Johnny Tam

Theatre director, art director of the Macao Experimental Theatre, has been living and working in Shanghai and Berlin. Representative works from these years are Mr. Shi and His Lover and Lungs.

"Moderation" at the Taipei Arts Festival

10 2018 | Issue 29

The local playwright Miki To received an invitation in early March this year from the Taipei Arts Festival, organised by the Taipei City Government, to bring her work Moderation to the Festival at Think Bar in early August. Theatre groups from Macao have performed in Taiwan several times. For instance, the Taipei Fringe Festival and Kuandu Arts Festival are both familiar to the people of Macao. The former, in particular, is where Macao plays have been most frequently staged in Taiwan. On the other hand, for a work to be selected by the Kuandu Arts Festival and the Taipei Arts Festival, it requires either a curator’s reference, or it must have previously premiered in other regions in Asia. This is why Macao plays are relatively less frequently staged at these two Festivals.

In the past, it was rare for local theatre groups to invite overseas curators to their productions, meaning that they have to take care of venue-finding, fund-raising and promotion for their overseas touring. This situation, however, may be changing slowly with the introduction of the Asian Producers’ Platform in recent years. Workshops and conferences with a theme of “Cross-Border Network and Dialogue” are organised in Korea, Taiwan Region, Hong Kong S.A.R. and Macao S.A.R., giving local theatre groups and creators more opportunities to appear on Asian producers’ radars. Moreover, organisers of events such as the “Macao Arts Festival” and the “Macao City Fringe Festival” hosted by the government, and the “Dancing in the Moment” and the “BOK Festival” staged by private promoters, also specially included an exchange session for local creators to interact with overseas producers. Of course, it also included performance watching and group discussions. The local production Moderation, for instance, received its invitation to the Taipei Arts Festival from curators Tang Fu Kuen and Betsy Lan at the BOK Festival last year after its performance.

Certainly, along with having curators at the performance personally, several other factors play a role in determining whether a work can be invited for overseas performance. For example, can it be re-run with a smaller crew (the usual size is about five to eight actors and staff members)? Is the work original enough? Can the group maintain the quality of the performance? Questions like these, as well as the compatibility of the performance and the overall direction, are key to understanding the issue.

Moderation, according to its playwright and director, Miki To, is a play built on reflecting on the significance of social movements. Due to its elements of social criticism, however, it was rather difficult for the work to seek more resources during its early stage of creation, compared to other plays. Fortunately, the group continued to develop the play despite its lack of funds. Moderation was staged at the Step Out Experimental Theatre and the Black Box Theatre at the Old Court Building in 2016 and 2017 respectively, evolving from a 25-minute short play to a nearly hour-long show.

Going back to the question of the compatibility of the overall direction and the work itself: there has actually been a lack of platforms with social criticism at their heart in Asia. The past editions of the Taipei Arts Festival, for example, had all seen the dominance of the rationale of theatre aesthetics, followed by exploration of the connection between art and the city. This year, however, has seen a change-this year’s Taipei Arts Festival is curated by Tang Fu Kuen, a Singaporean theatre veteran. Tang oriented the Festival to a different direction from its past editions, one that aimed to confront the assembly and make it re-think on the very idea of “social democracy”. Tang sees it as a new discursive platform, which, in addition to simple consumption of the performance, strives also “to unpack the provocations that ASSEMBLY raises by tracking how ‘performance’ operates in recent social movements, global capital flows, cultural migration and youth activism” (Tang Fu Kuen, Artistic Statement of 2018 Taipei Arts Festival).

We may therefore conclude from these examples that a region, apart from bringing intriguing international programmes to perform locally, could boost the creative development of emerging artists as well as let their voices be heard globally. This is also an urgent task for cultural development. Being a pioneering region of performing arts in Asia, Taiwan has underlined the core concepts of contemporary art such as “diversity”, “inclusiveness” and “self-determination” in various art platforms. We hope that our local artists, as they take part in overseas performance, not only take their work abroad, but also embed the most distinctive features of our culture in it and present it to these audiences.