Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: theatre
Wednesday, 15 February 2012 17:57

An Actor's Life for Me

Chen Xinhong (26), is an actor affiliated with the Golden Bough Theatre Troupe  (5 years of stage experience, 1 year at Golden Bough Theatre Troupe)

I am from Taizhong and I went to Taizhong First Senior High School, where I always got good grades and I enjoyed studying. However, after joining the school’s National Music Club and learning how to play zhongruan (Chinese alto lute), because of my deep commitment to the club’s affairs, I gradually drifted away from the world of books. In my 3rd grade, when I didn’t feel like studying anymore, I saw this drama course at the National Taiwan University of Arts. At the time I wasn’t even very clear about what it was, but I registered for entry exams anyway, and as a result, I passed them! In fact, before that time I had never seen a single stage play.

After joining the drama department, I found that moved afar from my expectations and speculations. Once, after going through a rough patch, I suspended my studies. In my first year there were virtually no performances and until the second semester we hardly touched things relevant to the course, so I decided to work at a movie theatre. In the second grade I thought I should give myself a bit of challenge, so I took up an acting job outside the school, thanks to which I gradually developed an interest for stage performance. Actually, most of the students from our department have gone through a similar process of fumbling our way through the dark. Most of us felt quite confused, so we actively tried doing many different things. Anyway, the proportion of my classmates going into theatre after graduation was not high at all, only roughly 30 or 40%.

Learning to Play off the Audience

An actor’s professional skills are accumulated from everyday self-training. We have to learn to multitask, to watch our appearance and posture anytime and anywhere. Let’s take me as an example. Because I have a habit of hunching, I have to make sure that I hold my head high and upright at all times. It is similar to practicing reading a newspaper aloud while holding a pen in your mouth. Biting a pen helps you to get used to straining your lips while speaking. Or let’s take learning how to “cry”. I am in fact a very easily moved person, but on a stage I could never weep. Thus I attempted to train myself to tear easier. Only later I have discovered that the reason why I couldn’t cry on the stage was because I was not concentrated enough, I didn’t enter my character’s mental state deep enough. However, when I devote myself wholeheartedly during the entire play, the emotions are coming out naturally. Before, I wasn’t experienced enough to understand this principle. I was trying to find ways to think of something sad in order to help myself, but my efforts were always to no avail. It is because emotions that are faked can be easily seen through and can’t touch anybody.

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What gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment as an actor is when the audience either laughs or cries after your performance, it is really touching. While standing on the stage during a performance, you can actually feel the mood of the audience, although it’s very subtle. In a theatre, the play’s plot is fictional, but the emotions definitely must be real; the audience that is watching a play is real, but sometimes we must pretend that they’re not there at all; because we must often direct our bodies toward the audience in order to make the reception easier for them, our dialogues and postures are also not realistic, because a usual dialogue does not look like that. It is thus a constant transformation between fictional and genuine. To sum up, while on a stage it is impossible not to feel the audience and so it is impossible for the audience not to feel the actors, and what is really interesting is the communication between them.

For instance, today you are performing slipping after stepping on a banana peel. If the whole room bursts into laughter, it can give you a huge boost. However if you fail to entertain the audience and they remain awkwardly silent, it can also influence your next performance. When I first came across such a situation I was completely devastated, but now it’s not so bad; if they don’t find a joke funny you just need to continue the show.

Determination that is Keener with Every Setback

In my acting career I had one major setback. I was never very good at acting and after going through a long period of fumbling and practicing, only in the second semester of my fourth grade I got things straight in my head. It was like suddenly I knew what acting is all about. My classmates and teachers say that I improved a lot and my self-confidence also started building slowly at that time. Nevertheless, during the last class of some course the teacher gathered everyone to sit in a circle to talk about our plans after graduation and said: “I think that among the 12 students in our course there are only two people suited for performing”. I was not among the two people that the teacher had mentioned. It brought me, originally full of confidence, straight from heaven down to hell in a flash; at once I felt really depressed. Later I thought I should have said to him: “you say I am not suited to acting, but I will prove it to you and one day I will be good enough to perform with you”. As a result, to this day I have always carried within me an unwillingness to admit defeat and a passion for acting.

