Tag Archives: rehearsal processes

A multitude of Frida Kahlos…. writing across mediums

 

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh at The 9 Fridas photoshoot. Mobius Strip, Taipei.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, photo shoot for Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘The 9 Fridas’ Mobius Strip Theatre, Taipei.

‘The 9 Fridas’ is a mosaic, a collage of impressions and stories reflecting the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and the fictional journey of ‘F’ through the 9 Hells of the Mayan Underworld. ‘F’ is accompanied by a chorus of figures who, like her, are and are not Frida Kahlo, but whose stories echo actual events from Kahlo’s life: The betrayed wife, the political activist, the teenager severely disabled in a road accident, the fashion icon, the struggling artist…

Or so my notes in the programme will read when we open in several weeks at the Taipei Arts Festival.

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leung and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Costume designer YS Lee with Faye Leong and Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, The 9 Fridas

Our rehearsal process continues apace, with a day of shooting the mediatised sections of the production. This gives us a chance to see the aesthetic created by our fabulous costume designer YS Lee, and appreciate the skill of his make-up and hair artists.

This performance script has allowed my imagination full-reign, writing for several mediums. The pre-set is a recorded radio script which will play in the foyer and auditorium before the performance starts. Several sections are filmed, including manipulated Frida puppet dolls, which I watched YS customise, embroidering a monobrow and making Tehuna regional Mexican dress the night before the shoot.

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

Frida dolls customised by YS Lee, The 9 Fridas

We are beginning to run the full script (or ‘stagger’ as some wag put it last week) , the actors grasping the movement of their journey through the piece. I’m making final edits and our translator, Betty Chen, is making last adjustments to the Mandarin text, which we hope will be published in 2015.

Director Phillip Zarrilli runs an open door policy in rehearsals and there has been a river of academics, actor-trainers, cultural commentators, emerging and established practitioners flowing through the studio. The company and our rehearsal visitors have all said what a gift and luxury it is to have the playwright in the room. Apart from revising the script, I am on call to clarify, to explain and to offer research material – whether anecdote, images, or biographical details. I have been obsessed with Frida Kahlo most of my life – The 9 Fridas is my second project engaging with her work and art – and I have a third on the horizon.

 

Faye Leung in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

Faye Leong in Mobius Strip offices, The 9 Fridas, Taipei

But for the present my focus and energies stay with this production with Mobius Strip Theatre Company, which opens 5th September, and is already sold out.

‘The 9 Fridas’ first week of rehearsals – and The Sunflower Protest

In the first days of rehearsals with Mobius Strip Theatre Company in Taipei.

‘The 9 Fridas’ is a performance text with multiple protagonists who are and yet are not the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. In the script I’ve taken moments from her extraordinary life and reframed and reinvented them, in contemporary contexts. Using cross-gender, cross-impairment casting, we are creating a mosaic of voices and experiences which, when combined, suggest the whole.

 

Bobo Fung and Faye  Leung in 'The Two Fridas' pose in rehearsals for 'The 9 Fridas'.

Bobo Fung and Faye Leung in ‘The Two Fridas’ pose in rehearsals for ‘The 9 Fridas’.

The self-portraits of Frida Kahlo are naturally playing a large part of the visual ensemble work. From the first day of rehearsal director Phillip Zarrilli gets the actors to embody and inhabit some of her paintings. Although they are taking on – with precision – the physical positions of the portraits, they are not ‘being’ Frida – they are creating their own version, working from behind the eyes.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh working with Po-Ting Chen, 'The 9 Fridas' rehearsals.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh working with Po-Ting Chen, ‘The 9 Fridas’ rehearsals.

Each morning begins with an hour of pre-performative psychophysical training led by Phillip, to prepare and awaken the bodymind through Asian martial/meditation arts – Chinese taiquiquan, Indian yoga, and the martial art from Kerala, kalarippayattu. Apart from making us all more flexible and  fit, this warm-up is building an ensemble dynamic, and heightening the actors’ awareness of each other in the space.

