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Drama Box connects Asia and Rotterdam by co-hosting virtual International Community Arts Festival

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On 26th and 27th February, local theatre company Drama Box will host a series of programmes such as panel discussions, talks, workshops and showcase, as part of the Mini-ICAF, presented by International Community Arts Festival (ICAF) Rotterdam.

This is the first time ICAF has worked with an arts group in Asia to host a hub within their context, and Drama Box’s Co-Artistic Director Koh Hui Ling sees it as an opportunity to bring focus to community arts and community-based arts work in Southeast Asia.

“There had always been efforts to galvanise the Southeast Asian community-based arts practitioners, such as the inaugural regional conference organised by the Philippines Educational Theatre Association (PETA) in 2014 and subsequently by Arts-ED in Penang in 2016. Due to the lack of resources available for research, it’s not always easy to document and track the growth of cultural based works from around here. Now that we have become more adept at online platforms no thanks to COVID-19, I hope having the Singapore Hub as part of Mini-ICAF will give us the chance to bring socially engaged practices from our region to like-minded comrades in other parts of the world,” says Hui Ling.

Besides a facilitator workshop-lecture led by her fellow Co-Artistic Director Kok Heng Leun, Hui Ling has also invited South Korean veteran artist Chang So-Ik, Singaporean non-profit arts group 3Pumpkins and researchers Janet Pillai and Grace Lee-Khoo to be part of the two-day virtual event.

In 2014, Koh Hui Ling and Drama Box’s Resident Artist Han Xuemei travelled to Rotterdam to attend the International Community Arts Festival (ICAF), which premiered in 2001 and has since brought together community arts practitioners from all over the world.

The 2014 edition, whose theme was “space”, had a big impact on Hui Ling and Xuemei, for whom site-specific theatre was an area of particular interest. Inspired by the breadth of the works that were presented by organisations they’d long admired, such as big hART (Australia), PETA (Philippines) and Bread & Puppet Theatre (United States), they thought how nice it would be if the entire Drama Box team could be there.

The opportunity came in the following edition of ICAF, where the organisers expressed interest in having Drama Box’s inflatable theatre GoLi appear at the festival. In 2017, Drama Box sent its whole team and brought participatory performance, The Lesson, to be performed inside GoLi.

Drama Box has always cherished the connection with ICAF, and is delighted to partner ICAF in this transnational collaboration. At a time when international borders are closed and social distancing present community-based artists with difficulties in carrying on with their practice, it is especially pressing to find new ways of connecting with people who live in different worlds.

Besides the Singapore Hub, ICAF is also presenting programmes from their hub in Rotterdam. Across the two time zones, programmes will be round-the-clock for two days.

The International Community Arts Festival (ICAF) takes place on 26th and 27th February 2021 online. All programmes at Mini-ICAF are free of charge, and for more information, visit their website here

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