Theater onthe move


Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 15

For the past week members of Taiwan Haibizi (台灣海筆子) have worked, dinned and slept in a tent on Tongan Street preparing for tonight's premiere of the group's new play Metamorphosis — City of Crust (變幻 — 痂殼城).

Directed by Japanese playwright and director Sakurai Daizou, the foremost advocate of tent-theater, a type of performance that originated in Japan during times of social unrest in the late 1960s, the production takes a sober look at the gentrification and ghettoization of urban spaces and dwells on the social exclusion of the underclass through its grotesque characters who inhabit the city of crust — a metaphor for the wounded land and the scarred outcasts.

Since the play is a collaboration between Taiwan and Japan and will be performed in Beijing in September as the first attempt to introduce the tent-theater to China, the theme of the production was chosen to reflect on the shared developmental experience of Asian cities.

"The key element of our previous production Wild Grass Heaven — Screen Memory (野草天堂 — Screen Memory) [inspired by the ongoing struggles of the aged former patients of Hansen's disease at the Happy Life Lo Sheng Sanatorium (樂生療養院)] sees its recurrence in the new play that questions the system's mechanism of exclusion," Daizou said.

Taken from a Japanese folktale that tells the tale of how desperate peasants transform themselves into animals, plants and ogres to survive famines, the story is narrated through poetic outbursts from fantastical creatures.

"It's a play about ogres and monsters … about how they use their impoverished bodies and will to survive to gnaw away the crust from inside," Daizou explained.

Having produced tent-theater for more than 30 years in Japan, most recently with the Ya Sen no Tsuki Haibizi troupe, Daizou has collaborated extensively with like-minded artists throughout Asian countries from South Korea to Philippines and has engaged in a Taiwan-based collective project under the name of Haibizi for the past six years.

Working on a voluntary base, members of the tent-theater refuse sponsorship from both governments and the private sector to remain true to the spirit of the left-wing theater that takes subversion as its aesthetics and voices criticism of the state apparatus and capitalist market economy.

Forming affiliations with like-minded individuals and groups, the Haibizi collective's mission is to reinvent the political theater.

"As many young artists are learning and getting involved in the making of theater, I believe we will see new forms of tent-theater coming out of different regions for years to come," Daizou said.