After retiring, I participated in a casting for The First Lily, staged by the Ping Fong Acting Troupe at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, and as a result I was successfully recruited. Out of my acting experiences, this was up till now the most accomplishing and the most beautiful one. Although I only played a supporting role as a clan warrior, the play was staged almost 200 times, which cultivated in the entire team a profound revolutionary spirit, and the whole staff felt like a family. The best thing is that thanks to that play I have met a Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe. They often took us, Han people, to perform traditional aboriginal ritual dances and songs. From their bodies I could see their love for own traditions and a sense of mission to pass on the aboriginal culture. It was very touching to me and it also influenced my later decision to join the Golden Bough Theatre.

The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe made me realize that I should probably also make effort for the sake of my own culture. I am Taiwanese, yet I can’t speak the Taiwanese language (Hoklo), and the Golden Bough Theatre requires its members to speak good Taiwanese and to perform local Taiwanese stories. I really need to work harder on these things; it is what I expect from myself for the future.

Translated from the Chinese by Witek Chudy


Friday, 20 January 2012 16:32

Taiwan arts in Toulouse

The Made In Asia Toulouse Festival will be held from January 25 to February 10, 2012

Created in 2008, by Didier Kimmoun, and brought to the stage by the Tchin-tchine association, the Made in Asia festival attempts to present Asian cultures in France. This year it proposes to highlight Taiwan contemporary creative works through its most talented artists, Hsu Yen Ling (徐堰鈴) and Wang XinXin (王心心). Events include dance performances, contemporary theatre, puppets shows, concerts, exhibitions and movie screenings!

The origin of the project, a passion for Asia Today

The founder of the festival spent part of his childhood in China: his father was a teacher in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution. He has always been attracted to Asian cultures. After several trips to China, he realized early on that Asian people know Western culture better than Westerners know Asian cultures. 'There is a gap between the knowledge in West Asia and Europe. This gap is greater in the cultural field: in Asia, Western culture is part of school curricula, which is not the case in France.' This observation led him to develop the project of a festival dedicated to Asia. 'I did not want an exotic festival for hippies from Yunnan. I wanted people to discover contemporary cultural life in Asia'.

The festival strives to make French people better understand the reality of contemporary Asia, its developments, its contradictions, and to build bridges between East and West.

In 2000, he met the Tchin-Tchine association which organized cultural events to promote Asia. ‘I proposed to develop an annual cultural week about China and opened it to other countries as well such as Vietnam and Korea. I wanted to propose different kinds of shows, including contemporary living arts, which are not so well known here. I had to convince the French programmers who were afraid of the audience reaction and had difficulty to conceive the existence of contemporary creative works in Asia '. Indeed, at this time, only Korea was known for its contemporary dance performances. 'It took time to find financial partners; I had to convince the city hall and government. I finally got a grant from the city hall'. To make up the deficit in the budget, he approached private companies, offering them projects such as the installation of Korean sculptures in a Hyundai shop in Labège from January 25 to February 18.

A festival of sharing and artistic exchange

Didier Kimmoun does not want the festival to be the only egg in his basket and so he develops artistic residencies and exchanges between Asian and French artists, in order to create bridges. That is why this year he welcomed the wonderful Wang XinXin, specialist in Nanguan, for a period of residency in collaboration with a baroque orchestra. Throughout the year he has also invited artists for residencies like in last November, when he invited an experinmental Japanese group led by Oriza Hirata, who presented 'Sayonara' played by Geminoid F. The next countries that will be featured at the festival will be Japan - due in part to the events that occurred in Fukushima - and also Singapore. In 2014/2015, there will be contemporary Chinese Opera. This year, the guest is Taiwan. Why Taiwan? Because 'this year was the centennial of the Republic of China and the Taiwanese artists, guardians of hungry Western ways of life and ancient Chinese culture, are very good at crossing between East and West, tradition and modernity ', he says.

Theatre, music, dance

The french audience will be able to admire the extraordinary performance of Hsu Yen Ling, one of the best Taiwanese actresses, in 'Remix - Hsu Yen-Ling x Sylvia Plath, the Monodrama of HSU Yen - Ling', written by Chou Man-Nung and staged by Baboo. Produced by the Shakespeare's Wild Sisters Group, it will be performed on January 25 and 26, at Théâtre Garonne. Another great performance will follow, dedicated to a younger audience: 'The Birth'*, produced by the East and the West and the Flying group, performed on February 4, in Mediatheque José Cabanis. This show mixes puppetry, shadow theatre and theatre: the first part of a trilogy, he takes the children and their parents into the dream of a little girl who, still in the womb of her mother, discovers the world. This dreamy and poetic trip is interpreted by the talented Chou Jung Shih, accompanied live by Wang Yu Jun, a gifted young musician. Besides this, the festival also welcomes Shang Chi Sun, a young choreographer and talented dancer with 'Traverse' on January 27 in Espace Bonnefoy, and the fabulous Wen Chi Su with 'Loop me', a multimedia dance performance signed by Yilab. The Ten Drums Art Percussion Group, from the South of Taiwan, based in Tainan, composed of 10 amazing percussionists, will perform 'the charm of Taiwan', a tribute to spiritual Taiwanese traditions, on February 3 at the salle Nougaro. The XinXin Nanguan Ensemble, led by the majestic Wang XinXin, will present ' the Passions', a musical dialogue between Nanguan, a Chinese traditional instrument, and Baroque music, in collaboration with Passions Orchestra - Orchestra Baroque of Montauban, under the direction of Jean-Marc Andrieu. This concert where Chinese and Baroque music are revisited will allow the audience to discover all the vocal and instrumental virtuosity of Jiang Nan and Wang XinXin on February 8 at the Capitol Theatre.

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Focus on REMIX: Hsu Yen-Ling + Sylvia Plath, A red-hot mono-drama

Remix, Hsu Yen Ling's mono-drama, is inspired by fever 103, a poem written by Sylvia Plath and deals with the last moments of Sylvia Plath’s life. This last was an American poetess haunted by the idea of death, who killed herself, despaired by love, when she was 30. Hsu Yen ling, fascinating and disturbing, plays magnificently and brilliantly Plath's character: she becomes completely this hurt woman, wild animal tortured by abused love and sickness. She's belching, yelling, sighing, murmuring with fervor, violence, and despair the poetess' words, rewritten by Chou Man-Nung – young Taiwanese author. This poetical rewriting shows the extent of the talent of the young actress, here, in one of her best performances. Baboo's art direction is very rhythmic and spread intelligently and soberly the poetic whisper of this tortured writing. It swings between foolish and indolent scenes, showing the ambiguous relationships between Plath and her father, Plath and her husband, both beloved and hated men of her life. The spectator becomes the witness of the actress' inner truth revelation: Ms. Hsu defends body and soul this American author unknown in France. Ms Plath used to live in her husband's shadow, a famous poet, and suffered from the cruelty of a patriarchal society. We warmly recommend it to the audience.

Young Taiwanese creation in the fields of cinema and fine arts

Many exhibitions complete the program: elaborated in collaboration with the Cultural Centre of Taiwan in Paris, under the advice of its Director, Mr. Chen, specialist in Fine Arts, former Professor and artist himself, the audience is invited to various places in Toulouse to have a look at contemporary Taiwanese art. This is the opportunity to meet Yong - Ning Tzeng, with two exhibitions from 25 January to 11 February, in Espace Bonnefoy - opening January 27 - and from 31 January to 5 February, at Place Commune, opening on February 2. Gallery Lemniscate will host from 26 January to 26 February - opening January 26- Mia Liu Wen Hsuan with her paper sculptures. Char Wei Tsai, for his part, will explore the process of transformation. Chi-Tsung Wu who experiments with simple processes in the manufacture of images in reference to traditional painting work will be in residency from January 15 to February 1 and will present his work from 2 to 25 February in Maison Salvan in Labège - opening February 2 at 19: 00. Young Video maker Cheng Ta Yu interested in the human body will be from the 2 to February 25 in Pavillon Blanc- Colomiers - opening February 2 at 7 pm. This palette of artists unveils the creative diversity of the Taiwanese artists in resonance with current issues.

The surprise of the Chief: Mister Candle

In the heart of the Asian village, one could try martial arts, kitchen workshops, and Asian food and attend the parade of the New Year with the dance of the dragon, accompanied by drums and a release of lanterns on 28 and 29 January. This will be the opportunity to see a young Taiwanese artist, the enigmatic Mister Candle, Huang Ming-Cheng, in residence in the village. Mister Candle is the last discovery Didier Kimmoun made during his recent trip to Taiwan. This young Acrobat has a delirious project and will work with circus artists from Toulouse and Barcelona. His artistic project is to take a photo of himself in the position of the candle in various places of the island, in a market or on a moped, bringing a particular look at the fragility of the world he looks backwards and wants to make a 15 year world tour. A gallery of his suspended photos will be shown during the festival. Didier Kimmoun is interested in his artistic posture, his authentic approach in acquaintance with his very lifestyle. Enjoy it!

 


 

*More on the Birth, follow the link: http://www.erenlai.com/index.php?option=com_content&id=4307%3Athe-birth-a-franco-taiwanese-show-for-the-young-&Itemid=164&lang=en

More detail on http://www.festivalmadeinasia.com/

 

 


Friday, 02 September 2011 17:35

Mom, Bye: A Review of Wang Molin's Play


Wang Molin (王墨林)is clad in a Che Guevara t-shirt, the same one angry teenagers and naive politics students across the world are probably wearing at that same moment. His manner is distracted during the Q&A, and, as in the interview we conducted with him previously, he brushes off any difficult questions with a sneer and a "Do I have to explain everything a thousand times?", seemingly a smoke and mirrors technique to evade addressing any of the arguments directed against him. The assumption that anyone who disagrees with him is illiterate or locked into a capitalist ideology that only he and people who agree with him are able to see through makes conversation with him tiring. This was mirrored in the way the play was presented, tiring.

There were a few very basic errors from a practical point of view that, given the director's long career in the "Little Theatre" (小劇埸), were preventable. These were little details, like a semi-transparent cloth hanging mid-stage with a light shining from behind it, that made the subtitles of the Korean dialogue in the play (the play was performed by a Korean theatre troupe) difficult to read, and resulted in people stretching their heads in different directions to try and look past the cloth. This wasn't aided by the reams of dry ice that were pumped out at random intervals throughout the performance, that made the subtitles slightly more difficult to read and triggered the asthma of a guy in the row behind me.

The play was about an iconic protester in 70s' South Korea who fought for the rights of labourers and died at the protest and his mother's reaction to his death. Although the topic was interesting, it was delivered stiffly and the attempt to humanize the hero through the mother/son relationship didn't move me as it must have attempted to. The play read like a union propaganda film, with martyrs of the protest flashing up on the screen with rhythmic drums. It was then unsurprising to learn in the Q&A that the actors were in fact not actors but social activists and that the play had a very one sided political message to preach. This was then reinforced when Taiwanese "labourers" (I put quote marks around this word because in Taiwanese popular usage the word for labour "勞工" includes white collar office workers), who were basically people who had been hired by the government to do the same job as civil servants without the benefits of being a civil servant, bemoaned their plight. At one point one of them stated that their situation was worse than Korea in the 70s and worse than the plight of foreign labourers (外勞) and workers (工人) in Taiwan. Although to be fair I don't understand completely the nature of their situation, even though it has been quite high profile in the media, to be honest this seemed like a massive exaggeration as many of the plethora of documentaries about foreign workers in Taiwan can attest to. The preaching style of the play, did no justice to the issue, and the images and dialogue were cliche, reminiscent of the early works of Taiwanese literature and mainland socialist literature. The cliched dialogue and symbolism reinforced the image of the protagonist as an idealized hero, and had none of the depth of understanding of the disenfranchised classes of society of works like Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. This suggests the distance of Wang Molin from the working class in Taiwan, as he only seems to conceive of them from a theoretical, iconic ideal as opposed to exploring them as more complex human beings with aspirations and vices.

