Theatre professors spend a year in Malaysia
"The actors were always asking me if that's the way I wanted the scene to be played. They would want to know if that's the way I wanted them to do it every time," he said. "I would tell them that that was very interesting but let's keep looking for other answers. In the end, though, they were very open."
O'Connor and Tobolski also were mindful of other Malaysian customs, especially religion. Malaysia is a multicultural country, but Islam is the official religion.
"Religion affects everything from dress to schedules. Sometimes, it was hard to schedule rehearsals around the five daily prayer times," O'Connor said. "The rules of dress are very clear. They weren't applied to us in the theatre, but we were very careful."
"We were very respectful," Tobolski said.
O'Connor and Tobolski spent the year at UiTM at the invitation of Hatta Azad Khan, one of O'Connor's former graduate students at Purdue University, who has served as the artistic director of the National Theatre and now is dean of Faculty of Artistic and Creative Technologies. In addition to being an academic, Khan also is a significant playwright and filmmaker who was declared the Outstanding Writer in Southeast Asia in 2009.
"While we were there, we had the treat of going to their film awards, which is like our Academy Awards, where Khan received the award," O'Connor said.
Beyond offering up their expertise in western theatre, Tobolski and O'Connor studied and worked with many forms of eastern theatre. They attended classes in Wayang (shadow puppet theatre) and co-taught classes in Mak Yong (traditional dance theatre) in mainland Malaysia.
They also experienced many other forms of eastern theatre during their travels in Southeast Asia, including Jegog and Legong (Bali), Khon performance (Thailand), and Water Puppet Theatre, a form unique to Ha Noi, Vietnam.
O'Connor and Tobolski's visit was the beginning of a theatre cultural exchange. They plan a visit to Borneo, Malaysia, where the theatre tradition is that of personal and historic story telling.