Small theater groups have a notoriously rough ride in Taiwan, with limited government funding and a small and fractured theater-going public, depriving them of the financial security that might allow them to build up an established repertoire, or to support the depth of talent that permits bolder, more mainstream ventures.
One of the greatest challenges for these groups is simply to be seen, and events like last month’s Huashan Living Arts Festival (2012華山藝術生活節) provided a celebratory environment to attract a broader public to performance art events that they might otherwise ignore or avoid (see page 12 Taipei Times for Oct. 19, 2012).
Trying to grow the market for the arts in Taiwan was just one aspect of the goal set by The Performing Arts Alliance (表演藝術聯盟, PAA), the organizer of the Living Arts Festival. The other, just as important, was to get local shows seen by international festival curators who might provide the invaluable opportunities for groups to be seen by international audiences.
This aspect of the Huashan Living Arts Festival took place in an event called the Performance Art Showcase (表演藝術匯演), which took place from Oct. 24 to Oct. 26. During this time, 26 arts festival curators from around the world were in Taiwan at the invitation of the PAA, with funding from the Ministry of Culture, to view the best of local talent. In addition to a formal showcase/market, in which selected groups presented their work in 20-minute segments for these curators, guests also had an opportunity to visit nominated groups. The exercise was intended to provide as broad a coverage of Taiwan’s increasingly diverse arts scene as possible.
According to Chang Yu-kuo (張于國), secretary-general of the PAA, the focus of the Huashan showcase differed from most international arts markets in that it focused on small and medium-sized groups with limited international exposure.
“A specific aim of the showcase was to assist these smaller groups in opening up channels to the international arts scene,” Chang told the Taipei Times in a phone interview last week. Chang added that over the last three years in which the Arts Festival and showcase have been held, PAA has had to educate some local groups in their interaction with international curators. “The first year we held the showcase, the material submitted by many groups was inadequate, and we had to teach them how to maximize the efficiency of their interaction with international guests. Taiwan’s theater groups still have much to learn in this area.”
Generating global interest
For the international curators, the Huashan showcase had two major benefits. The first and obvious one was that it added to their pool of groups they might consider selecting for theater festivals in their home country, and secondly, the relatively small format shows presented at the showcase meant this selection would be relatively inexpensive.
Chang pointed out that, firstly, international festival curators are constantly on the lookout for new material to satisfy the appetite for culture and creativity, but their exposure to groups such as The Party Theater Group (同黨劇團) or Hung Sheng Lion Dance Theater (鴻勝醒獅團) — the first a small avant-garde outfit and the second a traditional lion dance group pushing at the boundaries of tradition — is necessarily limited. “These groups have almost no international exposure,” Chang said.