Tag Archives: Taipei Art Festival

Western Mail interview: Taking a Welsh stage drama about a Mexican artist to Taiwan

Karen Price of The Western Mail interviewed me on the cusp of ‘The 9 Fridas’ opening in Taipei.

Original interview can be read at http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/taking-welsh-stage-drama-mexican-7679916

 

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

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

Q: How did the Taiwan project come about?

A: The Taipei Arts Festival has been trying to get director Phillip Zarrilli over from Wales to Taiwan to train and direct a production with a Taiwanese company for some years. He put forward my performance text, The 9 Fridas.

The theme for the festival this year is ‘ways of looking’ and my text invites us to perceive this famous artist in a different way from the usual representations of her.

Q: What is ‘The 9 Fridas’ about?

A: It is a collage of impressions and stories reflecting the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and the fictional journey of ‘F’ through the nine 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 disabled radical, the fashion icon, the struggling artist and so on.

Q: Where did you get the idea from?

A: I’ve been obsessed with Frida Kahlo since I was a teenager, and this will be my third project in 20 years about her.

I love the fact she’s a disability icon (I identify as a disabled person), and didn’t let the perceived limitations of her gender or impairments impact on her creativity, political activism, or emotional life.
Q: The Sherman Cymru/Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru production Llwyth was previously staged at the festival. What does it mean to have productions with Welsh connections shown in other countries?

A: This text for ‘The 9 Fridas’ originated in Wales but it isn’t a Welsh performance per se – it’s about a German-Mexican artist written by an Irish playwright living in Wales, directed in Mandarin by an immigrant Wales-based director, acted by performers from Taiwan and Hong Kong!

I’m grateful for the interest in my work across the world. This September I will have three productions on simultaneously (in Taiwan, Estonia and England). I can but hope it will be seen one day in Wales. Most of my work is currently produced outside Wales.

Q: What has been the reaction from people there ahead of the premiere?

A: We sold out all performances several weeks ago and don’t open for another fortnight, so there’s been a buzz.

We’ve had a lot of TV and media coverage and three cultural commentators/critics attending rehearsals and writing various long articles about the production as a focus for the unique actor-training approach developed by Phillip Zarrilli, using Asian martial arts.

There’s a lot of excitement around the production largely owing to Phillip finally being here.

Q: Personally, what do you think you’ve gained most from this project?

A: It’s been wonderful working across cultures, with so many collaborators working from rich traditions.

I’ve particularly enjoyed observing, during the past six weeks, the training process Phillip has led the actors on – a psychophysical approach does not work from psychology, and it’s been fascinating watching the actors learn and adapt performance techniques to suit this non-naturalistic play text.

I’m always so excited and grateful to be welcomed into a different country or culture and learn how to communicate and collaborate in new ways.

Q: Any plans to stage it in Wales?

A: I can but hope…

Q: What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

A: My new play, ‘Woman of Flowers’, a reworking of the Bloudewydd myth from the Mabinogion, tours nationally with Forest Forge Theatre from September and there will be just one date in Wales – Aberystwyth Arts Centre on October 29.

In the longer term, I’m working on a new Arts Council of Wales-funded production of ‘Playing The Maids’. It’s a collaboration with Gaitkrash from Ireland, Jing Hong Okorn from Singapore and Theatre P’Yut from South Korea. It will premiere at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in February 2015.

9 Fridas is being staged at the Taipei Arts Festival from September 5 to 7. For further details about Kaite O’Reilly’s work, visit http://www.kaiteoreilly.com

Chevela Vargas, seated taiquiquan, and stinky tofu: second week rehearsals of The 9 Fridas in Taipei

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.

Frida Kahlo and Chevela Vargas. Photo from Tumblr

Frida Kahlo and Chevela Vargas. Photo from Tumblr

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.

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli in training before rehearsals

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli in training before rehearsals

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.

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli: seated Taiquiquan.

Chih-Chung Cheng and Phillip Zarrilli: seated Taiquiquan.

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.

Dinner on taipei street between creative writing workshop and a public talk

Dinner on taipei street between creative writing workshop and a public talk

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.

Phillip Zarrilli directing Faye Leung. 'The 9 Fridas' Taipei 2014

Phillip Zarrilli directing Faye Leung. ‘The 9 Fridas’ Taipei 2014

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.

Costume designer Ys Lee with his replica of 'A Necklace of Thorns'

Costume designer Ys Lee with his replica of ‘A Necklace of Thorns’

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.

Bobo Fung in publicity material for 'The 9 Fridas' by Kaite O'Reilly. Mobius Strip Theatre/Taipei art festival 2014

Bobo Fung in publicity material for ‘The 9 Fridas’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Mobius Strip Theatre/Taipei art festival 2014

I can’t wait to see the costumes, including a leather corset he is making, based on one Frida Kahlo wore.