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Keynote Speakers

16 July 2024 | 9:00 AM, UP Film Center 

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Milena Grass-Kleiner
Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

Tragedies from the Global South: The Failure of Theatre

The notion of tragedy bears a paradox. On the one hand, historicity permeates tragedy as a cultural device, shifting its characteristics and uses. As a metaphor, tragedy remains out of time and brings together ideas and affects of despair, injustice, and hope, thus creating an efficient sense of commonality. This temporal paradox sustains colonial practices and provides a field to hope for and try other futures. In the Global South, the theatre has sealed a long-standing pact with social justice. In the twentieth-century conflict between Neoliberal Capitalism and Socialism, the theatre was an agent for reinforcing collective ties, enhancing the identity of oppressed communities, denouncing political violence, and helping to restore the social fabric. The overall acceleration brought by the twenty-first-century’s globalized landscape poses new challenges. Decolonization and antihegemonic processes challenge the essence of tragedy's original focus on "the fall of a great man." The emergencies we face require imagining different futures and changing social practices. Like never before, precarity has extended to all levels of planetary existence. A new balance between decentering humanness and exerting individual agency has to be found. As a rebellious child, theatre in the Global South has aimed at changing the world itself; in so doing, it has trespassed the limits of the aesthetic field and probed its agency in the socio-political arena. Moreover, it has failed. Failure, though, is not a tragedy. It provides insights about our weaknesses and strengths, and about the context we live in; most importantly, it tries and stresses the web of changing relations that inform our experience of life. As the site of various urgencies -political, economic, and natural- the Global South has also known remarkable cases of theatre’s failure. This presentation will focus on the notion of the agency of theatre that fuelled these initiatives and how these failures have instilled new, fresher aesthetic practices.

Milena Grass Kleiner. Translator and theatre scholar, Full Professor at the Faculty of Arts, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Former Director of the Theatre School UC, Director of the Millenium Nucleus Art, Performativity and Activism, Senior Researcher at the Millennium Institute for Research on Violence and Democracy, Vice-president of the International Federation for Theatre Research, and member of the National Council for Performing Arts. Leading Chilean directors have staged her Spanish translations of contemporary English, American, and French plays, which have also been published, along with her translations of papers and books on Chilean history and theatre studies. Her main fields of interest are research methodologies in the arts, traumatic memory, post-memory, and theatre in post-conflict societies, the performativity of social mobilization and citizenship, arts, embodied cognition, and cultural democracy. She has recently led the research projects “Regimes of Referentiality in Chilean Theatre 1950-2018” and “Development of an Analytical Research Model on Rock Art using PaR methodologies.”  

17 July 2024 | 4:00 PM, UP Film Center 

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Ong Keng Sen

Queering Tragedy: Unhappy Archives in the Tragedy of the Every Day

Sara Ahmed in her seminal book The Promise Of Happiness (2010) asks “Can we rewrite the history of happiness from the point of view of the wretch?” Ahmed offers an alternative history of happiness by considering those who are banished from it or who enter conventional history only as troublemakers, dissenters, killers of joy (p 28). In particular, she develops the unhappy archive, one that is assembled around the struggle against happiness. An unhappy archive is a queer archive. Its materials articulate unhappiness in relation to the patriarchal history of happiness. For instance, we have been educated to perceive integration in migration positively. In order to begin the construction of unhappy archives “you have to un-see the world as you learned to see it, the world that covers unhappiness, by covering over its cause. You have to be willing to venture into secret places of pain” (Ahmed 2010: 83). What are the lessons from unhappy archives that we can carry into the reimagination of tragedy as a social experience that exceeds the Aristotelian legacy? Leaving behind the classical model of tragedy, how can we draw from unhappy archives to build the tragedy of the everyday that we encounter in our daily quotidian? In the course of his keynote, Ong will draw from his two productions of Trojan Women (2016-2023) and project Salome (2022) as opposite case studies to venture into a Queering of Tragedy.

ONG Keng Sen has been the Artistic Director of Singapore’s T:>Works (formerly known as TheatreWorks) since 1988. He was the founding festival director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) from 2013 to 2017. He founded the international Curator's Academy in 2018, which was hosted by the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin in 2019 - 2022. His productions have been seen in major theatres around the world, the latest being Trojan Women which played at BAM Next Wave Festival in New York in 2022 and Edinburgh International Festival in 2023 to rave reviews. He was the Artistic Director of the Amsterdam-based Prince Claus Funds’ digital 25-hour Festival in 2021 to commemorate its 25 years of existence, as well as its inaugural Biennial Symposium in December 2023 which he entitled “Legacies of Care, Failures, and Emerging Solidarities”.  In 2022, Ong was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Arts London and was the Valeska Gert Guest Professor at Freie University Berlin. Recently, he has been sharing his knowledge with graduate students at Institute of Applied Theatre Arts in University of Giessen, the Norwegian Theatre Academy in Oslo, and University of Salzburg. He was the fellow of National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney in 2023. He holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University.    