On my way home from the theatre I saw the director again, grabbing a beer by the roadside with a group of youths that I supposed to be members of the stage crew, still wearing his Che Guevara shirt, and most likely still spouting the half-baked idealism of a 1st year politics university student.

 


Wednesday, 31 August 2011 11:40

Avant-garde in dialogue: Buds of Modernism on Infertile Land

In the sixties, Taiwan’s main ideology was determined by Cold War ideology and the fight against communism. In such a dry and discouraging intellectual atmosphere, the youth aspired to a radical and subversive modernism which would acknowledge their existence. At that time, the only opening for modern art was probably at the United States Information Agency which would provide information on modern art and exhibitions, so most events involving the arts were held there.

It is in that context that Theater Magazine (1965) was created by Huang Hua-cheng, Kang Chien Chiu and Chen Yingzhen. There was no concept of Taiwanese modernism at that time but the Theater Magazine was already offering critiques and reflections on modernism in articles on Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty and Fellini’s 8 ½. Even today, almost 50 years later, one can say that the content and the lay-out of the magazine are still very subversive and avant-garde.


Saturday, 10 September 2011 00:00

Shakespeare's Songs for All Seasons

Former teacher at the College de France, translator, essayist and poet, Michael Edwards is a specialist in Shakespeare's plays; he's also very keen on classic and modern theater (Molière, Claudel, etc..), poetry and spirituality.

He's written many books about such topics. This interview was inspired by an article published in the French periodical Etvdes (may 2011) and insists on the human and spiritual aspect of the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare. This interview shares with us the capacity of wonder in the comedies of Shakespeare as well as the great sense of human passion displayed in his tragedies: the songs let the spectator enter into another world within the present tense, a world made of marvels, irony and pains. In the world of Shakespeare, there is no time for idleness; the language of songs tells what can't be grasped within the imperishable movement of voices and dialogues.


This first video introduces  the main features of songs in Shakespeare's plays : the musicians who worked for him, the instrument used, the way the songs were integrated to both tragedies and comedies and the kind of distance it introduces within the narration.

Alternate for readers in China


This second video insists on the genuine "mirth" displayed in the comedies of Shakespeare. The celebration of carpe diem by the lovers expresses a trust in what love means for both man and woman. It opens people to the plenitude of the "now and here" while suggesting with a tender irony a transcendantal dimension of human life.

Alternate for readers in China


This third video speaks of the notion of "atonement" : it signifies a deep and secret correspondance between things, even if remote at first sight. It illustrates the passion for "oneness" at work in the heart of the poet. It points also to the depth of reconciliation that music is able to demonstrate, going beyond contradictions of life and enmity.

Alternate for readers in China

 

Published in
Focus: Poetry and Song

Monday, 01 August 2011 14:07

Modern Drama in Taiwan: A Mirror for Taiwan’s paradoxes

Born out of 1980s’ Taiwan, modern drama nowadays is often based on Western theatre, including French, English, German and American contemporary drama. The work of playwrights such as Kantor, Koltes, Duras, Bond and Müller has been adapted to the Taiwanese stage over the course of the last few years. Experimental performances, dealing very openly with themes like sex and violence, love and loss, and homosexuality reveal the paradoxes that are lived by Taiwanese society, struggling between tradition and modernity.

