Soseh Yekanians – (Re)discovering Sense of Self Through the Theatre


Soseh Yekanians

Charles Sturt University

(Re)discovering Sense of Self Through the Theatre

Records of dramatic conception and theatrical performance have co-existed since the time of ancient Greeks and continued during medieval Europe, Tudor England and the France of Louis XIV. And yet, whilst no one knows for certainty the “true” origins of theatre, we can assume that, like most of civilisation, it arose from Africa via rituals and storytelling traditions. But what was its purpose?

In the distant past, theatre was used more as a way to help express the ritualistic ways of daily life by creating stories and myths that people could reflect upon and live by. As theatre made its way through history, we saw its purpose change. French theatre director and playwright Antonin Artaud (1958) for instance, held the belief that theatre should represent reality and affect the audience as much as possible by representing daily ritualistic life. In this way, Artaud believed that audiences would become involved with the action of the theatre and, as a result, would experience theatre (and in turn life) in all its pleasure and cruelty and transform its results back into their everyday lives. Similarly, American theatre director Anne Bogart (2001) echoed theatre’s transformative power and regarded it as a unique art form because of its potential to initiate great change. 

Yet, according to some literary sources, the definition of theatre seems simpler than this. Theatre is merely “the activity or profession of acting in, producing, directing, or writing plays, in a building or outdoor area in which plays, and other dramatic performances are given” (Pearsall & Hanks, 2010). Whilst, I do not disagree with this definition, this paper will discuss why theatre is much more than simply an activity one partakes in to (re)present or (re)enact a performance. By probing into my own struggles with cultural displacement and loss of identity and then, (re)discovering my sense of Self through the theatre, I will highlight its uniquely transformative power whose intimate and synergetic processes enable its personnel to come together, to celebrate differences, allow for individual expression but the most importantly, allow for the opportunity to examine these complex matters in a nonjudgmental space. 

Dr Soseh Yekanians is a graduate from the Australian Academy of Dramatic Art in Sydney and the Atlantic Theater Company Acting School in New York. In 2012, she was awarded an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship to embark on a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in Perth. Her research investigated how theatre directing and the performing arts could provide a culturally displaced individual with a sense of identity and belonging. Dr Yekanians’ practice-led study, specifically provided new insights into how theatre directing allows an individual to (re)discover their identity through leadership in a non-judgmental forum and how the theatre as a space for communal exchanges and conversations can initiate dialogue about cultural differences. Following her doctorate, two major career highlights have been the publication of her children’s literature book, The Special Team Elite and her revised thesis titled, Finding Identity through Directing, which was recognised by world leading academic publisher Routledge.

Tessa Rixon, Anthony Brumpton, Carly O’Neill – Creating Virtual Space for Undergraduate Production Artists: Reimagining theatre production pedagogy online in response to COVID-19


Tessa Rixon, Anthony Brumpton, Carly O’Neill

Queensland University of Technology

Creating Virtual Space for Undergraduate Production Artists: Reimagining theatre production pedagogy online in response to COVID-19 

This presentation will demonstrate how virtual theatre productions act as spaces of transformation within Production Arts pedagogy while strengthening students’ agency over creative processes. In face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with the shutdown of the Australian entertainment industries and the wholesale shift to online modes of delivery within tertiary institutions, the training of undergraduate Production Artists is uniquely situated to adapt through experimentation with online processes. This presentation will explore the pedagogical approach adopted by Queensland University of Technology academics within the Technical Production degree to create virtual spaces for the training of Production Artists. The Production Arts refers to the industry of practitioners who apply specialised design, technical and management skills in the collaborative process of realising live performance, encompassing managers, technologists, designers, operators, and others working behind or beside the scenes to create theatre. 

This presentation will analyse the pedagogical model developed for QUT’s Technical Production degree to shift highly practical, studio-based pedagogy into the online space. Focusing specifically on the newly-created Virtual Theatre Production (VTP) Project – a collaborative project which transfers productions online and involves second and final-year students, seasoned industry professionals, directors and production managers – we will case-study a new approach to training Production Artists in this time of global transformation. The VTP Projects shift normal production processes into the virtual space using 3D modelling software, lighting visualization, vision content presentation, 3D costume render techniques, videoconferencing and live streaming. 

This study will demonstrate how our approach to Production Arts pedagogy grants greater agency to undergraduate students to reimagine their own creative, technical and management processes and products. We establish how these virtual spaces of transformation facilitate social engagement amongst the student cohort, supporting creative encounters in the face of this recent global pandemic.

Tessa Rixon (née Smallhorn) is a practitioner-researcher with a focus in digital scenography and interactive systems in live performance. As a Lecturer in Scenography in the School of Creative Practice with the Queensland University of Technology, Tessa lectures in performance design, computer-aided design and performance technologies. Tessa’s research promotes new modes of integrating established and emergent technologies such as motion capture, Augmented and Virtual Reality systems into live performance; exploring the symbiosis of interactive technology and embodied performance practice; and showcasing Australian performance design practice and histories.

