Bright possibilities, rude awakenings

The Singapore Drama Educators’ Association (SDEA) Theatre Arts Conference was held in July 2017 in the ArtGround in Singapore. It was attended by artists, scholar-practitioners, teaching artists, and educators from Asia, Europe, and Australia. I was the closest representation that the United States had (I was representing the City University of New York’s Creative Arts Team). I facilitated a ninety minute workshop about the Creative Arts Team’s Early Learning Program’s interactive storytelling. Its attendees were all from Asia and were mostly educators. The session went well and, based on what I remember from the survey results (the website it was on has long since expired), the participants felt they learned something, while there was one comment that pointed out I didn’t introduce anything new, but hearing about the educational environment in New York City was interesting (why is it the negative comment that one remembers in detail?).

But seriously speaking, this Theatre Arts Conference was an incredible experience, not only because it was my first time presenting in a conference ever, but because it was the first time after two years in New York City that I was dialoguing with fellow Asian applied theatre practitioners. Even if we were only together for a few days, I made lasting connections with many of them. (In fact, I met up with one of them in the United Kingdom during New York University’s Study Abroad Program there. I also presented with two of them in the Association for Asian Studies Conference 2018.)

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Details about the AAS Annual Conference 2018 Panel
You can download the PDF here.

The Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Conference 2018 was held in Washington D.C. from the 22nd to the 25th of March 2018. I was part of a session called Cultural Forms for Performing Community-Crossing Identity and Tensions in the Everyday Life with two colleagues I met in the SDEA Conference, namely Hsiao Min Yu from Lingnan University in Hong Kong and Terence Tan from Artsolute Singapore, and Hsiao Min Yu’s colleague, Ge Song. I was a paper presenter and the session discussant.

The conference was held in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel; there were over three thousand attendees from all over the world. I was overwhelmed, to say the least, and extremely nervous. While the SDEA Conference was my first conference, I was surrounded by peers who were, more or less, in a similar discipline; I was sure at least one person would understand me. The AAS Conference, however, covered everything and anything about Asia and was a lot more traditionally academic in tone. I imagined our session would be packed with critical ears and that my presentation about working with Filipino-American children through theatre would be panned.

Imagine my great surprise when there were only two people in the audience for our session. Still, we (Terence, Hsiao Min, and myself—Ge couldn’t make it) made the most of the situation. In true applied theatre fashion, instead of a conventional presentation onstage apart from our audience, we all sat together in the audience area in an intimate circle instead. I shared about my experience as a Philippines-born Filipino teaching artist for The Filipino School of New York and New Jersey.

I didn’t mind this situation as much because traveling from New York City to Washing D.C. wasn’t difficult. However, I was disappointed for Hsiao Min and Terence who prepared their presentations and flew all the way from Asia only to share their thoughts to an almost empty room. My feelings towards the conference didn’t improve either when Terence shared that some of the panels he had attended had scholars, both white and Asian, who fetishized Asia.

Overall, this conference felt too large and too impersonal for me. I don’t see myself participating in it again.

Below are the slides I used for my presentation.

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The Filipino School of New York and New Jersey AAS Presentation
You can download the PDF here.