Social issues in Modern Theatre: the weight of tradition on the individual

Modern dramatists born before the 1970s worked more with social issues than the younger generation. Chen Chia Yin [鄭嘉音], director of Puppet & its Dubble, who is involved in theatrical workshops for children in Tainan, explains that ‘the older artists were more concerned with political issues because they lived under martial law and did not have as many rights as artists today. […] So, in their artistic work there were attempts to claim more freedom and struggle for social change, which made it a lot more provocative. After Taiwan became a democracy there was a significant shift in the role of the social dramatist’. Since the 1990’s, theatre in Taiwan has increasingly represented the ordinary lives of common people; performances attempt a realistic rendering of the effect of history and social changes on Taiwanese families over the course of the last century, rather attempting to tackle contemporary political social issues.

The older generations of dramatists focus more on the subjectivity of a Taiwanese specific history, which had often been oppressed and ignored by the KMT military dictatorship. Playwright Wang Chi Mei [汪其楣], a retired professor at the National Taiwan University of Arts in Guandu, who has worked a lot with the deaf, focused her own theatrical research on Taiwanese women who had fought for civil rights and liberty. Her latest performance relates the story of the first Taiwanese woman who was both a feminist and a communist, the mother of Taiwanese independence, Hsieh Hsueh-Hung [謝雪紅]. She studied communist philosophy in Russia and fought the Nationalists in Taiwan but had to flee to China because of the military regime. Professor Wang’s struggled to find further information about Hsieh’s life and she has stated that ‘these are important parts of Taiwan history put to one side by scholars, it is Taiwanese artists that had to find out about her and tell her story’; For Wang, ‘the most important thing is to discover Taiwanese roots and not just mimic Western drama. Taiwanese artists need to be aware of the specificity of their own situation.’ She once attempted to stage a Western play but found the experience unsatisfying: ‘the Western way of thinking is different, more conceptual than the Chinese one and Taiwanese adaptations are rarely successful in rendering these concepts. It was only when she concentrated her research on Taiwanese history that her she was able to progress as Taiwanese artist. There are many figures from Taiwanese history that can act as examples to the younger generation in their attempt to assert their own rights.

However, in recent years few dramatists are committed to social or political issues or portraying the lives of historical figures: they are more interested in the more mundane themes and the history of everyday life. The Village, produced by Stan Lai [賴聲川], tells the story of those Chinese soldiers who followed Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan in the 40’s/50’s. Posted in Taiwan “temporarily”, they spent decades waiting for their homecoming to China, and lived in ‘villages’, attempting to recreate their imaginary of China in Taiwan. Through the depiction of three generations living in this village, Stan Lai poses questions about this way of life, by showing how the younger generation’s choices lead them to more freedom than their parents. Many Taiwanese have Chinese ancestry and so can identify with the characters in the play. Although this play can be classified as ‘realistic theatre’ in that the art direction is very ‘sensitive and emotive’ and the actors embody the characters in a very natural way. The realistic narrative is underwritten with the experience of Taiwanese society making the audience focus more clearly on the emergence of the individual and his place in contemporary society.

