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Cultural equality: workshop participants explore diversity and overcome disabilities through vocal improvisation workshop

(Provided by the Department of Theater Arts, College of Liberal Arts) Assistant Professor I-Lien Ho of the Department of Theater Arts, NSYSU, in collaboration with Kong Performance Experimental Field artist Yi-Chun Chen, and Jia-Feng Hsu as assisting coordinator, planned a series of events promoting cultural equality. Vocal artist and art therapist Hui-Sheng Chang, running Ting Shuo Hear Say art space in Tainan, was invited to conduct one of the events of the series – “Shades of silence”, an experimental vocal improvisation workshop. The participants represented different social groups; they reflected on their relationship with their voices, relaxed, and opened their minds. One of the participants considered voice as an instrument of emotional expression; some were not familiar with their own voices, while others live in a silent world but all built new interpersonal connections through their voices.

The participants of the workshop included inter-college students studying two courses of the Master Program in Arts Management, Department of Theater Arts, NSYSU: Producing Performing Arts, and Theatre and Performance Art into Urban Everyday, as well as members with disabilities and artists of a local art group – Kong Performance Experimental Field. They stood on the spiral staircase of the Fine Arts Building and transmitted their voices to other participants over the staircase, from the top to the bottom and vice versa, making full use of the building’s characteristics, experimenting with their voices to explore their perception of everyday life space.

One member of the Kong Performance Experimental Field, together with two to three NSYSU students improvised together to produce different sounds and limb movements, express their state of mind in the spur of the moment with their arms, legs, and voices, and connect with other. Even though some participants struggle with physical disabilities, such as hearing impairment or autism, they could successfully express their feelings with voice, stimulate each other, and search for diverse ways of communication. Artist Hui-Sheng Chang guided the participants to enjoy and build one’s relationship with voice, stimulated their imagination through improvisation, and explored unusual vocal expression to unfold their multiple selves.

“When I was five, my world became silent”, said a participant with hearing impairment. Hearing aid became one more communication tool besides sign language, as it lets her hear more sounds. During the workshop, she worked with a teacher on her side, who let her feel the vibrations of the throat and vocal cords, guiding her to relax and produce voice. Fourth-year student of the Department of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, NSYSU, Tzu-Chen Li said she was at complete loss at the beginning when asked to do a ten-minute improvisation but having seen the teacher’s performance let her discover a way to do it. The participants could use the space for diverse expression, with arm and leg movements, voice, and interaction. “It feels as if something inside me got turned on”, said a second-year student of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, NSYSU, Chia-Fang Li, who lost the sense of awkwardness with the first movement. At first, she was examining others’ voices and thought that physical limitations might impede the participation of the disabled attendees, but the teacher working with the participant to feel the throat vibrations left a long-lasting impression on her. When interacting with people with disabilities she felt incredible endurance.

Cultural equity workshops will take place in September. I-Lien Ho hopes that this platform for artistic creation will help people to get out of their comfort zones and spur their imagination. The event was possible thanks to the support of the projects of the R.O.C. Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education. The workshop is an attempt to connect National Sun Yat-sen University with local artists’ groups and citizens with disabilities, create an environment for artistic creation and interaction of the students with people from different social groups.

(Edited by Public Affairs Division)
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