Spiritual splittings

Fernando Pessoa, an important figure of 20th century literature, serves as the inspiration for “The Lives of P,” a theatrical experience that examines what it means to have several different personas

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Nov 02, 2012 - Page 12

Over the years, Mobius Strip Theater (莫比斯圓環創作公社) has established itself as a regular player on Taiwan’s vibrant experimental theater scene, often producing works that explore the deep questions of human existence through a wide variety of media. It’s most recent work, The Lives of P, will premiere tonight in Taipei as part of the Huashan Living Arts Festival (2012 華山藝術生活節).

As artistic director Faye Liang (梁菲倚) told the Taipei Times, Mobius Strip is a very “broad minded” group that is willing to take its inspiration from widely varied sources. She described the work of Mobius Strip as a “spiritual journey” from one exploration to another. These journeys of exploration often have a spiritual or philosophical dimension, not surprising given that many of the group’s members are involved in some kind of contemplative practice.

The original spark for this production is the life and work of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, an important figure of 20th century literature and honored as the foremost poet of the Portuguese language. Pessoa is renowned for living his life very intentionally in the ivory tower of letters. Despite this, Pessoa has had a huge influence, and many of his ideas and even his expressions of literary whimsy, provide a rich source of inspiration.

Pessoa is particularly known for writing under a huge number of different names that expressed different aspects of his literary persona. “Pessoa was ahead of his time,” Liang said. “When we open a Facebook account or anything like that, we often do the same thing.”

“Even back then, Pessoa understood this. He splintered himself into many persons. In the play this is expressed by starting with Pessoa, but then splitting, branching off into a variety of characters.”

“Into this mix, scriptwriter Feng Chengcheng (馮程程) has added two of her own idols, Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, and Tiananmen Square activist Wang Dan (王丹), who also expresses aspects of the contradiction between action and inaction,” Liang said. It is a journey, starting with poetry, or literature, toward political engagement. Can art have both of these functions at the same time, having literary value, but also influencing society?”

Liang spoke about the various archetypes that people like Wang Dan, Aung San Suu Kyi and Pessoa represented. “Someone like Aung San Suu Kyi, who can be so focused on a single goal, and not be distracted by all the life around her. From a single person, the play splits into a story about different characters, but these characters are all part of us. Or are they? And so who is the real me? These are the questions we want to ask,” Liang said.

Mobius Strip is dedicated to creating crossovers and collaborative work. “We really like doing crossovers of all kinds, from using different media to performers from different countries.”

In its presentation, Mobius Strip has decided to make the best use it can of the cavernous space of Huashan’s Plum Wine Factory, setting up three stages and making extensive use of lighting effects so that the stage can be made to extend deep into the background, or, by moving the three stages together, brought up short in front of the audience.

With its eclectic range of influences and considerable experience at stage theater events, Mobius Strip productions have a way of making the incongruous come together in a spectacle that aims to make you look both inward and outward at the same time.