The connection between society and the individual is a significant subject for the generation of dramatists currently in their 40s. The Creative Society’s last show Have Wok, Will Travel, presented last winter at the National Theatre’s Experimental Theatre, tells the story of director Katherine Hui-ling Chou’s [周慧玲] mother. She focuses on the main character’s emotions, letting the spectator feel the bold joy of her mother when she worked for the Army and contrasting this with the gloomy unhappy temper she keeps in her married life. To portray this change of temperament, which parallels the two distinct periods of Taiwan history, Chou incorporates dance into her performance based on martial arts, directed by her choreographer in a very poetic and sensitive way. This is interspersed with more realistic dialogue, which break through the magic of the dancing parts. The play poses seems to question if our life choices are dictated by the society we live in or if true self determination is possible. Her plays often combine tradition with modernity, as far as the stories she writes deal with changing times and places and how this affects the psyche of the characters. In He is my wife, he is my mother, based on an ancient story, Chou relates episodes of a man’s life, set in the periods before and after the Communist Revolution, in China and Taiwan respectively. The play is composed of two parts, a very dreamy first part and a very realistic second part to which seems to work to present what is strange as normal. She questions the weight of a social tradition that pushes one to live a conventional life. The protagonist, a man who casts off his masculinity to become both a “wife” to his lover and a “mother” to his lover’s son, chooses finally to let his lover’s son live in a homosexual relationship against established convention. This can be seen as a parallel to determination of the eponymous protagonist of Sophocles’ Antigone to bury her brother in contravention of King Creon’s command. In both plays the will of the individual acts in direct opposition to convention.

For members of the older generation of art directors, traditional Chinese culture and the daily realities of family life seem to be the starting point in describing the changes in Taiwanese society, and the paradoxes inherent in a modern society that still espouses some very traditional social and family values, as well as the difficulties for that an individual experiences in trying to live their own life according to their own values: this realist modern drama accurately depicts how difficult it is for Taiwanese to cast off the burden of traditional values that they never chose to carry, but which are still, whether consciously or not, anchored deeply in the Taiwanese sense of self , despite the yearning for a shift in these values.

Emotions and Entertainment in Modern Taiwanese Theatre

It is human relationships rather than social issues, however, that capture the attention of the younger art directors such as Baboo Liao [廖俊逞] or Hsu Yen Ling [徐堰鈴] from the Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group [莎士比亞的妹妹們的劇團]. These younger directors often adapt German, English and French Literature. Themes such as love, sexuality, violence, intimacy and gender predominate, reflecting the concerns of the younger generation. Avant-garde theatre deals with individual issues more than with social issues as confirmed Chen Chia Yin has confirmed: “The young artists don’t ask the same questions as the older generation: they are used to living in freedom. For them the ego is more interesting as a subject matter than society at large.” The politics of modern drama are less assertive and pushy than before; acting has come to the forefront with more surrealist and burlesque styles of theatre becoming more popular. Derrick Wei × Der Schönste Moment [魏雋展獨角戲《最美的時刻》] adapted from the novel by Michael Cornelius and directed by Baboo Liao [廖俊逞], a younger generation director, for example, although it confronts some social issues, with its ironic presentation of the modern way of life and its veiled criticism of the Taiwanese work ethic, it focuses mainly on the inner questioning of the protagonist. Alone in his toilet, which seems to represent for him a cage, he recreates the world of his thoughts, making love with a puppet or imitating Michael Jackson. The puppets, made with latex, were created by Chen Chia Yin, and represent the different parts of the anti-hero’s psyche. The stage design symbolizes the main character’s loss of self. The director gives a very modern treatment to the theme, in that as well as the dialogue it is the physical movements of the actor that give life to the play. Realism is abandoned for a more figurative representation, combining fantasy and humor, making the play closer to Avant Garde Theatre. In comparison with Modern Drama from the West, theatre in Taiwan is not as conceptual: retaining very visual stage techniques based on emotion and feeling. Western literature appears to be a good source material for Taiwanese artists in understanding and exploring the complexity of human nature. Hung Hung [鴻鴻], a contemporary director and poet explains “it is very thrilling and interesting to work on Western literature because it deals with deep emotions and inner feelings”. Western literature leads Taiwanese directors to ‘express their feelings in a new way’ even if in some of their adaptations, they face difficulties in showing inner violence or intimacy between characters because of Chinese culture.

