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2015/06/09

【My Fringe Experience】With Regards to Fringe…

Grass/Theatre worker
 
I started working in the theatre approximately a half-year prior to the first Taipei Fringe. During that year’s Fringe I was posted to Huashan Creative and Cultural Park as an on-site producer. Back then I was still guilty of harbouring many expectations and insistences with regards to ‘theatre’ and ‘performance’.  I often found myself at a loss in many regards: not able to understand why a given piece would be considered an ‘artistic work’, or feeling impatient with the conservative decisions made by the Fringe with regards to what wasn’t ok, and what perhaps could be accepted. Ultimately, what did the phrase ‘for art’ mean? What level should it be taken to? Confronting this question, I found everyday to be full of confusion.
 
The performance that left the deepest impression was one in the auditorium floor of the Fruit Wine building in Huashan Creative and Cultural Park. We were given no technical specifications, no music was to be played, and the rehearsal room didn’t have any props on display. The singular name on the artist roster only requested that we alternately brighten and dim the lights in the four corners of the room every 15 minutes. Having told us this much they left leaving the content of the performance a mystery and ticketing details equally vague.   
 
On the day of the performance with only 30 minutes left to performance time the artist had not yet appeared. We called the only contact number we had which turned out to be a land-line, not a cell-phone, to no avail. In the end we finally heard the artist’s mothers voice on the other end of the line, only to be told that her daughter, the performer, had already left for the show. After a moment’s pause, she added she wanted to thank us for giving her daughter the opportunity to perform. 3-5 minutes later, we finally saw the performer approaching at a leisurely pace, passing by the Fringe staff at the door as well as the only ticket-holder, a friend of the performer on her way into the theatre. The audience moved into the centre of the desolate and dimly lit performance space and the performance began. In our silence, we slowly heard words reverberating around the room. But where were they coming from? Even after our eyes adjusted to the darkness, it was impossible to pinpoint the source direction of the sounds. The performer has positioned herself underneath the only source of light, and thus in the darkest corner of the space. With each 15 minute period she rotated to occupy each newly darkened corner.  
 
When she finished speaking, the performance ended with a bout of silence. We were all astonished by what we had just experience. What had we just experienced? None of us were able to comprehend the performance, nor were we quick enough to ask the performer about her experience attending, or about her motive before she fled. To this day I haven’t run into that performer again. Afterwards, each August and September, as long as I have free time I register to be a Fringe on-site producer. While in the several years that have past since that first event I’ve had many additional experiences, the details that come to mind are usually just trivialities in comparison. For example in 2011 I took advantage of some free time at the Fringe Operations Center to read 4 Chairs Theatre’s “Waiting for Wowotou Escape and Reunion” consecutively 4 times (I definitely used that environment to its fullest potential). That same year just before a BDSM Theatre performance at Nanhai Gallery, a middle-aged man with a lace umbrella and makeup came up to me and faintly mumbled inquiring about tickets. Last year I recall waiting at Nanhai Gallery fully prepared for the performance “Earth”. Of course there are also countless memories of bustling back and forth between venues carrying props, some of the joyous, some of them defeated.
 

2014 Taipei Fringe Festival-F《Flowers》performance at Nanhai Gallery
 
In the 8 years that have passed since my first Fringe experience that original performance hall has turned into a pizza parlour. Countless artists attend Fringe each year in order to experiment, and to perform their dreams. While lost in the fight for the best performance space, they may overlook the plethora of obstacles facing them, such as ever-changing performance spaces and limited showtimes, and unless they are unimaginably vigilant, they are bound to encounter setbacks where their creativity and dreams become the origin of their own undoing. Preventing these calamities before they happen, and ensuring performances go on as scheduled is precisely the ultimate goal of the on-site producer. Perhaps its the inevitable result of these past few years of experience, but I’ve gradually learned how to best coordinate artist and venue. From a technical coordination standpoint I always attempt to do my best when dealing with the uncertainty of passionate neophyte performers combined with the jet-lagged brain-fried creator who’s is on the verge of breakdown. If reminding the performers of the complexities of their performance and confirming many a minor detail is the way to secure a thrilling but safe and punctual performance, then for me it’s worth it.
 
From beginning to end, performance is an activity that concerns ‘people’. This is especially true in the case of the Fringe Festival, as the grand occasion comprises the organising party, private venues, and individual performers. While this year is only the 8th annual festival, the Fringe has already been designated a cultural phenomenon on account of its sphere of influence and unique operating protocol (recommended reading: “Taipei Fringe Festival Cultural Analysis”, and other Fringe critiques). Why do artists continue to flock to the Fringe? How exactly does the Fringe stimulate the local art scene? Does the quality of performances delight audience members or let them down? None of these questions are easy to answer. Just like I’m unable to explain exactly what I experienced 8 years ago in that dark auditorium listening to sounds of recited speech as they emerged from the darkness, even as it came to form my most important memory of the Fringe. In short, I’ve learned that regardless of your identity, be it staff or audience, the Fringe may not necessarily delight you, but it is absolutely guaranteed to deliver something you didn’t expect.
 

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