There is sun and great heat and tropical plants and Mandarin in the air alongside the song of crickets. There are no sheep, or the blessing of Welsh rain – although I’ve been told to expect a typhoon or two in the next six weeks. In my fridge I have fresh lychee, longan (‘dragons’ eyes’), and green tea with grapefruit.
There are smiles everywhere. As Phillip Zarrilli put it last night after we were showered with greetings coming out of the MRT (underground): ‘In Taipei even the drunks are friendly.’
We are given a celebrity’s welcome by the Taipei International Art Festival, Mobius Strip Theatre company and members of the cast who have worked with Phillip before.
We are then whisked to the studio where Phillip is presented with the Mandarin translation of his award-winning ‘Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach after Stanislavski’, translated by Taiwanese actors and former students Longlong (Chien-Lang Lin) and Ying-ni Ma. The book will be launched at the festival alongside Phillip’s production of my performance text The 9 Fridas.
On our first day Phillip begins an intensive workshop in his approach to psychophysical acting using Asian martial arts with a mixture of students and professional actors including the cast of The 9 Fridas. Last night we saw the Well Spring theatre, where we will perform, and met with the company and design team to discuss the set and costumes.
After all our skype interventions – conversations and even the first reading of the play in Mandarin – it’s great to finally meet Alex Cheung and Faye Leong, co-artistic directors of Mobius Strip Theatre Company in person. We’re all excited to be finally together, training together and beginning this intensive creative process together.
Turning written text into visual, physical language – transforming words on the page into signs and gestures that take flight…. I love working with Jean St Clair. In her London apartment this week, I worked with her and Sophie Stone, transforming written text from my new play Woman of Flowers into flowing, beautiful visual language.
Although I’ve been working with Jean now for a dozen years on translation and recreating English text into theatricalised sign, I always feel very privileged to be part of the process. We last worked together on Forest Forge’s production of my play peeling, also directed by Kirstie Davis. It’s wonderful to have Jean as our creative sign director.
I send her the speeches from my play which we want physicalised in advance and then Jean asks me questions about my meaning, intention, and preferred aesthetic via email or text. When we gather, she will have already explored possibilities, but will always be led by the performer – in this case Sophie Stone, who will be performing the part in the Forest Forge production when Woman of Flowers tours the UK in the Autumn.
Woman of Flowers is a new play, inspired by elements of the ancient Welsh treasure, The Mabinogion. I’ve been obsessed by the story of Bloudewydd for many years, since I moved to Wales to live.
The story tells of a female ostensibly made from the flowers of the oak and trees in the forest to be companion to a young man cursed by his mother never to have ‘a woman of our race.’ Quite what this ‘ideal’ woman might be has enthralled and perplexed me for years. I explored the notion of computer generated avatars in Perfect, a piece I made with John McGrath and Paul Clay ten years ago at Contact Theatre, and which won the Manchester Evening News best play of 2004.
Woman of Flowers, commissioned by Forest Forge and directed by Kirstie Davis, will be very different. A mixture of prosaic everyday dialogue in spoken English, and the poetic inner thoughts of Rose (played by Sophie) using theatricalised sign, will hopefully be visually stunning and emotionally effecting.
Our rehearsed reading at Salisbury Playhouse earlier in the month left some of the invited audience in tears. Many spoke afterwards of the lyrical nature of Sophie’s spoken and signed language, mentored and polished by Jean’s experienced eye.
I have asked Jean and Sophie if they will guest blog about their process, working between spoken and signed language, between Deaf and hearing cultures. They have agreed, and I can’t wait to share more of this part of the creative process, which is often invisible, hidden from view.
Tour details: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/woman-of-flowers