THIS EVENT HAS TAKEN PLACE
Saturday 28 October 2006
Theatre Museum, London
The Society for Theatre Research's "Performing the British Asian Diaspora" brought together performers, directors, practitioners, and scholars from the U.K. and the USA for a lively day of performances, case-studies and presentations. Although British Asians have been a vital part of the arts for the last thirty years, this study day was the first conference of its kind, and attests to the significance of Asians as innovators in contemporary British performance. The keynote speaker was Jatinder Verma, artistic director of Tara Arts; since Tara Arts' (the first British Asian theatre company) foundation in 1977, the diversity of companies and their artistic agendas has grown enormously, bringing into question the usefulness of the term' British Asian.' Such concerns also inform the current Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project on South Asian theatre in Britain.
Based at the University of Exeter and led by Professor Graham Ley and Dr. Sarah Dadswell, the project seeks to develop comprehensive documentation of work from the 1970s onwards. Janet Steele (artistic director of Kali Theatre) spoke of the challenges in developing the work of Asian women playwrights, where there are many more talented writers than available resources. Kumiko Mendl, education associate of Yellow Earth Theatre (one of the few East Asian companies in Britain) gave an interactive workshop, which enabled the audience to learn how Yellow Earth collaborates with its audiences. The issues of audience and marketing were the focus of Suman Bhuchar, whose 20-year involvement with theatre includes the marketing campaigns for Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral and for Waterman's Arts Center. Misri Dey gave a compelling concert performance of Taj-a-chino Blues, a physical theatre work on the dilemmas of being mixed race.
Academics from the universities of Wolverhampton, Birmingham, London, Exeter, Westminster, Dartington College of the Arts, Dickinson College and the Ohio State University joined practitioners from Tara, Kali, Yellow Earth, SALIDAA and Man Mela. The work of established and emerging scholars afforded a survey of several British Asian companies, writers and their work. These served to illuminate the debates initiated in Dimple Godiwala's Alternatives Within the Mainstream: British Black and Asian Theatres. In addition to panels on Tara Arts and Yellow Earth Theatre, Royona Mitra demonstrated the links between dance and drama in the work of Akram Khan, whilst Chandrika Patel addressed Ajoka Theatre's work in 'language theatres' in Urdu-Punjabi. The Study Day Chair, Dr. Valerie Kaneko Lucas, looked at Tanika Gupta's views of militant Islam's appeal to second-generation British Asians.
With the closure of the Theatre Museum imminent (in January 2007), the STR's Performing the British Asian Diaspora is amongst the last educational events at this much cherished home for theatre-makers, scholars and theatre-lovers. The Theatre Museum, which has offered pleasure and instruction to generations, will be much missed.
Report by Valerie Kaneko Lucas, Study Day Chair, November 2006
Lecture October 2007: Thirty Years of Tara Arts
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