The cast of 'The 9 Fridas', Mobius Strip Theatre, Taiwan.

The cast of ‘The 9 Fridas’, Mobius Strip Theatre, Taiwan.

For me as the playwright, this time is one of testing the script, fielding questions, and making revisions. I’ve decided to rewrite one of the scenes representing Frida Kahlo’s political activity so it has even more resonance for the contemporary Taiwanese audience.

Frida Kahlo was immensely political – and was last seen in public participating in a demonstration only days (or hours, according to some sources) before her death. We have been working with this last photograph of her out in the rain in her wheelchair, dark head wrapped in a shawl, a placard with Picasso’s Dove of Peace in one hand, the other fist raised in a defiant salute.

The cast of The 9 Fridas

The cast of The 9 Fridas

On March 18th  2014, hundreds of students occupied the “Legislative Yuan”, Taiwan’s parliament, to protest against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement. Their action was in protest against perceived undemocratic procedures pushing through this trade agreement between China and Taiwan without  fully informing the Taiwanese people what it would entail. Many feared this would make Taiwan too dependant on China economically, isolating Taiwan from other allies, and therefore vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing. This quickly spread across the city, and soon thousands of citizens gathered on the streets outside the parliament, to support the students inside.

On March 30th, twelve days into their occupation, students organized a demonstration that saw more than 500,000 Taiwanese citizens taking to the streets in support of their non-violent cause. The support was across Taiwan and  internationally, with demonstrations occurring in many cities across the world. This became known as The Sunflower Movement – a sign of hope.

Occupying the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament. Photo: http://flipthemedia.com/2014/07/social-media-taiwan/

Occupying the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament. Photo:
http://flipthemedia.com/2014/07/social-media-taiwan/

With this support, the government had to listen and respond and the action ended officially on April 10th.

I had been following the protest from the UK, aided by translations of news reports and a very active social media, provided by Betty, the translator of the play (Yi-Chun Chen). When I arrived in Taipei last week, I looked for people to interview who had been involved in the occupation – and didn’t have to look very far. In fact, I didn’t have to leave the rehearsal room. Cast members as well as our excellent stage management Knife Liao and Kuo Yi Chi  had been deeply involved. This week’s lunch hours have been spent with them and Po-Ting Chen telling me their experiences and how significant the protest has been in opening up discussions and politicising the younger generation. Knife Liao and Kuo Yi Chin have also shared political stickers and  the photographs they took inside the Legislative Yuan during the occupation.

Kuo Yi Chi and Knife Liao

Kuo Yi Chi and Knife Liao

This production doesn’t allow me to go into the protest with any real or meaningful depth – to do so would undermine the main story we are telling – but our conversations about democracy, correct political procedures and Taiwan’s independence have been thought-provoking. I doubt that I will be able to do justice to the protest and the actions of my company members – but I hope the introduction of resonant phrases and references may bring an additional layer of meaning to our Taipei audience.

*    *

Coverage about The Sunflower Movement was often difficult to find in the UK and Europe, where the significance of this protest was perhaps underestimated. I am grateful to Knife for collecting some of the links she feels are useful and reflect the event, so we may share them here:

Documentary made by Japanese TV, NHK  (Knife is visible at 29:40)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1agYWMah4E

‘We sing this together until the sunlight of hope covers everyone on this island” (lyrics to the Sunflower protest song: Lyrics: 
http://mojim.com/twy105739x6x1.htm

Officials song with animation: 
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=N6vRCQqOiUw

English version: 
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PvtvxmjfwfA

someone made before the demonstration on Mar.30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCT_dAVcVwY

shooting from air on Mar. 30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbEOc2VT_vs

College students sing 〈Island Sunrise〉in their Campus

National Chung Cheng University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_xY4dCptaI

National Chengchi University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUEHAwOxNTo

Tamkang University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABFpvG7HdTE

National Central University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uLrt_c0q70

National Sun Yat-sen University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yz4zLKL_-4E

National Taipei University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNILN2pDKi0