Catherine Simmonds Asialink Theatre Residency, 2011-2012.

Melbourne based theatre director Catherine Simmonds worked in Timor-Leste with MHI as an Asialink resident between July 2011 and February 2012. The major achievement of her project was a community theatre performance Afi Kultura: Storia Lafane Mamene Jejene (Our Culture: Many Different Stories), which re-presented traditional ratu (clan) stories from the Lautem district. The show brought together lia-nain (cultural leaders), expert women weavers and 40 young performers from local performing arts group Sanggar Haburas.  This performance was unique in many ways. It was the first time that ratu stories had been performed through the medium of theatre, the first time that six different ratu had shared their stories in public and the first time that the local community has ever heard these stories together. It was also the first time that the telling of the ratu creation stories had ever been accompanied by another art form and the first time that many people in the community had ever witnessed live theatre.

Feedback from both the audience and performers was very positive, like this comment from a youth worker in the audience: “This performance was very important for our community. When we learn more about our culture, our culture teaches about what is right, and what my rights and my responsibilities are to live in the community.”   The project was documented by ABC TV and was shown several times on ABC 1 and ABC 3.  Watch this short documentary Preserving Timor's Ancient Tales.

Catherine's residency included significant opportunities for professional development through theatre. To kick off the Our Culture: Many Different Stories project, youth theatre company Nafo Fila from the district of Ainaro visited Lospalos for a week of learning exchange with Sanggar Haburas. The exchange was highly successful. One young participant commented: “The experience I got from this project was like a miracle. We had to be very patient and then we learned a lot.”

The first activity of the project  was a weekend intensive workshop Engaging Communities Through Theatre, run in partnership with Ba Futuru as part of Victoria University's conference Knowledge,Attitudes and Skills. Activities assisted participants to use theatre as a way of connecting the community and identifying and exploring issues through a creative process (Workshop Flyer English, Workshop Flyer Tetun).  The  last days of the residency Catherine provided training in community theatre-making to staff from disability group ASSERT and peace-building organisation Ba Futuru. She was also keynote speaker at a public forum on community theatre organised by MHI.  Other speakers including Ba Futuru theatre workers, Sanggar Haburas' Founding Director Kay Gandara de Jesus, and senior artist Alo from Nafo Fila. The speakers' descriptions of and ideas about their work provoked lively discussion from the 40 people who attended.  

MHI thanks Catherine and her son Luca who worked as camera-man for their excellent work on this project. We also thank Asialink for funding Catherine's residency, the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste and the Ministry of Education, Lautem District, for their invaluable support. 

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