Ann Lang [郎祖筠] adapted Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues last summer in an attempt to make Taiwanese women more aware of their bodies, in particular their vaginas, and asked renowned artists to take part in the performance. She asked Lai Pai Hsia [賴佩霞] to roam about naked on stage and that was a challenge for the naturally timid singer to act this part. In Taiwanese education, ‘one never talks about sex, many women don’t like their vagina and don’t know their body: they even don’t know how to get pleasure in their sexual relationships’ says Ann. As Chia Yin clarifies, ‘the parents raise their children to be hard workers and respect their familial and social duties. In family, we don’t speak about such affairs. Sex is taboo.’ This gives one an insight into why many young directors explore the Western literary canon. Baboo Liao has staged Heiner Müller’s Quartett, a play based on Dangerous Liasons written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, which tells the story of two libertines, Madame de Merteuil and Valmont, and their sexual search for pleasure as well as their perverse relationship with each other. Even though the show was not well received, its interest lies in the presentation of their complex Sado-Masochistic relationship with each other: although they compete to prove whether man or woman is more capable of being a true libertine, they both fall into the trap of love and suffering. It shows the deep intricacy of human nature, its desires and contradictions. Many young artists seem to be interested in understanding this topic, all too often absent in Chinese literature or in everyday life.

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Hsu Yen Ling [徐堰鈴], in her shows, deals essentially with feminine issues. In Tracks on the Beach and Drifting, adapted from Duras’ Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein, she focuses on Lol, an eccentric woman that cuts herself off from life after her lover abandons her for another woman and she falls into apathy’. Hsu Yen Ling, also a famous actress in Taiwan, asked the actors to ‘search the feelings in the deep of their heart and express them in new ways’. This way of teaching, allows actors to act in a more corporal way; which is really different from French acting. French directors focus more on acting with words than on acting with the body. Take Care, her last show, which was performed in July 2011 at the Guling St. Avant Garde Theatre, questions the increasing number of abandoned animals in Taiwan and asks us how to take care of the other, telling the story of a lesbian couple, one a veterinarian, the other a teacher, and the difficulties they face in their jobs and in their sex life. The play is a comedy, and comedy seems like a good approach to help us reflect on these issues. Taiwanese directors do not appear to draw a dichotomy between comedy and tragedy. They often include funny elements to relax the atmosphere and combine tragic moments with humoristic ones. In France, humor is often considered as material for low class theatre audiences and this is confined to a very comedic style. Bluesy Lee – Welcome to the 70s [李小龍的阿砸一聲], performed by Shakespeare Wild Sisters’ Group in May 2011 at the National Theatre, relates the 70’s in a very visual way, with surrealist screenings and grotesque acting. It mocks the bad acting of the superhero and soap opera style movies on TV, as well as portraying with delicacy the beautiful love story between 7 and 11 and the tragic one between deaf Teresa and her lover in a very Taiwanese style.

The main difference between French and Taiwanese Modern Theatre reflects a deep cultural difference: French culture distinguishes and separates comedy and tragedy and is based around a thought out idea; on the contrary, Taiwanese Theatre incorporates different styles and its focus lies on feeling. Taiwanese modern drama is more emotional, either it is realistic or surrealist or deals with social or individual’s issues. Directors and actors have a more sensitive and expressive working behavior. Amazingly, the strength of their shows resides in the powerful feelings they dare to express on stage, a strength of feeling that is seemingly absent from their own lives. This creates a paradox, wherein Taiwanese modern drama is freer than Taiwanese modern society. Another main difference is that the audience and artists are more curious and open about certain issues when they are portrayed on the stage, especially homosexuality. To conclude, even if Taiwanese artists use western writings as material to understand human nature in a deeper way, they don’t need to copy Western arts, as sometimes their work can appear less structured and overdetermined. In France, we have lost this strain of emotional thinking and Taiwanese modern drama still touches one’s heart: yet if one does not speak Chinese, one still can garner an understanding of the plot of most Taiwanese shows.


Tuesday, 28 December 2010 16:14

A Tale of the Moon's Eclipse

Sakurai Daizō, director of the Haibizi theater troup, discusses his tent theatre performance in the video below. Touching on issues such as the perils of capitalism in postmodern society and the simulated world and life choices of the youth of the 21st Century:


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