Children’s laughter rang out on a recent evening at Cimei Junior High School on the southernmost islet of the Penghu archipelago as the Paper Windmill Theatre (紙風車劇團) performed its trademark children’s play Windmill Fantasia.
The play includes a story about Don Quixote and segments with music, dance and a multimedia show aimed at teaching young children to be courageous in pursuing their dreams and at cultivating their love of the arts.
If anything, the play symbolized the travails of simply bringing the Paper Windmill Theatre to Cimei and the quest of Wu Yi-ju (吳憶如), a Cimei Junior High School teacher, whose chances of success may have seemed as remote as Don Quixote’s as he fought the windmills he saw as ferocious giants.
Determined to bring the troupe to her hometown, Wu initiated a fundraising campaign to take advantage of the troupe’s “First Mile, Kid’s Smile: Arts for Children in 319 Townships” project launched two years earlier.
The project aims to bring the performing arts to children around Taiwan within three-and-a-half years.
But Wu knew it was a long shot.
“While I really hoped the troupe would perform in Cimei [七美], I didn’t expect it to happen at first, given the long distance and high transport costs,” Wu said.
Learning earlier this year that Project 319 was still running and that the troupe had traveled to all of the country’s outlying regions except Penghu, Wu filed an application with the Taipei-based troupe.
At the time, the Paper Windmill Theatre was preparing a tour of Penghu. Acting on Wu’s application, it agreed to put Cimei on its Penghu itinerary, which already included stops in four other townships.
But money remained an obstacle. Under its Project 319, the Paper Windmill Theatre will perform in any district that can put up NT$350,000 to cover the cost of performing and putting up a makeshift stage for each presentation.
For the Cimei show, though, challenging transportation issues pushed the cost to at least NT$600,000.
“As we wanted to give our residents a national-class stage show, the troupe had to rent special vessels to tow three 15-tonne trucks loaded with all sorts of stage props and equipment from Magong, Penghu’s county seat, to Cimei,” Wu said.
The trucks had to be shipped early in the morning to take advantage of high tides.
Wu created a blog to raise the funds for the performance.
“We got out the message that a remote village wanted the performing arts to enrich the lives of villagers,” Wu said. “The response was warm.”
In addition to a stream of small donations from local residents, larger sums came from bloggers, Internet users and entrepreneurs.
The extra transport cost was covered by donations from a couple and an engineer at Hsinchu Science Park.
Their generosity was motivated in part by a tour they had taken earlier of Cimei and their memory of its natural beauty, but also by their desire, like that of many other donors, to share their love for the arts with Cimei’s children and other residents.
For many children and adults in the audience, the show marked the first time they had seen a live theatrical performance.
A junior high school student said watching a live stage play under a clear, starry sky was exciting.
“The scene of Don Quixote fighting a huge windmill was inspiring,” she said.
Wu said she personally was impressed and deeply moved by the cast’s professionalism and dedication. During the day, they helped set up the makeshift stage — similar in size to that in Taipei’s National Theater — and rehearsed. After the performance, they dismantled the stage overnight.