RANGOON — After a weeklong workshop hosted by the Asean Puppet Exchange (APEX), Burmese puppet troupes are hopeful for more cultural integration among Asean members.
From May 9 to 16, over 20 puppet artists and musicians—hailing from Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam—met with their Burmese counterparts in Rangoon to work on the first of three One Asean puppet and music performances this year. This first leg of the program is called APEX-Earth, focusing on heritage, cultural roots and the environment.
“We learned about each other’s different puppetry styles, and we shared our experiences,” said Khin Maung Htwe, head of the local Htwe Oo Myanmar puppet troupe.
Khin Maung Htwe hopes performances will become more common because of the workshop.
“Burmese yoke thay [puppetry, which dates back some 500 years in Burma] has really only been used to develop tourism. However, by looking at the different styles of other countries, I’ve learned that it can also function as contemporary art,” he said.
Khin Maung Htwe said that more regional engagement would be mutually beneficial.
“Vietnamese puppeteers told me that handicapped puppet shows had disappeared in Vietnam [water shows are more popular] but that puppeteers have decided to reintroduce them after seeing the Burmese style of performance. This is a good result from the show,” he said.
Terence Tan, coordinator of APEX, echoed these sentiments, telling The Irrawaddy that he believes that the workshop succeeded in reaching many of its goals.
“When groups share, even for three or four days, their different styles and experiences, they can learn different concepts of music and performance, all while performing for people,” Terence Tan said. “This exchange program focused mostly on Asean integration for puppetry and the industry, and now we can see how people are enjoying this kind of performance.”
The APEX collective consists of over 160 Asean puppet artists and practitioners who have joined together to support the work of Asean artists. Since 2014 APEX has sought to use puppet performances and workshops to help Asean citizens understand and appreciate the rich and diverse cultures, stories and languages of its 10 member states.
“I hope that I can change Burmese puppetry from having to perform with many words to performing with no words, so that everyone can understand,” Khin Maung Htwe said.