The Digital Turn in Southeast Asian Theater: New Routes Through a Global Pandemic

Sheela Jane Menon, English, Dickinson College


Southeast Asia and the Transboundary


In Staging Nation, English Language Theatre in Malaysia and Singapore, Jacqueline Lo asserts that “theatrical representation is a practice that intervenes in contemporary history. ‘Doing’ theatre entails more than producing a reflection of society; rather, the act of re-presentation assumes the potential for commentary on and intervention in the ideological reproduction of the nation and its subjects.” Lo emphasizes theatre’s potential as a mediating force, one which actively shapes our past and present. In the midst of this global pandemic, Southeast Asian theatre makers have showcased this dynamism at a moment of social and political crisis. Despite dire conditions, they rallied to reimagine theater in the time of COVID, employing Zoom, social media, online streaming, and virtual talk-backs. In this presentation, I trace how three theatre makers— Jo Kukathas (Malaysia), Sim Yan Yang (Singapore), and Kwin Bhichitkul (Thailand)—designed innovative forms of digital theatre that reconfigured geographic, cultural, and material boundaries. By providing an inside view into these theatre makers’ perspectives, shared during a Facebook Live roundtable hosted by Singapore’s WILD RICE Theatre, I illuminate the creative and critical approaches that guided the digital turn in Southeast Asian theatre. I demonstrate how these artists have circumvented established boundaries for performance and participation; crossed national boundaries in circulation and collaboration; and exceeded the boundaries of form and convention. In charting these new routes, these artists have intervened in urgent conversations surrounding race, identity, and belonging and they have brought global audiences along with them.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |