Keynote Speakers


Huang Changyong

Shanghai Theatre Academy

Huang Changyong, President of Shanghai Theatre Academy, Professor, Doctoral Supervisor; Director of Metropolitan Shanghai Cultural Audit Centre (MSCAC); Chief Editor of Arts Management magazine; Founder and Chief Expert of World Urban Culture Collaborative Innovation Centre; concurrently serving as Professor and Doctoral Tutor of Tongji University, Deputy Director and Member of the Teaching Steering Committee in Art Theory of Higher Education Institutions of Ministry of Education, Vice Chairman of the Arts Management Committee of the National Art Society, Member of the Shanghai CPPCC, Deputy Director of the Learning Committee of the Shanghai CPPCC, and Special Expert in Decision-making Consultation of the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government.

Keynote: "Shanghai: Building Itself into the Capital of Performing Arts in the Process of Modernization"

 There are three parts to my speech. Firstly, I will sort out chronologically theatre’s development in Shanghai concerning its dynamic relationships with the times, the city’s orientation, art policy, and cultural exchange in the history of 170 years since the city opened its port to foreign trade, especially during three important periods: the Concession, when Shanghai was governed by foreign powers; the Republic of China; and a new era after the founding of People’s Republic of China. Secondly, I will focus on the great role of theatre and the performing arts in transforming the city for the purpose of building Shanghai into a metropolis with top-level city planning and clear culture orientation. Then I will look into the similarities and differences in terms of diversification between contemporary theatre in Shanghai and the shows staged on Broadway and the West End, thus exploring the inner spirits embodied deeply in Shanghai culture. Thirdly, I will explain how a theatre art university specially contributes in building the city culture through analysis of artistic troupes and theatre education in Shanghai. For that, I will particularly go deep into the Shanghai Theatre Academy regarding its talent training and the history of theatre and performance. Finally, with the Shanghai Youth Drama Troupe as an example and to conclude, I will share my perspective on the necessary faith and choices we might have to make in our efforts to build Shanghai into the capital of performing arts.



Susan Bennett

University of Calgary, Canada

Susan Bennett is University Professor at the University of Calgary, Canada. She is widely published across a variety of topics in theatre and performance studies including the well-known Theatre Audiences (Routledge 1997). Her recent books include Theatre & Museums (Palgrave 2013), Ivo van Hove: From Shakespeare to David Bowie (co-edited with Sonia Massai, Bloomsbury Methuen 2018) and Theory for Theatre Studies: Sound (Bloomsbury Methuen 2019).  

She is currently working on a book that examines the branding of performance locally, nationally and internationally. This is the project from which this IFTR keynote is drawn.A new research direction plans to re-examine ideas of a ‘global Shakespeare’ by looking chiefly at performances that address social justice and activism as well as the possibilities, through adaptation and translation, for cultural and political change.


Keynote: "Theatrical Cities: Gentrification and the Place of Performance"

How can a city compete in the global marketplace?What makes an urban environment a sought-after destination? How might a city aspire to be ‘world class’? What should be done to revitalize post-industrial neighbourhoods? To answer these kinds of questions, no concept has been more popular or more widely disseminated in the twenty-first century so far than that of the ‘creative city’. 

Contemporary urban planning and design has promoted ideas of the ‘creative city’ as a blueprint for both economic and reputational success. Through discussion of a variety of case studies, this keynote will look at the pervasive development of new cultural infrastructure in our cities as well as the work that live performance does to suggest, achieve and establish new urban identities. In particular, I will examine how neighbourhoods have been transformed from their traditional uses and occupations into explicitly theatrical environments. 






Janet Pillai

University Sains Malaysia

Janet Pillai served as an Associate Professor at the Department of Performing Arts in University Sains Malaysia (until 2013) and founded Arts-ED (2007), a non-profit organization in Penang which provides arts and culture education for young people.

Pillai is currently an independent researcher and resource person advocating for research and development of cultural sustainability. Her specialization is in arts education, community-engaged arts, sociology of culture and creative pedagogy. Her ground work entails research, programming and managing community-engaged projects in partnership/consultation with community, local agencies, artists and professionals.

Pillai has authored three books and numerous articles on arts and culture education and sustainability. She also contributes as expert resource person in organizations such as UNESCO Bangkok, APCIEU Korea and the GETTY Foundation.

Keynote: "Participation and Performativity as an Enabler of Urban Cultural Sustainability"

In Asia today we see an increasing trend among city authorities who capitalize on the instrumental value of arts and culture as a catalyst for the rehabilitation of dilapidated urban sites that have fallen into disuse or for the recovery of community vibrancy. Arts and culture are increasingly used as a strategy to create new commons and attract new communities, who engender new networks and place identity. This keynote presentation discusses how the developing trend of cultural hubs capitalize on the imagination and creativity of artists and also how such initiatives may be challenged by a lack of criticality and sustainability. I present alternative case studies of small-scale art projects that apply dialogical, collective and participatory techniques to plan and rehabilitate spaces and facilitate community building. These alternative cases may be viewed as prototype experiments on how to leverage on the intrinsic and extrinsic value of arts and culture simultaneously and how to employ a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary approach to strengthen cultural sustainability in urban settings.





Kok Heng Leun

Drama Box Artistic Director

Kok Heng Leun is the Artistic Director of the Singaporean theatre company Drama Box, and a prominent figure in both the English and Chinese-language theatres of Singapore. Thus far, he has directed over 80 plays, including Kuo Pao Kun's Spirit PlayForum Theatre Trick or Threat!, HERstory (Singapore Arts Festival 2011), Drift (Singapore Season 2008), It Won’t Be Too Long (Singapore International Arts Festival, 2015) and Manifesto (in collaboration with The Necessary Stage, 2016)

Heng Leun strongly believes in engaging the community in his works to promote critical dialogues about the world we live in. He is one of the most important theatre practitioners in Singapore advocating applied and engaged arts. Also, as one of the most respected Forum Theatre practitioners in Asia, he has ventured into multi- disciplinary applied and engaged arts projects such as Project Mending Sky, which deals with environmental issues, and PRISM, which looks at issues of governance in Singapore. In recent years, Heng Leun has also focused on the issue of end of life. Both Sides, Now is a long-going socially engaged art project (now in its seventh year) using theatre and arts installation, involving the healthcare sector and the community, to explore what it means to live and die well.

In recent years, Heng Leun has been actively advocating cultural exchanges and dialogues among artists and cultural workers regionally as well as internationally. He has also taken up teaching, curatorial and dramaturgical roles in many projects.

Heng Leun also strongly believes in the importance of research and documentation of theatre and performance. In recent years, he has initiated various projects to document and research on Chinese language theatre in Singapore, including SCENES – Singapore's Chinese Language Theatre, a curated festival programme of theatre and exhibitions, a published anthology of contemporary Singapore Chinese language plays and currently a publication on the history of Singapore's Chinese language theatre.

Heng Leun was the Nominated Member of Parliament from 2016-2018, representing the Arts Sector. During his term, he spoke frequently on civil society as well as arts and culture issues in the Singapore Parliament.


Keynote: "In the Open, at the Margin"


Over the last five years, my company Drama Box has been working on two series of long-term participatory arts projects that looks at two different issues. 

The first one is BOTH SIDES, NOW, which is in its seventh year of development, deals with End of Life issues, a topic considered taboo, especially in an Asian society.  The other series, which include projects like IGNORLAND and IT WON’T BE TOO LONG, deals with land issues in Singapore, investigating how the Singaporean government’s urban development and land policy has impacted heritage and our sense of place, and has caused displacement amongst many, especially the disenfranchised.

These projects are about Maruah, the dignity of a person when facing abject deprivation. They are not one-off projects, but are iterated over years, with each iteration providing wonderful insights and research materials for the next iteration, thereby constantly allowing us to deeply understand the issues, allowing us to think critically about possible interventions.

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