Taipei Times staff reporter Noah Buchan sat down with Helen Paris and Leslie Hill at the Guling Street Theater to discuss their theater workshop and the current state of feminist theater.
Taipei Times: You are collaborators in life as well as art. How does that work itself out?
Leslie Hill: We met by seeing each other’s solo work.
Helen Paris: And the work was very different. Mine was very physical and Leslie’s was very text-based. We influenced each other and contaminated each other because we had this different way of working.
LH: Half of our work is political and half is curiosity towards, for example, “What is a gut feeling” or “What is that connection between smell and memory.”
TT: Tell me a little about the workshop you will do for the Taiwan Women Theater Festival.
HP: We are doing the workshop here for a week and it’s really to have a duration of a week because it gives you a chance to become familiar with each artist’s work and where their shynesses are and how to work on those little barriers that people have and get rid of that self-censorship. There is also going to be a show at the end of the workshop … and so we have something to work toward and a finished piece is a really nice way to end it.
TT: So it’s a holistic approach to the stage that incorporates the process of writing and how you take the ideas from your mind and body and turn them into performance?
HP: Exactly. It is really writing from the mind and writing from the body. We have an automatic writing where you don’t take the pen off the page so it really is that sense of getting rid of the barriers: keep on writing and really surprising yourself by what comes out. We are also interested in body memory — the memories that we store in our body. Maybe we don’t see them as cerebral memories but we see them maybe secreted through different parts of our body. And how do we act or tap into those maybe stored, maybe silent, maybe sleeping memories, and how do we awaken them creatively? So we write from the body as well as the brain.
TT: Is it only geared towards women?
LH: We wouldn’t necessarily gear our workshop towards women in particular — it’s just the context we are working in. I don’t think we change what we are going to do because with women we would do something different than we would do with men.
TT: There seems to be a lot of feminist theory related to the work in the theater that you do.
HP: Definitely. I would call myself a feminist. I think it’s interesting because I work in academia as well and now, when I say the word “feminist” to my students, they act like I’ve said a dirty word. And I think, well, surely we all agree that it’s about equality. And that’s what I’m saying: I believe in equal rights for women. So I think that in Taiwan, in the UK, in the US, there is not an equal state for women yet, so the need for feminism is there. But I would see it as an inclusive rather than an exclusive way of working.
LH: I think that with a lot of women theater makers our age (around the forty mark) … they are still old enough that they will say they are feminists — [although] we had our formative years where that was uncool — and yet we are older. So theater companies of our peers, that are women, didn’t tend to make performances that were about feminist issues in a way that some of our friends … who were 15 or 20 years ahead of us. Their work was specifically about feminists issues.