Kady Cheung Cheuk-Ki

Article on IUGTE Conference 2013

by Cheung Cheuk-Ki, Kady - teacher, Chinese Opera performer, writer (Hong Kong)

Are you confident enough to say you know your own culture well? Are you sure you have never misunderstood or had any misconception about a certain culture? The world is changing in a drastic speed. New things, innovations and unprecedented thoughts and ideas pop out from our life every day. We may not aware how our culture shapes us and how people influence their own culture in return. Theatre serves as an excellent media to bring about discussions and reflections on cultures. I had an experience of working with a group of actors from around the world. We talked about our own ‘mountain and river’ and our ‘ancestors’ in a theatre workshop. Some of us just burst into tears when the strong feeling of being part of a country or place came out. We were definitely touched by the word ‘my’. This word is closely related to the self-being and therefore inevitably leads us to think of the question of where ‘I’ come from. ‘Where do you come from’ is not just a question talking about the place you used to live geographically, it in fact represents the ‘root’ of a person. A lot of socialists from around the world criticize the so-called modern education system for lacking the focus of teaching the young generations to have a though understanding about their ‘root’ in cultural sense. To be more accurate, it should not be just a ‘know more about’, it must be an all-rounded knowledge and understanding about their own culture. It is quite sad that if you ask a child where is your ‘mountain and river’, he would be confused by this question because what grow up with this little mind is shopping malls and a commercial world. There is always a good saying in the business world which carries a sense of mockery: ‘The businessmen don’t care about where you come from. They can’t recognize the beauty of your own culture. They just recognize the ‘beauty’ of money!’ This maybe quite true in the real world and people just know how to make fun of this ‘don’t care about’ without recognizing the seriousness and negative consequences of this ignorance and ridiculousness.

The IUGTE Conference is a perfect platform to link up people who work in the performance industry from different cultures.Theatre people are always very generous and are ready to share with other people about their own culture and always welcome people from other cultures to share their own. It is because apparently culture is an excellent topic to be discussed in theatre. As we can see in our IUGTE Conference, the participants use up every minute to talk about their culture and ask questions about others’ culture. Everyone is so enthusiastic. This exchange is valuable and should never stops. The conversations among these people aiming at cultural exchange possess a quality of comparisons in a positive sense. When you ask questions about others’ culture, you would inevitably talk about yours in response. You would very much like to share some characteristics you find worth discussing. So the people who participate in the conversations would find the differences between cultures. Take how people celebrate the New Year as an example. The Chinese would tell you that parents and the elder members of the family would give red pocket money as a blessing to the younger generations as a blessing, special festival food with blessing names will be shared, rituals to the gods and ancestors will be performed and people would visit other families as a blessing. On the other side, western people would tell you they celebrate the New Year by gathering with friends in parties in New Year Eve and have fun. No ritual is for the New Year but they would have some traditional practices in the Thanksgiving Festival instead. Such conversation is so interesting and contributing. We are not interested in drawing a conclusion that which culture is better or worse, all we need to know are the differences. By knowing more about others, you know more about yourself. It is because you would certainly think of ‘why do I need to do this?’, ‘who ask me to do this?’ and ‘what is the meaning of doing all these?’

Can culture be taught or learned? Generally speaking I think it can to some extent. However, if you want to put a culture in a person’s heart instead of just in his head, it is better to let him learn about the culture through his own heart. A culture is formed by beliefs, values, manners, customs, heritage, traditions, language and habits. All these elements decide ‘who you are in a cultural sense. In theatre, these components of culture can be read as signs. Theatre is a perfect place for showing and reading signs. Actors, script writers and directors are always deeply in love of reading, interpreting, transforming and inventing signs. Therefore, theatre provides an excellent environment for people’s minds to undergo the process of contemplation on the culture. Take the notion of ‘healthy food’ as an example. People from different cultures or religions definitely have different interpretations and meanings on this notion. People who eat all kinds of food, vegetarians, vegans, religious vegetarians, people from different religions, people from different ages, etc. can have different meaning for ‘healthy food’. Similarly, when people from different cultures are talking about the same term does not mean that they are talking about the same thing. Therefore, through intercultural theatre, we can know about how other people interpret the same notion and present in different signs. We would on the top priority think of the different meanings of a same notion in respect of cultural value. It is so interesting and inspiring to look at the same thing in others’ perspectives. It is actually a door key to the world and humanity.

So, what should we do to maximize the advantages of cultural exchange in theatre? I believe the first thing is, as artists, we must learn how to love our own culture. If you love your culture, you would think of the ways to preserve it, let more people know about it and its future development. If you can really do this, you are contributing to strengthening the root of your culture. As we know, a lot of traditional cultures are endangered. If the root is not strengthened, that culture may ‘extinct’. Therefore, just take up the mission to analyze the beauty of your culture, use it in your creation of any kinds of performances and archive it systematically. The younger generations of your own culture would be greatly benefited from your effort. Make use of the glamorous beauty of the theatre art then make the passing on of the culture possible. We all know, to preserve a specific culture, education undoubtedly plays a crucial role. However, as mentioned, only teaching and telling the young people verbally they should know and love their own culture may only end up as a brainwash. We should abandon the one direction way of educating people. Instead, make use of the theatre as an interactive way for people to express ideas and make things out. The participations in theatre making, no matter what the position is, script writers, directors, actors, light and sound designers, costumes designers, technical artists…..whoever you are, the chemistry you make between you and the audience has already catalyzing the contemplation of people on the topic of culture. Why don’t we make use of the advantages technology and the abundant resources we have to make things happen? It is totally possible to invite artists from different cultures to arrange workshops, master-classes and even performances in the name of intercultural theatre so that many people can be benefited intellectually as their horizon of art and culture is widened.

Theatre is like a box in which valuable records of human mentality, behaviours, beliefs, practices, and trends of generations can be found. When the whole world is talking about how to make use of our civilizations to improve our life, we should not miss out the qualities and utilization of theatre which can be very inspiring and can create unlimited possibilities. Intercultural theatre is definitely an amazing platform that make people aware of the differences between different cultures, so as to, most importantly, know about their own culture. If all cultures from around the world can be well preserved, people from their own can confidently understand who they are and at the same time, know how to respect others’ culture. By doing this, disputes, distrust, stereotype, misunderstanding and conflicts will not be able to destroy the relationship between people.

The show must go on, so does the passing on of culture.