Intercultural Theatre Institute

The Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) is an independent theatre school for contemporary artists, offering training in intercultural theatre.1 First established in 2000 as the Theatre Training and Research Programme (TTRP), the school was closed in 2008 and relaunched in 2011 as the ITI.2

The TTRP was founded in 2001 by two theatre pioneers and Cultural Medallion recipients: the late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun, who envisioned a school to address the needs of contemporary theatre in Asia, and the school’s current director, Thirunalan Sasitharan. The cofounders shared the vision to train artistes in classical Asian and Western performance traditions, who would in turn create original, intercultural works.3 Kuo and Sasitharan conceptualised the curriculum and consulted with arts practitioners, scholars and leaders from Asia, Australia and the United States. These included Richard Schnecher and other leading theatre scholars; Professor Yang Shi-peng, then artistic director of the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre; and Stan Lai, the Taiwanese playwright and director.4

Launch and growth of TTRP
Launched in February 2000, the TTRP took its first intake in January 2001. Its campus was located at Creative Technology’s headquarters at the International Business Park in Jurong. The TTRP also received seed funding of S$2 million from Sim Wong Hoo, the founder of Creative Technology. In addition, the establishment of the school was also funded by the Ministry of Information and the Arts (MITA; now Ministry of Communications and Information), the National Arts Council, Lee Foundation, Japan Foundation Asia Centre and Asian Cultural Centre.5 The TTRP sought to integrate arts and technology, so that students could leverage on digital media technology in theatre-making and performance.6

The TTRP’s full-time, three-year programme was the only such intercultural theatre course in the region then.7 The programme included a six-month intensive course on classical theatre forms from India, China, Japan and Indonesia with instructors from those countries.8 While the programme did not offer an accredited degree or diploma, its faculty included China’s eminent acting coach Professor Ma Hui Tian and Malaysia’s experienced actress and voice teacher Leow Puay Tin.9 TTRP alumni includes students from as far as Bolivia and Mexico, and Singapore’s Yeo Yann Yann and Peter Sau.10 The school was temporarily closed after funding halted in 2008.11 During this period, the international alumni formed a collective to stage a play, The Spirits Play, to raise the school’s profile.12

Relaunched as Intercultural Theatre Institute
After a three-year hiatus, the TTRP was relaunched as the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) in 2011. With its practice-based, three-year Professional Diploma in Intercultural Theatre (Acting), the school plugged a gap in the tertiary landscape in Singapore.13 The school is located at Emily Hill at Upper Wilkie Road, within a colonial bungalow compound. It has been the location of its predecessor since 2007.14 In 2013, the ITI was the focus of the international symposium, Research Institute: Interweaving Performance Cultures, organised by Berlin’s Freie Universität.15 In 2019, in honour of businessman Stephen Riady’s S$1 million donation, the ITI named the first chair in performing arts in Singapore – the Stephen Riady Master Chair in Beijing Opera – after him. The donation was the largest from an individual donor to an independent arts organisation.16

In 2008, the ITI organised the inaugural Asian Intercultural Conference on contemporary theatre and intercultural work in Asia, with the theme “Theatre Today: Seeking New Paradigms”. The international conference was attended by leading theatre practitioners and academics from all over the world.17 The second and third editions of the triennial conference were held in 2014 and 2017, in collaboration with the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.18

Nadia Ramli

1. “About,” Intercultural Theatre Institute, accessed 21 May 2021; “Programme,” Intercultural Theatre Institute, accessed 21 May 2021.
2. Nabilah Said, “Tailored to Nurture the Young,” Straits Times, 1 August 2017, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Akshita Nanda, “Artistic Complexity in Simplicity,” Straits Times, 17 March 2016, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Sasitharan Thirunalan, oral history interview by Michele Lim, 22 January 2010, transcript and MP3 audio, National Archives of Singapore (accession no. 003466/5), 129–33; Clarissa Oon, “$1m Grant for Theatre Programme,” Straits Times, 30 September 2000, 73; Jo Tan, “A Class of Its Own,” Today, 15 March 2016, 32. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Arts School Gets $1m for Theatre Programme,” Business Times, 30 September 2000, 9; Paryathi Nayar, “A Commendable Report Card,” Business Times, 15 February 2002, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Clarissa Oon, “Sim Wong Hoo's the Force behind New Theatre Course,” Straits Times, 1 March 2000, 2; Nayar, “A Commendable Report Card.” 
7. Lai Ee Na, “Call of the Theatre,” Today, 8 March 2004, 32; Clarissa Oon, “Coming Out of the Cold,” Straits Times, 2 January 2012, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Nayar, “A Commendable Report Card.”
9. Oon, “$1m Grant for Theatre Programme.”
10. Oon, “Coming Out of the Cold.”
11. Oon, “Coming Out of the Cold.”
12. Adeline Chia, “United in Spirits,” Straits Times, 23 July 2009, 49. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Clarissa Oon, “Theatre Scene Gets a Boost,” Straits Times, 3 September 2011, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Tan, “A Class of Its Own”; Ong Sor Fern, “ITI, Necessary Stage Losing Their Homes, the Substation May Lose Much of its Space,” Straits Times, 20 July 2020. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
15. “Forum in Berlin,” Straits Times, 3 December 2020, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
16 Ong Sor Fern, “A Patron’s Big Gift to the Arts,” Straits Times, 18 October 2019. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
17. “History & Milestones,” Intercultural Theatre Institute, accessed 12 July 2021; Intercultural Theatre Institute, The Inaugural Asian Intercultural Conference 2008. Theatre Today: Seeking New Paradigms 2008 (Singapore: Intercultural Theatre Institute, 2008), accessed 22 November 2021.
18. Intercultural Theatre Institute, Asian Intercultural Conference. New Intercultural Theatre Methods, Techniques and Strategies of Making Contemporary Theatre (Singapore: Intercultural Theatre Institute, 2014), accessed 22 November 2021; Intercultural Theatre Institute, Asian Intercultural Conference. Theatre Wars: Return of the Artist (Singapore: Intercultural Theatre Institute, 2017), accessed 22 November 2021.

Further resources
Cheah Ui-Hoon, “Nurturing Grounds for Budding Stage Talents,” Business Times, 14 October 2000, 20. (From NewspaperSG)

Hong Xinyi, “
Training for Life,” Straits Times, 5 September 2007, 75. (From NewspaperSG)

Huang Lijie, “
Trusting the Critic,” Straits Times, 17 November 2015, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑, 
[郭宝崑珍藏] = [Kuo Pao Kun manuscript collection]. [书信、文件、新闻稿]. 9, 1999-2000. (Call no. RCLOS Chinese C816 KPK-[KPK]).

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑, 
[郭宝崑珍藏] = [Kuo Pao Kun manuscript collection]. [郭宝崑评论、研究]. 3. (Call no. RCLOS Chinese C812.7004 KPK-[KPK]).

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑, 
[郭宝崑珍藏] = [Kuo Pao Kun manuscript collection]. [日记、笔记、排戏、游学、教学、讲义]. 13, 2000–2002. (Call no. RCLOS Chinese 792.02 KPK-[KPK])

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑, 
[郭宝崑珍藏] = [Kuo Pao Kun manuscript collection]. [书信、文件、新闻稿]. 10, 2000–[200?]. (Call no. RCLOS Chinese C816 KPK-[KPK])

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑, 
[郭宝崑珍藏] = [Kuo Pao Kun manuscript collection]. [日记、笔记、排戏、游学、教学、讲义]. 13, 2000-2002. (Call no. RCLOS Chinese 792.02 KPK -[KPK])

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑, 
[郭宝崑珍藏] = [Kuo Pao Kun manuscript collection]. [书信、文件、新闻稿]. 10, 2000-[200?]. (Call no. RCLOS Chinese C816 KPK-[KPK])

Kuo Pao Kun 郭宝崑, 
[郭宝崑珍藏] = [Kuo Pao Kun manuscript collection]. [文章、论文、评论、讲稿、发言稿]. 3, 1998-[2001]. (Call no. RCLOS Chinese C812.7004 KPK-[KPK])

Mayo Martin, “
5 More,” Today, 18 October 2012, 17. (From NewspaperSG)

Ashraf Safdar, “
Playing to the Crowd,” Straits Times, 6 March 2006, 37. (From NewspaperSG)

Lisabel Ting, “
Cloud Messenger by Intercultural Theatre Institute,” Straits Times, 8 August 2014, 8. (From NewspaperSG)

Lisabel Ting, “
Save the Arts – A Fund Raiser,” Straits Times, 1 January 2013, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

Helmi Yusof, “
Experiencing Poetry in Action,” Business Times, 1 August 2014, 27. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at July 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Intercultural Theatre Institute
Theater--Asian influences
Heritage and Culture
Acting--Vocational guidance--Singapore

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