NEH Faculty Development Workshops: “Asian Culture Through Theater” was held at the University of Redlands, during the spring semester, 2006. The first workshop was scheduled for February 3-5, 2006, with Professor Leonard Pronko (Pomona College) and Professor Carol Sorgenfrei (UCLA), while the second workshop was scheduled for March 10-12, 2006, with Professor Betty Bernhard (Pomona College) and Professor Kathy Foley (UC Santa Cruz).
25 participants were selected from a large pool of applicants. They came from 15 primarily undergraduate institutions in nine states. Although the majority of participants are from the U.S. Southwestern region, some traveled from as far as Alaska, Georgia and Pennsylvania. They also represented a wide range of discipline in humanities, including theater, literature, cultural studies, history, religious studies, music, cultural anthropology and education.
Over all, workshops were a great success, thanks to our wonderful presenters, who generously shared their knowledge and expertise in Asian theater with us, and the participants who traveled all the way to Redlands twice during the semester and actively engaged in workshop activities.
Workshop I: Traditional Japanese Theater (detailed schedule)
The first workshop on traditional Japanese theater took place from February 3-5, 2006. Professor Sawa Kurotani (University of Redlands) served as the workshop coordinator. On the first day of workshop, Professor Pronko and Professor Sorgenfrei provided historical and cultural background to three major traditional theaters: noh, kabuki and bunraku. They also examined the cross-fertilization that took place between these three theater forms, and considered cultural and religious values represented in them. In the evening, Professor Pronko gave a keynote speech on the comparative analysis of western and non-western theater, entitled, “From Dinner Theatre to Theatrical Feasts,” which provided a broader scholarly context to the significance of this workshop series.
On the second day of workshop, Professor Sorgenfrei gave a presentation on the significance of traditional theater in today’s Japan, including its impact on contemporary theater and fusion theater. In the afternoon, Professor Pronko led us in the physical exercise of kabuki movements. This presentation was extremely useful in allowing participants to engage in experiential learning, to understand, not only in our minds but also in our bodies, how kabuki, and more generally Japanese theater arts, is based upon a very different conception of beauty, gender differences, and class distinction, as we attempted to portray these conceptual distinctions through physical movement.
The last day of workshop was dedicated to processing the learning experience of the first two days and considering how the contents of this workshop may translate into curricular enrichment. Participants spent 45 minutes in small breakout groups, brainstorming how their newly acquired knowledge of traditional Japanese theater may change their teaching in their particular pedagogical context.
Workshop II: South and Southeast Asian Theater (detailed schedule)
The second workshop on South and Southeast Asian theater, with a focus on India and Indonesia, took place from March 10-12, 2006. Professor Karen Derris (University of Redlands) served as the workshop coordinator. On the first day of the workshop, Professor Bernhard spoke on the theater tradition of India. The morning session focused on basics of Indian theater, including religious themes, narrative structure, symbolism and movement. In the afternoon, we further explored the significance of theater in today’s Indian culture, with a particular emphasis on theater as a form of social commentary and protest.
The second day of the workshop began with the presentation by Professor Victoria Lewis (University of Redlands), who introduced teaching resources for Asian theater that were available to U.S. educators, and suggested some creative use of popular visual material to teach Asian theater to undergraduate students.
Professor Lewis’ presentation was followed by stimulating sessions on Indonesian theater by Professor Foley. In her first session on masked theater, Professor Foley focused on the importance of archetypes in Indonesian theater and the cosmological significance of numbers. In her second session, she continued to discuss Indonesian puppet theater and emphasized the flexible ways in which it has adapted to contemporary social settings and modern needs. Participants were encouraged to take part in the sample performance , through which they were able to learn first-hand how archetypes not only inform the performance and narrative structure, but also influence social interaction in Indonesian culture more broadly.
The final day of the second workshop was set aside for the concluding workshop to reflect on the outcomes of two workshops, and start thinking about concrete ways in which these outcomes can be utilized in specific teaching situations. Participants formed three focus groups according to their teaching needs: 1) “Introduction to Non-Western Theater” group; 2) “Introduction to Humanities” group; and 3) “Introduction to Asian Civilization” group. While each group identified unique challenges and creative solutions for these different types of courses, several common themes emerged.
First, the inclusion of or focus on Japanese, Indonesian and/or Indian theater will significantly increase the cultural diversity of curricular contents in all these category of courses. More specifically, the diverse cultural values, beliefs and worldviews that are represented in these different theater forms create an opportunity for students to consider a variety of ways in which culture and history impact human experience.
Secondly, all groups pointed out the importance of experiential learning through the study of physical movement and participation in performative exercises, and how beneficial it would be to incorporate such a component in our teaching.
Finally, development of teaching resources was identified as a critical factor in future curricular development. While the material used in this workshop series and the list of Asian Theater teaching resources presented by Professor Lewis provided a good starting point, there are many other resources to be explored.