Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Critical Point gets serious about coffee

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Critical Point actor Chang Chi-kai gets thoughtful in the White Water Cafe/bar.

PHOTO: VICO LEE, TAIPEI TIMES

Having long been the "black box" theater in one of the oldest and most grassroots parts of downtown Taipei, the Critical Point Theater (臨界點生活劇場) has recently given itself a major renovation. By opening a new cafe at the location, the almost radically experimental theater group, is trying to reach out to their neighbors, who have previously thought of the group as totally incomprehensible.

"We have been an arcane avant-garde theater located in the midst of traditional Taiwanese opera fans, who constitute the majority of neighbors," said Chang Chi-kai (張智凱), an actor with the group who now oversees the cafe. Chang has often invited their neighbors to watch their performances, but has not met with much success. "Our attitude is `so be it.' We never tried to blend in with the character of the neighborhood environment anyway. We are still an experimental theater in an improbable location."

White Water Cafe-bar (白水藝文空間), now into its fourth week with minimal promotion, is visited mostly by its own members and their friends. "We're still test-running the place. Only when we are sure the cafe is going to work will we start letting more people know about this place," Chang said. The cafe, named after Critical Point's best-known production, is in its own way, experimental. "It will not make much money for the group. I just hope it helps cover part of our expenses," Chang said. The group has managed to break even with its productions in recent years.

The group spent some NT$600,000 converting part of its hideout (the 2nd floor of the building it rents) into a 20-seat cafe-bar, with a sofa and a small compartment that may be called a VIP room. Considering its former makeshift stage appearance, the reprinted and tidied-up interior is quite a surprising makeover. Avoiding the bland decor that may remind one of Starbucks, the group has made little compromise on its experimental attitude and avant-garde image.

"Our shows often give the impression of being somber and introspective, and we want the cafe surroundings to reflect that. The cafe is not made to be cozy and nice," Chang explained, adding that even the thinly padded chairs may not be too comfortable.

Members of the group have learned bar-tending, cooking, and miscellaneous cafe skills from square one, and arranged a mini menu of teas, coffees and set meals, which is probably the only "non-avant-garde" aspect of the outfit.

With wireless Internet access and several window tables available, White Water is a nice place to spend an afternoon thinking or working. After performances, the audience is welcome to stay on at the cafe. White Water is located at 2F, 68 Minle St, Taipei (台北市民樂街682). -- Vico Lee

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