To the almost deafening sounds of 11 taiko drums and a gong, the Department of Corrections yesterday officially launched a unique road show at Taichung Prison that will see the Guwu Percussion Troupe from Changhua Prison tour 19 prisons and detention centers throughout the central and southern parts of the country.
The tour actually began on Thursday at a smaller detention facility in Taichung, but only the third-floor auditorium at the Taichung Prison was deemed big enough to hold 200 inmates and about 25 dignitaries and members of the media for an hour-and-a-half-long formal ceremony, including Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫), Department of Corrections Director Wu Hsien-chang (吳憲璋), Changhua Prison Warden Tai Shou-nan (戴壽南) and U-Theatre founder and artistic director Liu Ruo-yu (劉若瑀).
The troupe will give six performances next month, with the remainder of the shows scheduled for November. Liu, whose company members organized and taught the drumming and sacred dance classes at Changhua Prison, said it took about six months of coordination within the Department of Corrections and the various prisons and centers to arrange the tour.
For security reasons, only 12 members at a time from the 20-plus inmate troupe will be allowed out of the Changhua facility for the performances, and they are tightly guarded and manacled for the trips to and from the prison.
While the members wear U-Theatre’s distinctive sarong pants to perform in, they also wear white eye masks to protect their identities.
U-Theatre began offering the drumming classes in 2009 as part of Chuanghua Prison’s unique reform-through-art program, which includes several traditional music ensembles, as well as a puppetry group and dance classes.
While this year’s prison tour is not the first time that members of the Guwu Percussion Troupe have been allowed outside the Changhua facility to perform, a tour on this scale has never been tried before.
Joining the inmates on the tour are two former members of the Changhua troupe who were paroled last fall and have since become members of U-Theatre, performing with the company at the Taipei International Flora Expo earlier this year.
In their speeches at the end of the show they described how their lives had been transformed by the dedication and discipline required to learn U-Theatre’s zen-based drumming and meditation practices — messages the Department of Corrections officials hope will rub off on the audience.