Anthony Evans is the Program Development Manager at Epic Arts, a UK-based organization with active groups of artists in Cambodia and China. As their website says, “Epic Arts is an inclusive arts organisation that brings together people with and without disabilities.”
Anthony is originally from the UK and has been working as part of the Senior Management team at Epic Arts Cambodia for the past year. He has worked in community arts, arts education and theatres throughout the UK, fulfilling various roles including producer, project manager and director.
FCC: What is the history of Epic Arts? How and why did the organization come together?
Anthony: Epic Arts has been working in Cambodia since 2001 when community dance artist Katie McCabe started working with small groups of disabled people in Phnom Penh. In 2003 she moved to Kampot and started working in what is now known as ‘The Epic Arts Cafe’. As the projects participants grew Hannah Stevens (now with Amrita Performing Arts) was appointed as Director and worked with AusAid and the Australian Red Cross to build the Epic Arts Centre in Kampot in 2009.
Since then, the Epic Arts Centre has been delivering education projects to people with both physical and learning disabilities. 2013 saw Epic introduce their new Inclusive Arts Course that encourages deaf, disabled and non-disabled people to work together, creating advocates for the future and promoting the message that EVERY person counts.
FCC: At what point did Epic Arts come to Cambodia and the history of the café?
Anthony: The cafe opened in 2006 as a social enterprise that carried the same message as the arts programs. It is an example of an inclusive working environment and demonstrates that deaf, disabled and non-disabled people can work together and contribute to society equally. In 2013 it was refurbished to include a new upstairs seating area and gallery space. As the arts centre is situated outside of Kampot we wanted the cafe to demonstrate and showcase more of the work that was being produced at the centre, so we created a gallery upstairs. The food and coffee are great, it has a great relaxed vibe but it’s full of energy and art work too!
FCC: Who’s involved in Epic Arts Cambodia? How do you share your ideas, and recruit volunteers/participants/performers?
Anthony: Many of our staff are either graduates from our own education programs or they are parents of students who have been actively involved with Epic Arts over the years. Our students are often recommended to us from other NGOs or Schools. We tend to find that people learn differently and some people do not fit into a strict academic education system like the ‘teacher and blackboard’ style taught in many Cambodian education settings. Some people prefer to be creative, or practical, caring or imaginative and Epic Arts help them use these skills to create opportunities for themselves. We see many people come to Epic with a ‘this person is hard to teach’ reputation but often when they arrive they thrive in the environment Epic provides. We try to visit our partners’ NGOs and disabled people organisations regularly to try to locate students who we feel have ‘Epic DNA’. These can be deaf, disabled or non-disabled people.
FCC: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the Epic Arts performance team in Cambodia and past projects you’ve done?
Anthony: Epic dancers have been performing in Cambodia for quite some time; however, we wanted to take the graduates from the education program in 2012 and needed a way of creating (and justifying) these posts. By increasing the amount of performances, offering workshops and developing an understanding of the power of theatre in education we developed ‘Epic Encounters’ Dance company, the first fully inclusive dance company in South East Asia.
FCC: Epic Arts was featured at OurCityFestival 2014 in Phnom Penh. Was that your first introduction to the Mansion? How did that go?
Anthony: We had a wonderful time performing at Our City Festival, the event was exciting and we were very happy to be a part of it. The Mansion was a stunning venue and our Epic dancers enjoyed performing their work in front of the building for two days. The whole Epic team looked at all the exhibitions and we particularly liked the one that displayed designs for a transport system in Phnom Penh. The Epic dancers are looking forward to performing at this prestigious venue in the city again.
FCC: What can audience members expect from Epic Encounters? Can you offer a preview of what this show’s about? Will there be any differences between the Phnom Penh show and the Siem Reap show?
Anthony: Epic Encounters will be performing three pieces at both the Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap venues. There is a mixture of work, starting with ‘Future Flight’, which is a classic in the Epic Encounters repertoire. This piece uses crutches as a prop and it involves breath-taking balances using the crutches alongside a traditional Khmer love story.
The second piece is a new piece that was created this year, called ‘Sit With Me’. The act of sitting is universal and creates a state of equality. Using a chair as the starting point, this piece explores the act of sitting: how we sit, when we sit, and on what. The piece examines various relationships that occur when people sit together; moments of harmony, when we are comfortable to be in close proximity, and conflict when of another person invades our personal space.
The third and final piece Epic Encounters will perform is its new educational performance piece, ‘MOTO MOTO’. It is estimated that 4 people die every day in Cambodia from moto- related accidents. Speeding, drunk driving, and lack of road awareness account for a number of these accidents, but the most common cause of fatality is the lack of helmets worn by drivers and passengers. This piece was created in response to this problem and aims to educate and encourage the use of helmets and raise awareness of road safety issues. Devised using physical theatre techniques, the story follows the interactions of a group of friends and the consequences of their actions.
FCC: What’s the long-term plan for the organization? Anything on the horizon and to look forward to later this year?
Anthony: In 2013 the management at Epic changed from a directorship to a Senior Management Team (SMT) lead by Onn Sokny who was deputy to the previous Director, Hannah Stevens. It was a move that meant each member of the SMT could focus on develop in different areas. My role on the SMT as Program Development Manager means that I work to expand the work Epic does in each programme area. This has included developing the idea of educational theatre at Epic Arts. This has been extremely effective in teaching people in Cambodia about important issues such as road safety and health awareness through the arts.
Epic Encounters was recently commission to deliver over 40 performances and workshops, with a health awareness theme, around Cambodia by GIZ. The performances crossed the boundaries of language and culture and presented a clear message about health to many rural villagers in Kampong Thom and Kampot provinces. We hope to develop more pieces like ‘MOTO MOTO’ with Epic Encounters and are planning to do some international tours at the end of the year with the team. In addition to the performance team, we continue to develop new artists through our ‘Inclusive Arts Course’ which brings together people with and without disabilities through daily workshops in Dance, Drama, Art and Music.
We are also developing a creative enterprise programme that aims to support young creatives with the teaching of basis business and product development skills with the aim that they will be able to start and successfully run their own creative business in their local communities. All-in-all, Epic Arts has some exciting plans for 2014 and we hope to return to FCC again in the future with new work to share.