Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022463410000287
Title: Testimony, trauma and performance: Some examples from Southeast Asian theatre
Authors: Waterson, R. 
Issue Date: Oct-2010
Source: Waterson, R. (2010-10). Testimony, trauma and performance: Some examples from Southeast Asian theatre. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 41 (3) : 509-528. ScholarBank@NUS Repository. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022463410000287
Abstract: This paper is a reflection on a number of theatre performances held in Singapore, each of which probed problematic or traumatic historical events occurring either in Singapore itself or in other parts of Southeast Asia. These avant-garde performances were inspired by or built around actual testimonies of individuals in ways which, for this author, suggest a striking fluidity in the boundaries between testimony and performance, one that raises difficult questions about performance ethics and the processes by which collective memories are shaped. The plays also made use of visual media: one had been recorded on video while others incorporated photographic and video materials into the actual performance. At the time I witnessed these plays, I had already become interested in the way that, over the course of the twentieth century, documentary films had come to play an increasingly important role in the recording of testimony concerning traumatic events. 1 Testimony on film, I have argued, functions simultaneously as evidential trace, and as performative event. Films of testimony develop their own trajectories as they enter into the realms of public remembering. They preserve and extend the record of personal experiences, thereby adding them to the pool of collective memory about an event. Theatrical performances, too, develop their own trajectories through repetition, as Marvin Carlson's statement (cited above) suggests. But what exactly might be different when testimony is performed as drama before a live audience? What are the purposes of such performances, and what might be their possible effects upon both participants and audiences? Is the trace left by a live theatre performance inevitably more ephemeral than those captured on film, or might it be in some respects even more powerful? These are some of the questions I raise - without necessarily being able to present definitive answers - in what follows. I conclude by arguing that in the Singapore context, because censorship laws place very specific constraints on the making of documentary films with openly political content, in recent years theatre has been able to offer a slightly greater space than film as a medium for critical reflection. How theatre directors and actors have tried to use this space is a subject correspondingly deserving of our close attention. Copyright © The National University of Singapore 2010.
Source Title: Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
URI: http://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/52483
ISSN: 00224634
DOI: 10.1017/S0022463410000287
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