18 July 2024 | 4:00 PM, UP Film Center 

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Prof. Tony Fisher
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
United Kingdom

The aim of this talk is to develop a theoretical analysis of tragedy’s politics. The stakes involved in doing so could hardly be higher. We live in a time of cascading global crises, with intractable regional wars an endemic feature of the world, and where intercommunal conflicts and neocolonial predation are increasingly exacerbated by resource scarcity, food and water insecurity, and entrenched inequality – particularly in the Global South – owing to the effects of climate breakdown. Hence at the present juncture, the question of whether tragedy remains adequate for understanding the contemporary state of politics could not be more relevant. At the same time, this question is infused with profound uncertainty as to whether a political theatre is still viable. Everywhere real-life tragedy abounds, yet (for some at least) a tragic conception of the political has never seemed more questionable. What this points to are two key problems, thus two lines of enquiry, which this talk seeks to develop. 

First, there is a need to arrive at a better appreciation of how tragedy relates to politics: if a tragic conception of the political determines tragedy’s politics, then what are its most salient features? How are we to understand the meaning of a tragic politics? And what might such an account offer in terms of elucidating where, when, and why tragic theatres appear at particular times and places? What this analysis requires, or so I argue, is an understanding of tragedy’s contemporaneity. Following Stuart Hall, I argue that tragedy’s contemporaneity entangles it in particular ‘conjunctural’ crises, which it either inflects or expresses, and within whose context it seeks to make an intervention. Tragedy’s politics are thus fundamentally conjunctural – and as such, remain politically ‘committed’. This is nowhere more forcefully encountered than in those tragic theatres that emerged outside of Europe in the struggle for independence from colonial rule, such as Bijon Bhattacharya’s play on the Bengal famine Nabanna (1944), or in the immediate repercussions of independence, in plays such as Aimé Césaire’s A Season in the Congo (1966), where malignant neocolonial forces are at play, or in response to contexts of civil war, such as Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae of Euripides (1973), written in the aftermath of the Biafran War in Nigeria (1969-1970).

By contrast, European theatre, since the 1960s, has become increasingly sceptical of theatre’s capacity to engage in any direct way with political crises. I argue this is an effect of the European conjuncture, which has led theatre to develop into what might be termed ‘post tragedy’ (exemplified by Hans-Thies Lehmann’s attempt to render tragedy in a postdramatic form).  Thus, a second question arises: if a tragic conception of the political determines tragedy’s politics, then what are the politics of ‘post tragedy’? To address this question, I examine the historical origins of post tragedy, tracing them first to the critical relation post tragic theatre establishes to the tragic canon within its European context (e.g. Hamlet Machine), where tragedy was first ‘territorialised’ as European. And second to show how that history binds post tragedy to the following paradox: that although post-tragedy rejects the reactionary character of this project, it fails to escape its philohellenic bias. Hence, for this theatre, tragedy remains quintessentially ‘European’. Moreover, post tragedy’s appeal to the tragic is increasingly framed by the conjunctural inertia of the political situation in Europe post-1989. Post tragedy’s politics can thus be said to have rejected the politics of commitment, embraced by anti-colonial tragic theatres, in favour of a politics that is essentially ‘post political’. 

The talk will conclude by considering where things stand today regarding the prospects of a post tragic but situational, i.e., conjunctural and committed theatre. 

Tony FISHER is Professor of Theatre, Politics and Aesthetics at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, where he is Head of Research Strategy and Culture. He is actively engaged with IFTRs Political Performance working group and has presented to the group over the past several years. He has a long-standing interest in the relationship between the arts, and theatre in particular, and politics and political power, both historically and in contemporary socio-political contexts. His research examines this relationship as a complex and intricate interdependence, often characterized by conflict and ambiguity. He is the author of two monographs The Aesthetic Exception: Essays on Art, Theatre and Politics (Manchester University Press, 2023) and Theatre and Governance in Britain: 1500-1900, Democracy, Disorder and the State (Cambridge University Press, 2017), as well as several edited volumes: Theatre Institutions in Crisis: European Perspectives – coedited with Christopher Balme (Routledge, 2021), Foucault’s Theatres – coedited with Kélina Gotman (Manchester University Press, 2020), Beyond Failure: New Essays on the Cultural History of Failure in Theatre and Performance – coedited with Eve Katsouraki (Routledge, 2019) and Performing Antagonism: Theatre, Performance and Radical Democracy – coedited with Eve Katsouraki (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). He has published numerous essays in journals such as Performance Philosophy Journal, Performance Research, Cultural Critique, Third Text, Continental Philosophy Review, and European Journal of Philosophy.

Contemporary Performance Practices of the “Tragic” in the Philippines

19 July 2024 | UP Film Center 

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Mae Paner
Independent Artist-Activist 

Mae Paner is an award-winning theater and film actor, writer, producer, and director. She was recently recognized by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as one of 2023 Women of Power. 

