Tag Archives: Sunflower Movement

‘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

Playing the Euphonium for Little Miss Sociopath’s Pageant, or what Kaite did this week.

I have always secretly loved ‘catch-me-up’ round robins – those annual missives  that coyly condense achievements into two sides of A4, whilst desperately trying not to look smug. I’m afraid this post will resemble that kind of mix and match, for it’s been a remarkable and diverse week, but perhaps not quite in the league  of some of my stateside clan (‘Dorito bagged four hoops this season, whilst Haagen-Daz has embraced the Euphonium as her special skill for the upcoming Little Miss Sociopath Pageant’).

I’m delighted to be awarded a Literature Wales writing bursary, announced late this week. The grant will enable me to dedicate a sustained period to writing fiction. Although known as a dramatist, I’ve published short prose in the past, and am currently revising a first novel.  This award will give me guaranteed ‘fenced off’ time away from whatever it is I do to keep the wolf from the door, to experiment and explore the long prose form. The list of bursary recipients and information on how to apply for future bursaries can be found at: http://www.literaturewales.org/services-for-writers/i/124046/

I’m grateful to Literature Wales for this vote of confidence along with some financial support in these cash-strapped times. I’m used to reading about grants for the arts being slashed, which makes the announcement of twenty-two writers in Wales working through through the medium of English and Cymraeg sharing £81,000 in bursaries for 2014/15 even more cause for celebration. Hurrah. And thank you.

Further celebration this week involved the wonderful Disability Arts Cymru (DAC) and their skills week, where members of their Unusual Stage School have a series of masterclasses and workshops.

Augusto Boal's exercise: making a machine. Photo: Brian Tarr.

Augusto Boal’s exercise: making a machine. Photo: Brian Tarr.

This photo by Brian Tarr shows me apparently conducting the members of USS in one of Augusto Boal’s exercises from the Arsenal of the Theatre of the Oppressed: ‘Machine of Love/Hate’ (‘Games for Actors and Non-Actors’). I was fortunate to have trained with Augusto in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and have used his techniques in applied drama, devising processes, and for conflict resolution across Europe. For the past ten years I’ve been focusing on performance writing whenever I’ve led masterclasses, so it was wonderful to work physically and practically with these beautiful techniques again.

Disability Arts Cymru continue to provide outstanding support, guidance, and training opportunities for actors with physical, sensory, or intellectual impairments. As I said during a lecture at the end of the day, I felt like I had come home – back to Boal’s work, where I started my theatre practice, and to DAC and disability arts and culture.

I’m increasingly concerned about the dilution of expertise and knowledge into catch-all terms such as ‘diversity’. Of course I embrace diversity and promote it in my life and work, but there are particular challenges and prejudices people with impairments face – especially in these difficult days of cuts, the Bedroom Tax and its ilk, criticism of being ‘scroungers’, and the related rise in disability hate crime. An organisation like DAC, who are part of that community and have great understanding, experience, and specialism built up over decades should continue this expertise and not be asked to broaden the scope to a more general ‘diversity’ catchment. I know that this is the way policy is leading, directed from above by politicians, but it seriously worries me that specialist organisations will be weakened this way, and potentially at a time when their clientele will need them most.

The other event this week which I am proud of and certainly will be anything but coy about announcing is my delight and honour to be made DAC’s patron. It is my privilege to be a figurehead for this sterling organisation. I have been part of Disability Arts Cymru for twenty years, and my relationship with Maggie Hampton and Sara Beer goes back to 1986 when we all worked with Graeae Theatre Company, and were part of the Disability Civil Rights Movement. I hope I manage to serve them and the disabled and Deaf people in Wales and beyond, well.

Whilst we are on politics and the fight for civil rights, 陳佾均 Betty, the Taiwanese translator of my performance text ‘The 9 Fridas’ (whom I wrote about in my previous post) has been keeping me informed about the protests for democracy currently occurring in Taiwan. Our discussions began with reference to Frida Kahlo and her political commitment throughout her life – famously appearing in a wheelchair pushed by Diego Rivera, fist defiantly raised, placard in the other hand, less than a week before her death. We were discussing the necessity of finding parallels between the text and contemporary Taiwanese life, and so she broached the issue of the Sunflower Movement.

I was embarrassed and ashamed to tell her I had only the slightest knowledge of this massive civil rights campaign. There has been little coverage on UK radio and TV and after a cursory search I could only find one article in The Guardian online Comment is Free. Betty has sent me a few links, which I reproduce, below. Please look and read, and don’t be as uninformed as I was. Thank you

https://www.facebook.com/sunflowermovement

http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/journalists-obstructed-as-police-use-force-at-taiwan-student-demonstration

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/25/taiwans-protesters-democracy-china-taiwan-strait