Over recent years, there has been a huge upswing in the popularity of children’s theater in Taiwan, and many talented local groups have emerged to provide a range of outstanding shows. But the relatively small size of the local market has kept most of these troupes small, and few can match the sheer spectacle and logistical knowhow brought to bear by Japan’s Flying Boat Theater Troupe’s production of Pinocchio.
Flying Boat’s version of the children’s classic opened at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (台北國父紀念館) yesterday, and over the next month the group will perform in Hsinchu starting tomorrow, and then travel to Hualien (Sept. 25), Taitung (Sept. 26), Miaoli (Sept. 28), Banchiao, New Taipei City (Sept. 29-30), Yunlin (Oct. 2), Chiayi (Oct. 3), Taichung (Oct. 4), Taoyuan (Oct. 5-6), Kaohsiung (Oct. 7), and Tainan (Oct. 10), then with repeat performances in many of these cities before returning to Taipei Oct. 20-21 for four final shows at the Taipei City Government Family Theater (台北市政府親子劇場).
What is most remarkable is not just the grueling schedule, but also the fact that this is a large, complex production that is known for its remarkable stage effects and which features a large cast of nearly 20 performers.
Tiger Chen (陳俊毅), a line manager for Warawa (得益寶), the company that has organized Flying Boat’s many visits to Taiwan, said this kind of schedule is only possible given the company’s decades-long experience of such tours and its rigorous discipline.
“Even time to have a cup of tea is written into their schedule,” a Warawa staffer said jokingly.
Elaborate stage settings have to be set up and dismantled in a very short time, with cast and crew having to adapt to new venues very rapidly.
Flying Boat does hundreds of shows a year in Japan and has toured widely around the world. The actors in Pinocchio and other Flying Boat productions wear oversized masks and costumes, and work to a recorded soundtrack that contains both dialogue and music.
“The dialogue has been dubbed into Chinese by local performers, many of whom are leading voice artists here,” Chen said. This provides easy accessibility for local audiences, while the Japanese performers focus on providing the physical realization of the story.
Flying Boat has specialized in producing classic fairytales in this format of live action puppets since it was established in 1966. With over 180 members, it has three companies that tour year round, with over 500 performances every year in Japan alone. “It is this kind of market demand that allows them to invest so much money in each new production,” Chen said. Flying Boat is known for the attention it pays to the quality of its masks, costumes and props, as well as its use of expensive lighting and stage effects inspired by the cinema.
While Taipei audiences may be used to big, professional productions, Flying Boat’s tour is a chance for kids outside the big city to experience top-class children’s theater, with all its bells, whistles and whizz-bang gadgetry.
The performance runs for 105 minutes with a 20-minute interval. Details of the tour schedule can be found at www.ticket.com.tw.