A little over a year ago, the Taipei Players, Taiwan’s premier English-speaking theater group, held It’s a Cabaret Christmas charity event at Loop. Guests lined up around the block for the show at the intimate venue and there was standing room only when the curtain went up. The Taipei Players return with some more festive cheer on Saturday with It’s a Cabaret Christmas 2 at 1001 Nights, and it promises to be bigger and better.
Even though Mandy Roveda, director, actress and the de facto head of Taipei Players, has confidence this year’s performance will raise the bar, she still has butterflies.
“Since last year’s show was so great, it feels like the pressure of a band going to number one on their debut album and then having to outdo that for their follow up,” she said.
The idea for last year’s cabaret show emerged after Roveda finished acting in Anything Goes, one of the biggest English-language productions ever staged in Taiwan. She sat down with fellow actor and singer, Brandon Thompson, and sussed out the evening.
“We basically came up with an idea and ran with it,” Roveda said. “Last year we had different sketches with things weaved in. It was a loosely tied together story about what Santa Claus would see when he goes into an apartment complex in Taiwan.”
While this year’s show is different, there are some similarities.
“We revisit some of the same people, but have also added some new ones. And there’s a top secret plot twist that I can’t talk about,” Roveda said.
Any profits from Taipei Players events go towards their next shows, but when Roveda and Thompson came up with the idea for A Cabaret Christmas, they decided it would be different.
“Being Christmas, we thought we should be giving back to the community instead of funding future shows,” Roveda said.
The two charities that A Cabaret Christmas 2 supports are Harmony Home, a place that helps HIV-affected orphans, and Taipei Family helper, an organization that focuses on food banks as well as other social assistance programs. “We chose two charities that people we know are involved in so we know where the funds are going,” Roveda said.
Roveda became interested in theater in high school when she started landing roles in plays and musicals. She played musical instruments, but enjoyed theater rehearsals more. She was offered a scholarship for music to a small school, but declined it to focus on theater at York University, Canada’s third-largest university.
“The competition there was intense and it was audition crazy,” Roveda said. “One hundred people tried out for the program and that got whittled down to 16, and only 11 of us graduated. I enjoyed it because I love to work, work, work.”
The SARS scare
With a few of her fellow graduates, Roveda started a theater company, but then tragedy struck in 2003. “SARS happened and destroyed the theater and film industry,” she said, referring to the declaration by the WHO against all but essential travel to Toronto, where her troupe was located. “No tourists were coming to visit at all and work was getting less and less.”
After deciding that Asia was her next destination, Roveda went to South Korea, where she spent three and a half years. She then started scouting for a new home base and ended up talking with Brook Hall, a director and actor, on online message boards about the opportunities in Taiwan. “Brook helped me out immensely when I came to Taiwan,” she said. “I felt like I landed running.”
Over her four years in Taiwan, Roveda started Taipei Players (with Sarah Fothergill Zittrer, who moved away but will return for A Cabaret Christmas 2), and has acted in and directed various shows, most recently co-producing the oddly named [Title of Show] (美國音樂劇) with Hall. She’s happy with what she’s done, but has her sights set higher. “I’m not very patient or satisfied,” Roveda said. “I love the work we’re doing here; I just want to do more.”
The cast list for A Cabaret Christmas 2 reads like a who’s who of English theater performers in Taiwan including Roveda, Zittrer, and Thompson, as well as Ben Gagnon, Colin Norman, Cat Tsai (蔡佳慈), Charlie Storrar, DC Rapier, Mike Tennant, Carrie Kellenberger, Andy Francis, Ted Pigott, Gary Byrne, Alita Rickards, Kathleen Batchelor, Nicholas Sando, Jesse Lee Helton and Ryan Anthony.
“We basically wanted to bring a little piece of Christmas here. The important thing about the tongue-in-cheek show is that it’s fun and seeing different people’s ideas of the holidays,” Roveda said.