Mon, Aug 20, 2018 - Page 8 News List

The LAB Space closes its doors

After a 17-year run of producing and directing Chinese and English-language theater, Brook Hall closes the doors on Butterfly Effect Theater to take a position in Europe

By Jerome Keating  /  Contributing reporter

Veteran Taipei-based theater director and educator Brook Hall will move to Europe next month to work at Vienna’s English Theater.

Photo Courtesy of David Barker

Oscar Wilde once said that drama is the meeting place of art and life, and no one brought art and life together for English-language theater in Taiwan better than Brook Hall.

Yet with TAPE, Hall’s Butterfly Effect Theater is not only closing out its season after 17 years, but also the doors of The LAB Space. The impresario has accepted a teaching position at Vienna’s English Theater, Europe’s most prestigious English-language theater. He will be missed.

English-language theater in Taiwan has always had a hard go of it. The names of past theater groups — Community Amateur Theater Society (CATS), Phoenix Theater, Outcast Theater, Taipei Alien Dramatic Society (TADS) — read like contestants for the Taiwan Mayfly theater award, so rapidly do they appear and disappear. The issue has never been lack of talent or interest, but of sustainability.

In addition to work permit problems, zero financial backing and scant government support, venues have always been a key challenge, especially those approved by the government for foreigners.

CATS, which survived during the martial law years when the choice of subject matter was closely scrutinized, faced this issue. Retired engineer and CATS board member Bob Weir recalls how even “places for practice were a problem.”

CATS luckily got Taipei American School auditorium for its final production of M. Butterfly.

TADS, like other groups, sought smaller places. It did its production of The Maltese Falcon in the now closed Peshawar Cafe in Shida. How it got past regulations is a mystery.

Rehearsal and performance space are not the only issues. Where does a theater group store its costumes and props when not in use?

Hall solved these problems by not only creating the Taipei-based Butterfly Effect Theater, but also developing The LAB Space, a home where his theater could build sets, hold classes in acting and directing and run 24-hour theater festivals to recruit and promote new talent.

TESTIMONIALS

Hall views his 17 years here like gaining a doctorate in theater arts. He did numerous shows in English and Chinese, including directing and choreographing Anything Goes at the National Concert Hall. And there’s no shortage of testimonials on him.

“Brook has been a main staple for foreign theater,” says actress Sharon Landon. “I never thought there would be a day when he was not around,” she said.

Musician and actor Charlie Storrar says Hall built a theater community and put on quality shows.

“His leaving is a massive loss,” Storrar says.

It is a sentiment echoed by Lucas Salazar, who performed in the company’s final production.

“I thought Taipei was by and large populated by nomadic teachers... I quickly found LAB to be the community I had hoped to find.” Salazar said.

Actor and musician Brandon Thompson recalls fondly The LAB Space’s sold-out inaugural play that was performed in December 2013.

“[T]he warmth and Christmas cheer [made] it my favorite Christmas in Taiwan,” he said.

The Tribulations of English-Language theater

With all these accolades, why leave? Hall says that he also witnessed another side of art meeting life in Taiwan — one that wasn’t always positive.

Hall laments that even though Taiwan wants talent, anyone who stays is often asked: “You’re good. Why aren’t you in New York?’”

Earning a living can be daunting, especially in the south, where ticket prices are significantly cheaper. Hall said that Diary of Anne Frank tickets were NT$800 in Taipei. Tainan audiences would only cough up NT$300 for early-bird tickets that went up to NT$500 in the week leading up to the performance. Preparation workshops were given. Sets moved down. The ticket price, however, stayed at NT$300 and The LAB Space shouldered a debt of close to NT$300,000. Hall paid it off by doing consultant work in China.

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