By Christine Anketell
Despite a severe typhoon warning for Hong Kong, our plane departed Melbourne. The next morning the warning was still in place and we were informed that we were required to stay in our hotel and our Hong Kong colleagues were likewise unable to leave their homes. So, stranded in our hotel and unable to get to our workshop space as the palm trees outside swayed alarmingly, we began the weekend with a bleak view of our workshops actually proceeding.
However, ISTA was not to be thwarted. With the support of our accommodating hotel staff we were provided with a room. A meeting room barely a body length wide, dominated by a huge oblong table. No problem. Despite limited space, our Kathakali workshop leader, artist and teacher Fenella Kelly, spread her displays down one end of the table and stood on the other. Kathakali is a highly physical theatre practice involving the whole body.
True to form body awareness and peripheral vision kicked in and we were soon stamping our feet, circling our arms and attempting some of the complicated hand gestures, the mudhras. No one could say we weren’t using the space to its maximum potential. International theatre companies rarely tour outside of the festival circuit so it can be difficult in Australia to attend live performances of Kathakali theatre. We were fortunate as Fenella is one of the few Westerners to train and perform in the Kathakali style. She performed the role of Krishna in the Gopalakrishna temple in Kerala in full costume and makeup for her Kathakali Arangettam, her first Kathakali performance and initiation into the Kathakali community.
This meant she was able to give us first-hand knowledge of the weight of the costumes, the process for applying makeup and insights into the mindset required when undertaking the arduous training. Of particular interest to me was her demonstration of the complicated meanings conveyed by combining the mudhras. I had only ever experienced them through a book and hadn’t realised the complicated meaning that can be conveyed when they are combined. She was able to take what we had experienced as basic vocabulary and transform it into storytelling.
The trip would have been justified if this was the only workshop I attended. The next morning, a glorious day greeted us as we headed by bus to theHong Kong Academy. Here we met our Hong Kong colleagues who’d been unable to travel the day before. In true theatre-teacher style we all took the opportunity to network with our counterparts and ask specific questions regarding assessment criteria and interpretation.
Our workshop was on the IB Theatre course with Dinos Aristidou. We were delighted with the practical games, focused explorations and strategies for devising theatre and exchanged resource material. We plunged into joyful, open hearted creativity – the only way to be with Dinos. Throughout the experience we were reminded of what we expect from our adolescent students –instant ability to ignore self-consciousness. It wasn’t easy but Dinos kept us focussed and on task, despite our occasional subversive tendencies.
While here at the Academy I had the opportunity to witness the excitement and engagement of the students attending TaPS. It was clear that exposure to other IB students and participation in the professionally run workshops was beneficial. They spoke frequently of sharing knowledge with fellow IB students from a variety of schools and countries, and were aware that they were very much a part of an international community.
The students were generous in their praise and demonstrated a determination to apply the new skills acquired. This is what makes the ISTA experience rewarding. The recognition that one is not working alone in the theatre space, in a world that often seems to value creativity as a useful asset in the quest for product innovation rather than the expression of place and person.
Despite typhoons and the tyranny of distance, we experienced the vital community of theatre. The opportunity to share time with like-minded individuals who share a passion for theatre is an opportunity not to be missed. An opportunity which ISTA provides.