ADF: Asia Design Forum
Design Roulette, Malaysia

Jo Kukathas is an actor, director, and writer, and is the artistic director of The Instant Café Theater Company and CHAI, Instant Café’s House of Art and Ideas.

Kukathas grew up and was educated in Malaysia, Australia, Hong Kong, India, and the UK, where she studied politics and philosophy. She returned to Malaysia and entered the theatre world, co-founding The Instant Café Theatre Company. The company has achieved cult status with its black comedies and new Malaysian writing. She continues to play some of its most iconic comedy characters.

Kukathas has done work large and small, directing outdoor productions of Shakespeare at Carcosa Seri Negara and tiny performances staged inside the bedroom of a semi-detached house. As an actress, she has been acclaimed for a diversity of roles in plays by Shakespeare, KS Maniam, Athol Fugard, and many others.

In 2004 she established FIRSTWoRKS, a writing program to develop new Malaysian plays. This program created the award-winning Flies and Foreigners by Ridzwan Othman, Air Con by Shanon Shah, Hero by Arun Subramaniam, and Parah by Alfian Sa’at.

Since 2000 she has been involved in various international collaborations beginning with Pulau Antara/The Island In Between a multi-lingual project with the Setagaya Public Theatre, Tokyo, the Japan Foundation and Malaysia. The production explored issues of history, memory, and ghosts. She was instrumental in the formation of an Asian theatre collective of 16 directors, playwrights and performers from Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. Their 3-year Asian Contemporary Theatre Project (Setagaya Public Theatre & Japan Foundation) led to the multilingual Hotel Grand Asia in Tokyo in 2005. The collective continues to collaborate.

In 2006-7 she was awarded the Nippon Foundation Asian Public Intellectual (API) Fellowship, which allowed her to research the influence of traditional theatre on contemporary theatre making in Japan and Indonesia and the evolving role of myth, ritual, and shamanism. In Malaysia she continues to be interested in the role that traditional knowledge can have in developing contemporary society.

She is the co-author of The Malaysian Art Book for Children (2010).