Chevela Vargas haunts me. Her smoky, broken voice is the soundtrack to my dreams and the first thing I become conscious of when I wake. The raspy passion of her songs play in my head all day and then loop and replay in my mind all night. Torch singer, lesbian icon, rumoured lover of Frida Kahlo, her voice is part of the audio for the Taiwanese production of my script ‘The 9 Fridas’. The photo of her sexy and supine, her hand casually resting on the breast of a laughing Frida Kahlo is circulating our company like contraband.
We are in the second week of rehearsals with Mobius Strip Theatre Company, working on my performance text for the Taipei art festival. Inspired by the disabled Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, we are an integrated company of disabled and non-disabled practitioners, joyfully collaborating and sharing new skills.
Our director Phillip Zarrilli uses Asian martial arts in the training for his psychophysical approach to actor-training and it has been fascinating observing one of our actors, Chih-Chung Cheng, adapt kalaripayyattu and taiquiquan. Phillip is always very keen we adapt the martial art to the foibles and idiosyncrasies of our individual bodies, and was intrigued to encounter his long-term practice of taiquiquan in a new position – seated on the rehearsal floor, with Chung.
Taipei is lively, friendly, and so much fun. I was invited by the British Council and Taipei art festival to give a writing workshop and a public lecture: ‘Representations of Impairment in the Western Theatrical Canon’. This has been an area of my research for some time, developed partly during my on-going fellowship at Freie Universitat’s International Research Centre: Interweaving Performance Cultures.
In the dinner hour between the events I and my spontaneous girl gang – a group of fabulous creative Taiwanese women – headed for stinky tofu at a street cafe and the auspicious temple for match-making nearby.
The script is becoming more familiar to the actors, who are interrogating the content, asking questions, seeking clarity. It’s a hugely exciting time as the text begins to breathe and take shape. As a playwright, I am constantly editing and tightening the text as the different scenes start coming into focus. What may work on the page can trip, divert, or slow when put ‘up’ – the dynamics of individual moments, as well as sequences and the flow of the whole piece needs to be taken into consideration. Tempo-rhythm, dynamic and flow is of great importance to me, especially at this point in the process.
Makeshift props are beginning to appear in the rehearsal room and costume designer YS Lee is making some fabulous reproduction accessories from Kahlo’s paintings.
One is his version of the necklace of a dead hummingbird from Kahlo’s self-portrait ‘A Necklace of Thorns’, used to great effect in the publicity for the production.
I can’t wait to see the costumes, including a leather corset he is making, based on one Frida Kahlo wore.