South Sudan Voice
South Sudan Voice began as a conversation between Malual Deng and his conflict resolution lecturer, Dr Siew Fang Law, and then sessional lecturer, Richard Barber, at Victoria University in 2017. A pilot Dialogue Theatre project facilitated by Pongjit and Richard has led to a 3-year performance program involving ensembles of community actors. The project has sought to promote South Sudanese community agency in addressing issues of justice, racism, inter-generational tensions and family violence through Dialogue Theatre performances in the West, South-East, and Inner Melbourne. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the project has transformed into the Digital Drama Series, Where Are You Now.
The South Sudan Voice project has been funded to deliver a Dialogue Theatre production addressing family violence issues. The Family Dialogue introduces new cast members, Ajak Kwai and Gabriela Georges, joining Malual Deng, Deng Deng and Richard Barber, with Pongjit Saphakhun directing a adapted scenario that explores difficult conversations about family violence issues, with an emphasis on community agency in addressing gender, inter-generational, and systemic factors, mediated through actor-audience dialogue.
The Family Dialogue
Makhampom Study Tours
The Makhampom Study Tour has been at the heart of Free Theatre's ongoing relationship with Makhampom. The midyear program ran annually since 1999, involving over 300 participants from 17 countries. The Study Tour has been an accredited program in the Theatre Media course of Charles Sturt University. The last Study Tour was held in 2019.
The Study Tour program has been a core part of Makhampom's social enterprise program, supporting both Makhampom and its partner community, Pang Daeng Nok. It has seen the development of social circus programs, youth theatre groups, theatre productions, numerous collaborations, and a space to nurture new methodologies.
First Nations Collaboration
In September 2019, Pongjit facilitated a 9-day exchange between the Makhampom Theatre Group and a first nations team led by Kamarra Bell-Wykes as an Asia TOPA initiative. The team of Kamarra, Shiralee, Andrew, and Wiremu joined the Makhampom artists along with the Pateung Ngam and Pang Daeng Nok partner communities in cultural exchanges, workshops, performance improvisations, and time with nature. The exchange involved cultural sharing and understanding of indigenous histories of struggle and discrimination in both countries.
The door is open to future performance collaboration.
Dialogue Theatre workshops of 2-4 days have been held at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute, Singapore Polytechnic, Phoenix Youth Hub, and as part of broader workshops and projects including Blackwrights Masterclass, Respect the Past Embrace the Future, South Sudan Voice, Applied Theatre Toolkit, Art of Radical Listening and the Makhampom Study Tours.
Respect the Past,
Embrace the Future
In this beautiful collaboration with the Respect the Past, Embrace the Future initiative of Hobsons Bay Council in March and April 2019, an ensemble of mothers, teachers, and children explored the challenges of intergenerational cultural gaps. Tow dialogue theatre performances at the Laverton Community Hub transformed stories of migration and identity from Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India and Vietnam into a dialogue around language, cultural adaptation, and multiculturalism.
In October 2018, Free Theatre had the privilege to work with Ilbijerri Theatre in facilitating a 5-day workshop series with 9 first nations theatre workers as a part of the BlackWrights initiative. The workshops, held at Siteworks, began with a large spatial country mapping exercise (including walking personal journeys on country) followed by a personal mapping and storytelling performance process. The Dialogue Theatre workshop involved two ensemble works, drawn on two of the BlackWrights projects in development by Nazree Dickerson and Blayne Welsh, who subsequently performed playreadings at the 2019 Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Through the support of an ArtsMoreland Investment Grant, Free Theatre ran the Applied Theatre Toolkit - Summer Workshop Series at Siteworks from November 2018 to February 2019. The workshop series consisted of four 2-day workshops: 1. Identity Mapping; 2. Image Theatre; 3. Introduction to Dialogue Theatre; and 4. The Art of Peace. The workshops opened up new partnerships and collaborations and led to the formation of the Free Theatre ensemble.
The Applied Theatre Toolkit was also facilitated with Kamarra Bell-Wykes and Shiralee Hood as a workshop process within the Viral project of Ilbijerri Theatre.
In May 2018, Free Theatre performed the Dialogue Theatre production, Stirred Up, in 5 shows to 250 students at University High School. The cast of three teenagers (Deng Deng, Janita Barber, and Amy Corr) performed alongside Pongjit and Richard in a story addressing cross-cultural issues of stereotyping and identity issues. The dialogue with the students introduced some prominent themes: perceptions of racism by both students and teachers; stereotyping of and imposed pressures on Asian students; and common experiences of racism towards students of Muslim and African Australian backgrounds, in spite of the general student pride in the school's diversity and tolerance.
Free Theatre's first public production in Australia was Stir Fry, performed by Adam Forbes, Fia Hamid-Walker, and Ria Soemardjo with Pongjit, Richard, and Janita as part of the Melbourne Fringe 2017 at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. The 2 shows combined live music (Ria's singing, frame drumming, gongs, flute) with Thai dance in a scenario centered on an Australian multicultural events. It offered a critique of Australia's multiculturalism, posing the question as to whether it represented a genuine process of inter-cultural engagement or a mask for systemic racial discrimination, feeding into a dialogue with audiences on stage and in chat circles.
Art of Radical Listening
Free Theatre was commissioned by the cohealth Arts Generator to facilitate a Dialogue Theatre devised work in May-June 2016 for the The Art of Radical Listening workshop program for the City of Melbourne Arts and Culture branch. The production unpacked understandings of white privilege and unconscious bias through a workshop process designed and delivered by young artist facilitators of colour. A second iteration was developed with Free Theatre in 2018.