Woman and the Changing World on Alternative Global Stage: Sixth Women Playwrights International Conference: Manila, 14-20 November 2003

Article excerpt

This review focuses on the sixth Women Playwrights International (WPI) conference and festival, held in Manila, Philippines, in November 2003. Through a discussion of how the WPI festival both interrogates and stages a mainstream international festival, the review explores alternative global theater and its relationship to questions of gender and geopolitics. The article focuses on examples from the work of artists of Asian ethnicity or descent that were featured in the conference.

Lucy Burns was a UC President's Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She teaches at UCLA's Departments of Asian American Studies and World Arts and Culture. Burns is a dramaturge interested in community-based theater projects, and her research interests include Asian American performance, feminist and postcolonial theories, and Filipino Studies. She is currently working on a manuscript on the Pilipino performing body.

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The Women Playwrights International (WPI) held its sixth conference, "Women Making Theatre in a Changing World," in Manila, Philippines, 14-20 November 2003. Two hundred delegates from all over the world attended the gathering. The mood of the festival was celebratory. Thai playwright Kulthida Maneerat commented that the festival felt "more like a reunion of old friends." Women Playwrights International has existed since 1986. Every three years, the conference/ festival is held "to further the work of women playwrights around the world by promoting their works, encouraging and assisting development of their work, and bringing international recognition to their work" (http://web.mit.edu/mta/iwp/). The WPI event provides a site for global arts exchange between women playwrights and offers an alternative to most international festivals where the works of women playwrights, feminist themes, and feminist aesthetics are often marginalized. Through a gender-based, transnationalist focus, WPI continually seeks to record and to create change. Given the centrality of Asia at the conference, this article focuses on the works of Asian artists.

The conference theme of women in a changing world highlights some thematic concerns of contemporary women's drama: calls for liberation, rising terrorism, shifting and contested national boundaries, and the formation and dissolution of states. In her address, playwright/ director Dijana Milosevic, for example, raised a quandary about how to identify her "country" of origin: Yugoslavia? Serbia? Montenegro? The country formerly known as Yugoslavia? Names of countries may change but the stories told on stage by artists such as Milosevic remember and embody the afterlife of war. Her theater project Art Saves Lives, which has taken the form of a festival since 1993, creates a network for artists exploring the role of art in sustaining and recreating life after the ruins of war and corruption. Her work with this project and her theater laboratory, Dah (Breath) Theatre, shows the continuation of life in war-torn states when U.S. aid has left and corporate media have moved on to another sensationalized war story.

The crisis of contested territories, of a "changing world," forces and inspires theater artists such as Milosevic to rethink compositions that are constituted around the model of "nations" and the fixity of gender norms. Simply raising questions and stating the fragmented nature of nation-states or gender construction will no longer suffice. While I discuss some of the individual performances presented and plays read, I wish to highlight some of the larger issues the event posed about the place of non-Euro-American work in the canon of contemporary women's performance, and the significance of site, programming, language, and ethnic explorations in structuring the event. To understand the organizational transformation the WPI attempted by meeting in Asia and the predominance of works by Asian artists in the festival programming, I need to briefly consider the genealogy of international festivals and the ways the WPI festival simultaneously questioned and replicated normative festival structures. …