke Kurtina committee recognized that while donors had been generous in their support for theatrical projects, there had been no specific assistance for the development of the theatre groups as skilled, sustainable entities. Most groups had never seen theatre apart from that which they made themselves and theatre styles were limited to those gleaned from television and film, innate creative responses to the medium, and input from the few foreign theatre workers resident in East Timor. Many groups became inactive once a particular project was completed, lacking the skills and confidence to keep training regularly and to initiate independent projects.
The Loke Kurtina project was envisaged as a first step in addressing these problems and as a unique way to reinvigorate the theatre scene in East Timor and to set up local and international networks.
The call was put out via email networks for Australian artists to become involved in the project. The five who were selected sought funds to cover their own travel expenses and worked as self-funded volunteers for the duration fof the project. They were Robin Davidson, (supported by Arts ACT), Margot Edwards (supported by Arts WA), Kit Lazaroo, Sandy McKendrick and Maggie Miles. These committed individuals facilitated a range of workshops including clowning, puppetry, mask, script writing, improvisation, forum theatre, acting, directing and play-building. Workshops in circus skills and physical theatre were run by Annie Sloman, an Australian volunteer working with the Bibi Bulak troupe. Other tutors ran sessions in sound system operation, banner painting, music and project management. The program was varied and intense, with discussion forums, workshops and presentations scheduled from 8:15am until 10pm on most days.
On the final evening, a work-in-progress performance for the local community took place at the Maubara marketplace for an audience of approximately 1000 people. The excitement backstage was tangible as retreat participants scrounged in the dim light for masks, props, make-up and costumes, before performing several short pieces, in a variety of theatrical styles, for a delighted audience. More important than the audience reaction was the fact that these young people, from districts all around East Timor, were working together as a theatrical community for the very first time, and that is the base from which the theatrical arts in East Timor will develop.
Participants left the retreat with enthusiastic plans for running drama classes in their communities, continuing regular training, and creating short pieces to be performed in market places, schools, transport terminals and outside churches. On a national level there are concrete plans to establish a theatre network, meeting every two months, with the first meeting to occur in October. The network will expand and develop the many ideas and strategies to emerge from the retreat. These include: establishing an annual theatre festival, developing closer links between drama and education, and strengthening the ability of theatre groups to 'hamrik mesak' - stand alone.
Contact here for further information about theatre in East Timor.
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