This article was first published in the September of 2011 with the launch of the official website of Reviewing Performing Arts Taiwan, and was later revised in the June of 2022.
Written by Chi Hui-ling
Translated by Siraya Pai
It started in 2011 with a decision that our experiences of “watching a performance” should matter.
Night after night, we are busy on the road, traveling around the trailing streetlight and the obscuring moonlight for that particular stagelight, where a live performance, among many others, takes its journey before our eyes. All the wise words we have heard and the things we have witnessed point to the fact that performing arts, as an art form “committed to its eventual disappearance,” are short-lived. Once it starts, it has become a thing of the past. Our witness as audience is significant for the presence of a production. Back in the day, long before online performance became a trend, when video was mostly referred as a form of documentation, the experience might outlive the performance itself, sustained by its archives, objects, audio recordings, or even the wastes. With the passage of time, the excitement or indifference one had substantially felt, accompanied by the smells, shadows and resonances lingering around the empty auditorium, gradually departed, and the “work” as well as its physical engraving thus faded till it was all gone.
However, our world is a different one now, especially the sense of space. As the notion of “liveness” of performing arts is conceptually and practically expanded, we not only celebrate the presence and appearance onsite, but also reexamine and reexperience how a performance is perceived “here-and-now” and the spectatorial “distance” from the performance. We are offered more and more approaches and perspectives to interpret a performance, while it also welcomes more interactions either online or onsite, expecting an interesting rippling impact.
Whether we are online or onsite, the memories unfold with written words. We not only confront the staged work to express our feelings, demonstrating what we have eagerly grasped in a ravished manner, but also manifest the “self” to the work, the kind of “self” which exists in a different mirrored world gazing into the gaze of the work.
Every spectator, including you, me and many others, reveals ourselves like this, as inspiring as it is illuminating for all to read. But let’s make it clear: the words published here neither visualize the work nor reiterate the details. Each one of us relates to theatre with our own approach and taste, which may involve social class, ideology, cultural upbringing, psychophysical state, situation, or the price. Since we are the veterans in the auditorium, our words which always need to be said might risk of being unnecessarily privileged and prioritized. We are not arbitrary, but we might show little mercy; we are not mean, but our words are well-leashed. We will never place personal relationships and social conventions, whether we call it sophistication or hypocrisy, before our true calling – the desire to say something, sweet or harsh.
Reviewing Performing Arts Taiwan, ready at your service!
Our contributors include the regular columnists, regular writers, columnists, and grant-program writers. Regular writers are critics from various disciplines and expected to contribute fresh reviews, and we also invite guest writers to expand our coverage. Sometimes, we will invite senior critics as our columnists to comment on live performances as well as the wider performing arts-related situations. Grant-program writers are critics supported by NCAF’s annual grant program.
Apart from those listed above, we welcome submissions of fresh reviews and comments with a sincere hope that a broader and wider interaction may invite more “readers” and “spectators” to join us in this platform for criticism.
As an open platform to encourage the publicness of stage arts, we only accept reviews of public performances in Taiwan, with explanations and definitions as listed below:
1. We define “public” performances as being inherently open to the public, in which the production team thus creates a public dialogue as well as an equal relationship with the audience. During the performance, all audience members, including the critics, basically share the same right of viewing and obey same theatre rules.
2. Sometimes, there are open-door rehearsal or unofficial performances, and their presentation is defined and decided by its production team. In most of the cases, open-door rehearsals or unofficial performances are not generally considered an “open” event, for that they are often limited to a selected group of audience. Based on our principles of equality, openness, and generality, therefore, we only accept reviews of official performances which are open and accessible to all and exclude these atypical presentations for their varying and often limited access. It is not only to support the belief that critics should share the same ground with the general audience rather than taking up a privileged position, but also out of the respect that the production team should have the final decision about what is ready for a public viewing.
3. We also expect an “openness” in reviews, as it should be, in terms of how the performance is discussed. The reviews published on our platform are open to all readers, and the reviewers’ perspectives and criticism in relation to the performance should welcome and encourage subsequent reexamination and be reviewed as well. Therefore, we insist that our published reviews specify the exact performance they were viewing by listing its date and venue as a reference for readers and audience, allowing possible open discussions among the audience members, as criticism is expected to do.
4. The “preview” before the official performance is not a common practice in Taiwan, although there are occasionally open-door rehearsals or unofficial performances where critics may be invited by the production team for a private viewing. However, it is the decision of the production team whether they should make it open or not, and we respect their decision without further suggestion.
5. The establishment of Reviewing Performing Arts Taiwan attempts to encourage dialogue, criticism, and critical perspectives, while we also hope to offer a platform for the documentation, critical discussion, and artistic exchange of the ephemeral performing arts as a response to the productions, a promotion of theatre experiences, and the groundwork for possible future discourses. Therefore, our weekly fresh reviews and the accepted submissons highlight the onsite presence in theatre – by offering observation on what’s going on in Taiwan’s performing arts on the same ground shared by all audience – as our principle, or a limitation as it might be. Meanwhile, apart from our fresh reviews, which is only one part of the broad practice of criticism, we also feature in-depth critiques in our columns “Perspective” and “Spotlight” to further cultivate critical writing.
Written by Chi Hui-ling in 2011/ revised in 2022.
Formerly a newspaper reporter on arts and culture with nearly 20 years of experience, Chi Hui-ling has built a particular knowledge of the arts and cultural industry. During her time at the newspaper, Chi was in charge of several columns, including the Ming Sheng Theater Review and Performing Arts Review, and became the first journalist in Taiwan to run a regular column on performing arts. Since 2011, she has been the director of NCAF's Reviewing Performing Arts Taiwan. As the website's editor-in-chief, Chi has also contributed as a writer herself, critiquing theater, drama and dance works. While bearing the historical context in mind, Chi has been able to connect with the contemporary hearts and minds and progress side-by-side with Taiwan's performing arts.
Siraya Pai is a freelance writer, translator, theatre critic and musician in Taiwan. Her recent writing focuses on the relation between theatre and music, text and translation, language and music, to list just a few. Siraya Pai received her B.A. in Literature from National Taiwan University and later received her M.A. in Theatre with the specialization in Musical Theater from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her theatre-related publications include the Mandarin translation of To The Actor -- On the Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov, Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach After Stanislavski by Phillip Zarrilli, Theatrical Public Sphere by Christopher B. Balme, A Choreographer’s Handbook by Jonathan Burrows, and Empty Stages, Crowded Flats: Performativity As Curatorial Strategy (edited by Florian Malzacher and Joanna Warsza), and Props by Eleanor Margolies, while other performing arts-related articles and critiques can be found in ARTCO, Performing Arts Redifined (previously Performing Ars Review), and ARTALKS.