Anthony Brumpton is a Lecturer in the School of Creative Practice at Queensland University of Technology. His professional practice and research investigates augmented aural realities (AAR) through the lens of Aural Scenography as an approach for inclusion, placemaking and environmental awareness. His teaching fields include technical production, sound design and intermedial theatre. Anthony has over 20 years professional experience in the fields of music, sound and technical production, having created hundreds of creative works across Australia and internationally. Anthony currently resides in Queensland, Australia on the land of the traditional owners the Gubbi Gubbi.

Carly O’Neill is the Lecturer in Stage Management within the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Technical Production) at QUT. She has 20 years’ experience as a professional freelance stage manager working across most live performance genres, with particular specialisations in classical and contemporary music, and ballet and contemporary dance. Carly was the Senior Stage Manager at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre from 2004 – 2013 and has extensive regional, national and international touring experience. Carly has been the lecturer in stage management at QUT since 2009 and is currently the Study Area Coordinator for the BFA (Technical Production) and continues to freelance as a stage manager and show-caller. Her research explores the career transition experiences of female stage managers in Australia.

William Peterson – Creating Dance on “The World’s Smallest Stage”


William Peterson

Flinders University

Creating Dance on “The World’s Smallest Stage”

The advent of the Covid-19 virus has imposed extreme challenges for the creation of new dance works. Dance is fundamentally an expression of embodiment, reflecting culturally encoded patterns of movement and bodily practices, and typically created and rehearsed in spaces where direct physical contact between the choreographer and individual dancers is both possible and necessary. Indeed, this contact is at the core of virtually all original contemporary dance creation and in its duplication and dissemination. In such a disciplinary practice then, the physical distancing requirements imposed in many parts of the world by COVID-19 would appear to put an end to the possibility of choreographing new work, barring not only bodily contact between the choreographer and the dancer, but even the co-presence of the choreographer and dancer in the same enclosed space given the health risks associated with practices that involve extremes of exertion and respiration. 

The larger challenge, that of unemployed performing artists all over the world and locally, presents not only a cultural, but a human tragedy. The State Government of South Australia has stepped into this space of increased precarity with a project-driven scheme designed to keep performing artists employed. The Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre secured such funding in May 2020 for a dance project entitled “The World’s Smallest Stage,” which paired ten local choreographers with company dancers to work remotely in creating short works of 5-8 minutes to be contained within a two meter square space.  Drawing on data from interviews with dancers and choreographers, this research seeks to identify discoveries made that responded to the extraordinary challenges of this mode of choreographic production, while also seeking insights into the internal, embodied experience of the dancers and choreographers as they worked in this novel way.

William Peterson is Associate Professor of Drama and Research Theme Leader in Creativity at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Author of Asian Self-Representation at World’s Fairs (Amsterdam University Press 2020), Places for Happiness: Community, Self, and Performance in the Philippines (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016), and Theatre and the Politics of Culture in Contemporary Singapore (Wesleyan UP, 2001), Will’s academic publications have largely focused on religion, dance and theatre in the Philippines, mass events, English-language theatre in Singapore, Maori and Pakeha theatre in Aotearoa/New Zealand, international arts festivals, and interactions between Asia and the West at international expositions.

Xiaohuan Zhao – ‘Harmony in Diversity’: A Compartmentalist Approach to the Three Teachings in Mulianxi


Xiaohuan Zhao

University of Sydney

‘Harmony in Diversity’: A Compartmentalist Approach to the Three Teachings in Mulianxi

This paper has two subjects: the ‘unity of the Three Teachings’(sanjiao heyi), which  is often described as most characteristic of the Chinese religious system; and Mulian drama or Mulianxi, which is the oldest and greatest Chinese ritual drama that has been staged for more than nine hundred years since its first recorded performance in the Song dynasty (960-1279). The first concern questions whether the Three Teachings (Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism) were syncretised into a unitary belief system in imperial China as literally suggested by this Chinese term, and the second questions whether Mulianxi is a syncretic product of the Three Teachings.

In this paper, I re-examine the conception of sanjiao heyi from a perspective of compartmentalism proposed by Timothy Brook (1993). I argue that sanjiao heyi is not a syncretic product but instead a compartmental process and that Mulianxi is not a syncretic product, either, but a perfect compartmental gestalt of the Three Teachings. My arguments are based on a critical review of imperial discourse on sanjiao heyi and also on a close analysis of Mulian Rescues His Mother: A Play Text Newly Compiled to Exhort Goodness (Xinbian Mulian jiumu quanshan xiwen), the oldest dated surviving text of Mulianxi that consists of a 104-scene play in three volumes written in the southern style of chuanqi (marvel drama) by the Ming dynasty playwright Zheng Zhizhen (1518-1595). 

Keywords: the Mulian drama, syncretism; compartmentalism; Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, the Unity of Three Teachings or sanjiao heyi

ZHAO Xiaohuan received his PhD from the University of Edinburgh. He had taught at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland and Otago in New Zealand before joining the University of Sydney in Australia, where he is Associate Professor of Chinese Literary and Theatre Studies. He publishes extensively in the fields of Chinese literature, culture and theatre with a specialist focus on ritual, religion and theatre. His most recent book is Drama, Fiction and Folk Beliefs (Shanghai: Fudan University Press, 2018). He is now engaged in a Routledge book project on Chinese temple theatre.