Seven years ago, college students Peng Tzu-ling (彭子玲) and Wang Shao-chun (王少君) answered a call on PTT, a bulletin board system, to join a sit-down protest at the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. They soon found themselves in an odd situation.
When they arrived, Wang and Peng saw that very few students had gathered, responding to a PTT user’s call to protest partisan fighting between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Nobody could find the protest organizer, but most decided to stay anyway.
Soon, politicians were coming by: Some shook hands with students, while others called them lackeys of the pan-blue camp. Gradually, more and more people congregated and joined them at Liberty Square. The new arrivals were not activists, but gangsters, runaway teens, unemployed men and vagabonds. It was a strange gathering, to say the least.
That was July 2006, just one month before Shih Ming-teh (施明德) initiated a campaign to oust then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), following a string of corruption scandals surrounding the first family.
Seven years later, Peng and Wang revisit what happened during that 33-day sit-down protest in The Way We Move (你用不上那玩意) with Black Dog Theatre (烏犬劇場), which plays this weekend at Taipei’s Guling Street Avant-garde Theatre (牯嶺街小劇場).
Peng, who directs, and Wang, the scriptwriter, attempt to convey the protest’s tedium and absurdity with a self-consciously raw style.
The play features four men: a retired, divorced journalist, a man who lost his job, a college student and a young tramp who claims to be of Japanese royal descent. The four wander onstage, exchanging words of no significance. Occasionally, the two older men look at the younger ones and, with a tone of disbelief, mumble, “It all depends on you students now.”
“We don’t know what happens to the four men during the day. We only see them gathering at Liberty Square at night,” Peng said to the Taipei Times on Tuesday.
As time progresses, the characters grow restless. Then suddenly they explode, unleashing violence against each other. They push, are pushed and fall silent again.
At a forum held with a performance last weekend, an audience member remarked that the deprived and the oppressed can’t afford to tell their stories in a nice, polished way. They have to resort to a direct, violent method in order to be heard.
“This is what we want to say … I can’t tell these people’s stories in any other way. Maybe in a few years I will be able. But now and here, this is the only way I know,” Peng said.
Peng and Wang co-founded the Black Dog Theatre in 2011, hoping to explore the relationship between the individual and society through art. In a way, the theater is an extension of their work in the psychology department of Fu Jen Catholic University, which encourages students to take part in social movements and believes that an individual’s problem needs to be approached and understood within social, political, cultural and historical contexts, said Peng.
“There are theatrical works focusing on depicting the system. But [in our works], we want to shed light on individuals caught in the system,” she said.