Wed, Jul 17, 2013 - Page 12 News List

From philosophy to theater and back

Taipei Arts Festival artistic director Keng Yi-wei says Taipei’s performance art scene should avoid creating a theater environment similar to Broadway and the West End

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Keng sees such international collaboration as key to the growth of Taiwan’s arts scene, which faces many kinds of constraints. The need to look outward at a creative level is imperative, and he believes that the current government policy of subsidizing “fixed title theater” (定目劇), an attempt to build a theater environment like London’s West End or New York’s Broadway, is mistaken.

“This model is not suited to Taipei,” he said. “It is a phenomenon that has developed out of specific circumstances. Moreover, we must recognize that theater culture is not highly developed in Taiwan … What they are trying to do is similar to creating a Taiwan-style night market in the middle of New York … One fried chicken stall does not make a night market.”

cooperation key

Keng sees the development of Taiwan’s theater in quite different terms. “We have many highly talented artists,” he said. “Taiwan’s theater companies have many good qualities, and have great appeal to foreigners. We are also very energetic. Cooperation is a great way to develop,” Keng said, suggesting that this kind of effort can redress some of the imbalances in Taiwan’s theater environment. “This year we already have an agreement with the Shanghai Arts Festival, and for next year I want to organize some co-productions with European arts festivals, so we can have productions performed outside Taiwan.”

“To work in the theater you need great passion,” Keng said. “It is not like some other industries which can grow very quickly. You can’t think too much (about the future), you simply have to be happy to be involved … Taiwan has an audience that will support theater. The government has designated quite a lot of money to the arts, but it shouldn’t simply be there as a subsidy. It would be better used to influence the direction of development. … Arts and theater need to be rooted more firmly in society. This is the 15th TAF, but many people don’t even know that this event exists. I have plenty of room in which to make things better.”

Keng remains optimistically philosophical about the arts, and believes that his background in philosophy plays a part in what he does. “After all, philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot wrote plays,” he said, emphasizing that the worlds of philosophy and theater are complementary ones. But he is drawn to the larger stage provided by the theater. “As a (university) philosophy teacher, how many students can you teach at one time?” he said. “As a theater director, you can communicate with many more people.”

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