Using Faust to address Taiwan's social problems may seem like quite a challenge, but that's exactly what a Japanese director plans to do in a tent theater next week.
For the past two weeks, 40 actors, musicians, lighting technicians, costume designers and a handful of Japanese structural engineers have been erecting the two-story tent that will house the stage and audience seating, off Tongan Street, near Guting MRT station.
During the day, the sawing and hammering attracts the stares of curious local residents passing by. At night, the actors take turns to sleep at the site to make sure nothing goes missing. After six performances starting on Wednesday, the tent will be taken down and the once-deserted land will be turned into a park.
Director Daizo Sakurai's Taiwan Faust is based, loosely, on the Johann Wolfgang Goethe story about a German who sells his soul to the devil. The drama is set in a graveyard for the countless people who pushed history forward but never became famous, whose names, Daizo says, make up a "white list."
Although he has been working on it for the past two years, Daizo was still finishing the story last week, but it appears there will be two Fausts and two Mephistopheles, and maybe some singing.
"I think Faustian people are the main element in modernization, so I would like to ask how Taiwan can deal with these kinds of people," he said at an open-air press conference while work continued on the tent in front of him.
He believes Taiwan's problems are related to the post-Cold War environment and Japan's influence from the period of colonization that ended in 1945.
"As a Japanese, I have Taiwan in my history because of the colonial period," he said.
The connection between Taiwanese people and the colonial period is the most important part of modernization here.
Daizo has been producing tent theater for more than 30 years in Japan, most recently with the Yasun no Tsuki group. In 2000, he was invited by Assignment Theater to be a co-director on a drama it was working on. He liked Taiwan so much he rented a house in Taipei County and now spends half his time there and the other half in Tokyo, where he runs a business producing crosswords for
Even though the crew is all-volunteer, the production will still cost him more than NT$400,000, and it's unlikely he will get all the money back through ticket sales. Even so, he says he still prefers constructing unique sets for his productions because it allows him to be more creative.
"In theaters, there is a clear distinction between the actors on the stage and the audience, so imagination in theaters is confined by this relationship," he said.
The tent has been used before, but much of the set is being built from scratch, and includes a rotating stage, a tower and, according to the actors working on it, a surprise.
In a tent, the audience can decide more about what they want to happen. "They don't have to prepare anything, just make decisions," Daizo said mysteriously, adding he wanted to make people think about history to solve Taiwan's problems.
Even so he clearly doesn't want it to be too serious. "If the audience doesn't laugh 30 times, I will apologize," he said.
What: Taiwan Faust
Where: Ln 109, Tongan Street, Taipei (台北市同安街109巷)
When: March 23 to March 28 at 7pm