She started performing with the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA) production and has performed in several productions, from original Filipino plays to world classics, including a few musicals. She has collaborated with various theater companies in Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. She has acted in films, among them the internationally celebrated Lav Diaz opus Norte, the End of History.  In 2017, she won the Cinema One Originals Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in Chedeng and Apple, a comedy directed by Fatrick Tabada and Rae Red. Her advocacy for good governance and social justice gave birth to her alter ego Juana Change (2008-present), a persona that gleefully and scathingly lampooned Philippine society through live performances and over thirty video satires immortalized on YouTube. In 2013 she starred in and co-produced the film Juana C. the Movie (directed by Jade Castro). She starred in Tao Po, four monologues on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. Playing all four characters, Mae has toured with the play all over the Philippines and abroad in Melbourne, Canberra, Geneva, Amsterdam, Vienna, Rome, London, and Berlin. In 2020, Tao Po has migrated to film. She was a political prisoner in 1985 during the administration of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. To this day, she continues to be a creative patriot with an even firmer resolve to continue the fight for social justice in the Philippines. Responding to the challenges of the current times - the Covid-19 pandemic, Mae has volunteered her time and expertise in cooking to KAWAPilipinas a private initiative she co-founded with friends. They  have been cooking meals to feed hundreds of homeless, front liners, persons deprived of liberty, children and seniors with special needs, those affected by natural or man made disasters, urban poor and locally stranded individuals in the city or rendered jobless by the pandemic. Mae, is an artist activist operating from the heart. 

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Roselle Pineda 
University of the Philippines Diliman
and Aurora Artist Residency Program and Space

Roselle Pineda is a multifaceted professional with a background in Art Studies. She holds a BA in Art Studies (Art History) and an MA in Art Theory and Criticism from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Currently, she teaches various subjects in the Department of Art Studies, including Art History, Theory, Performance, Creative Research, and Community Art. As the founder and Artistic Director of the community-based cultural organization, Aurora Artist Residency Program and Space (AARPS) in Dingalan, Aurora Province, located in Dingalan, Aurora Province, Philippines. Additionally, she is the founder and Artistic Director of the Performance Curators Initiatives (PCI), which is an independent network of performance curators in the Philippines with close global links. Her recent projects encompass a range of roles, from curatorial work for festivals and events to directing opera performances. Notably, she curated the Adow ne Domaget Festival in Dingalan, Aurora Province, from 2018-2020; and engaged in dance installations, dramaturgy, and performance research such as in the projects DOCULEKTIV, Con.Currents, Awit ni Pulau and Mahiwagang Hardin. An accomplished researcher, she has published works on community arts in both local and international publications. Her current research interests include ethics in community-engaged creative practices, performance curation, and the development of curatorial principles based on immersion and collaboration. 

She is in the final stages of completing her PhD in Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia, with a focus on ethics in practice-led/art collaboration with Indigenous communities in the Philippines.

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Dessa Quesada Palm 
Youth Advocates Through Theatre Arts

Dessa Quesada Palm joined the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) at age 13, and has since devoted her life in theater as a performer, teacher, organizer, director and playwright. She lives in Dumaguete City and co-creates with the members of the Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA) which she co-founded in 2005. YATTA was declared one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations in 2008 by the National Youth Commission, and was a recipient of the CCP KSSLAP Awards in 2021. She finished AB Economics at the University of the Philippines and her masters in International Relations at the New School for Social Research. Working at integrating theater in education, advocacy and development work and community building, Dessa has conducted theater-based workshops all over the Philippines as well as parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. She facilitated trainings on the nexus of arts and peacebuilding at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute, at the Canadian School of Peacebuilding, and at the African Peacebuilding Institute, and co-wrote chapters for two Routledge publications including the Companion to Theatre and Young People and Educating for Peace through Theatrical Arts. She also sits in the board of Gender Watch Against Violence and Exploitation and IMPACT, a global network promoting the use of arts in conflict transformation. She served as Head of the Committee on Dramatic Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts from 2017-2019, and is currently a faculty at the Silliman University College of Performing and Visual Arts. 

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Eileen Legaspi Ramirez

University of the Philippines Diliman
TUPADA Arts Collective

Eileen Legaspi Ramirez is an Associate Professor of the University of the Philippines Diliman Department of Art Studies. Currently working within UP’s Doctorate in Social Development program in line with research on the understudied plight of labor and potencies of cultural work particularly in the context of site-specific community art initiatives across the Philippines. She continues to work across the fields of criticism and art history. She presently serves as editorial collective member of the journal Southeast of Now:  Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, research advisory committee member of The Flow of History collaborative project between Asia Art Archive and AWARE:  Archives of Women Artists, Research, and Exhibitions, editor of the Cultural Center of the Philippines-Eskinita Art Farm co-publication 13 Artists: Cipher of Stasis and Flux, and Board of Trustee member of Kwago Research and Publishing Lab.  Recent publications include:  “It Takes a Village: Archives Talk Back” in the (Im)possibility of Art Archives by 51personae project and Palgrave MacMillan (2024), “Art in a Solidarity Continuum:  Winnowing Loose Transnational Threads“ in Precarious Solidarities:  Artists for Democracy:  1974-77 by Afterall Research Centre (2023), “Enacting the Possible/Performativity as social activism” in Pathways to  Performance in Contemporary Southeast Asian Art issue of Southeast of Now Volume 6  No 1 March 2022.

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