Experimental theater has always been vibrant in Taiwan, with groups coming and going, a few managing to establish themselves and turning out a regular diet of shows for the small but loyal following of this form of dramatic expression. The addition of another group, one with high ambitions that it will attain a higher standard of technical excellence, is something that anyone interested in this scene is bound to take note of.
Material Theater was established last year as a production company aiming to stage original plays that expressed both an esthetic and social commitment. The esthetic component is hinted at in the group's name.
"We regard all components of the drama as materials," said Lin Wei-yu (林偉瑜), one of three founding members of the group. She gave the example of words, saying that in addition to their meaning, they must also have a texture, a rhythm and something that makes them more than just signifiers of meaning.
"We wanted to give material expression to various conceptual aspects of drama," Lin said during a rehearsal at the Crown Theater (皇冠劇場) in Taipei, where the group's first play, The Roar (咆哮), will be performed. This can be seen in the sets, as well as the acting. "We have a huge water closet on stage and the water flows out of it throughout the play, giving material expression to time, which we often forget about when we watch a play," Lin said.
This is one aspect of Material Theater. The other is its social commitment to talking about contemporary Taiwan and the spiritual environment that has been created by political tensions. "We don't talk about politics directly," Lin said, "but about the mindset created by politics.
Its aesthetic credo and commitment to giving dramatic expression to the ugliness of the world on stage makes Material Theater, which has yet to acquire a loyal following, worth checking out.
"We [the core group of Material Theater], were all born in the 60s, making us somewhat older than most of the people working in experimental theater. In addition, we are all graduates in arts, and have higher expectations. Many local groups come out of university dramatic societies and don't have the same professionalism," Lin said
Professionalism is a keystone for Lin. "We can't expect everyone to like the kind of theater we produce," she said. "But we can make it as best we can, so that even if we say things they do not want to hear, they can still appreciate the work for aesthetic reasons."
Lin says the group has sought to meld text-based theater with physical theater in a way that gives the words a physical presence. Much of it is a dance, though with words, and like a dance there is no story, but the whole is an expression of the twisted spirit created by the current political situation. That, in a nutshell, is what The Roar is about. To see how Material Theater achieves it aims, drop by the Crown Theater, 50, Lane 120, Dunhua N Rd., Taipei (北市敦化北路120巷50號), today, tomorrow or Sunday at 2:30pm or
7:30pm. Tickets are NT$350.