Having won critical acclaim for staging last year's International Theater Festival (放聲狂嬉－國際劇場藝術節) and the Formosa Experimental Theater Festival (寶島地震帶實驗劇展), the Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center (國立中正文化中心) has shown itself to be adept at holding alternative theater festivals.
Shakespeare in Taipei, (莎士比亞在台北劇展) the center's latest project, presents five works based on the bard and his works.
With a lineup of the most renowned alternative theater groups and a schedule of 14 accompanying seminars, panel discussions and introductory lectures, the center expects to sell around 8,000 tickets for a total of 30 performances.
Hong Hong (鴻鴻), the screenplay writer, director and poet, who acts as a curator for the festival, sees Shakespeare as a junction between the traditional and the modern, between the Asian and the Western.
"Shakespeare is viewed as a rich treasure for human culture by the world. ... However, in Shakespeare's own day, he was no more than a theater owner who made a lot of money, and an actor who doubled as playwright.
"The profundity and variety of Shakespearean plays made scholars spend their entire life trying to understand them. Because of this, we often forget that he was a provider of entertainment in the beginning," Hong said. "We are trying to show that Shakespeare not only lives inside the texts but next to you and me, recording our desire, sadness and joy."
To present a variety of interpretations for Shakespeare's plays, Hong recruited Shakespeare's Wild Sisters Group (莎士比亞的妹妹們), Golden Bow Theater (金枝演社), Off Performance Workshop (外表坊時驗團), Tainan Jen Theater (台南人劇團) and Riverbed Theater (河床劇團) for the festival. As these groups are all well known for their originality and style, their interpretations of Shakespeare classics should be worth a look.
One of the oldest alternative theater groups in Taiwan, Shakespeare's Wild Sisters Group will open the festival with Titus Andronicus (泰特斯?夾子/布袋版), directed by Wang Chia-ming (王嘉明), who earned plaudits for Zodiac last year. Titus Andronicus is known as Shakespeare's most lurid play. So brutal is the plot that some scholars argue that it was not by the playwright.
Wang makes the play a story within a story by having Yin Wei-min (應蔚民) -- the singer for the rock group Clippers -- play a bum who converses with an assortment of puppets he carries around with him. An old grandma puppet tells the following story to entertain the bum: After conquering the Goths, the general Titus Andronicus returns to Rome, bringing with him the captive Queen Tamora and her sons, one of whom is killed by Titus' sons. Saturnius, the new Roman emperor, is fighting for the throne with his younger brother Bassianus and attempts to wrest Lavinia, Titus' daughter, from Bassianus. Tamora soon manages to seduce Bassianus while scheming against Titus -- with her lover Aaron. Demetrius and Chiron, Tamora's other sons, kill Bassianus and then rape and mutilate Lavinia, cutting off her tongue and hands. Aaron revenges himself against Titus by framing his sons for Bassianus' murder. Trying to rescue his brothers, Lucius, Titus' remaining son gets banished. Aaron misinforms Titus that the emperor will spare Quintus and Martius if Titus sends him one of his limbs. After Titus complies, his hand is sent back along with the heads of his two sons. Titus is thus driven over the edge. After Titus finds out that Demetrius and Chiron have attacked Lavinia, he kills them, makes a pie of them and treats Tamora and Saturnius to the feast. With little abridgement, Wang's version of the play presents the story through the eyes of Lavinia, Tamora, Aaron and Titus. The performance lasts three-and-a-quarter hours with one intermission.