What does “an open body” say: the body and the Cold War in the early 1980s theatre of Taiwan
ABSTRACT The early 1980s marks a significant period for modern theatre in Taiwan. It is often heralded as the “renaissance of modern Chinese/Taiwan theatre” through the reinvention of Chinese theatrical traditions, such as the Peking opera. This paper examines the connotations and denotations of “the West,” which serves as an important reference or counterpart in theatre practice of the period. An “open body” on stage was highly appraised and requested for theatre practitioners during the time. By historicizing the West in tandem with the concept of the “open body,” this paper calls attention to the socio-historical and the geopolitical aspects of the Cold War in Taiwan’s “theatrical renaissance.” “An open body” was emphasized in the first year of “Experimental Theater Exhibition” in 1980. Wu Jing-jyi, who had experienced working and directing in one of the most famous Off-Off-Broadway theatres, LaMaMa E.T.C in New York, led a series of workshops and training courses in “Lan-ling Theater Workshop” and created a new performing method on the basis of what they coined as “an open body.” Lee Kuo-hsiu, Liu Ching-min, Chin Shih-chieh, Lee Tien-ju – most of whom were and still are the leading actors and actresses in Taiwan – among others were all trained and influenced by this method. The magnificent production of the play Hechu xinpei was an example that followed the “open body” performance method. In this paper I make two main arguments. First, without examining closely what an open body signified at the time, the discursive formation of the body in the 1980s theatre renaissance cannot be fully comprehended. Second, I propose that the modern Taiwanese body that is open is simultaneously imbricated in relation to geopolitics, knowledge of Area Studies, and modernity – categories that the United States invented, led and developed throughout the Western bloc in the Cold War.
KEYWORDS: Lian-ling Theater; Hechu xinpei; body politics; Taiwan theater; Cold War
Notes on contributor
Chun-yen Wang is assistant professor of theatre and performance studies in the Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages and Literature at National Taiwan Normal University. He received his PhD in theatre and critical studies from Cornell University with a dissertation titled Translation of Aesthetics: Local Performances in Colonial Taiwan, 1895–1945. His essays have appeared in Chung-Wai Literary Quarterly (《中外文學》), Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies (《台灣社會研究季刊》), Journal of Taipei Fine Arts Museum (《現代美術學報》) etc. He is also a regular contributor to Performing Arts Review (pareviews.ncafroc.org.tw).