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Cultural Alchemy

Theater Company Aims to Transform Taiwanese Theater

 

Code Switch Theater Company is a new Taiwanese-foreign collaborative theater company founded by Brandon Gergel, Sequoia Collier-Hezel, and Sigrid Yang.  Its mission, and the impetus behind its play Love, a/Verse (反詩·愛), is a simple one: making theater for all who call Taiwan home.  

Gia Tsai (left) and Woody Slion (right) play Yu Lin and Emil Cheng in “Love, a/Verse”.

Language has always been a significant hurdle for foreigners interested in exploring theater in Taiwan.  While Taipei’s Mandarin-language theater scene is vibrant, and a core group of devoted theater makers fuel the English-language theater community, truly bilingual performances are still a rarity in theaters on the island, which can discourage potential audiences from experiencing all Taiwan’s rich theater scene has to offer.  Stories that tackle the intersection of foreigners and Taiwanese are even rarer. 

“We wanted to tell a story that would resonate with both Taiwanese and foreigners,” explains Brandon Gergel, playwright of Love, a/Verse, which premiered in August as part of the Taipei Fringe Festival. “Many of us have been in multicultural relationships, and we knew that each member of our diverse team would be able to contribute something that rings true.  The production is more than the sum of its parts.”

Director Sequoia Collier-Hezel agrees: “I see Love, a/Verse as almost two different plays. I feel that the experience of foreigners will differ so greatly from the Taiwanese audience that they are almost separate shows. And I’m okay with that.”

Love, a/Verse comes at a time when cross-cultural unions are becoming increasingly common. The play tells the story of Emil and Yu Lin, whose love, nurtured through their shared passion for poetry, faces linguistic and romantic hurdles. To rekindle their romance, they must discover a language that transcends words, a poetic dialogue of the heart.

Love, a/Verse’s characters code switch between Mandarin, English, and Taiwanese as they reflect on love and power through the lens of language. The core of Code Switch’s mission is building bridges between the various groups that call Taiwan home.  To that end, the play is surtitled in Mandarin and English.

Love, a/Verse combines elements of physical theater, traditional drumming, and dance, weaving these diverse elements into a syncretic whole. Each night, a different local poet is selected to perform original poetry as part of the play as Emil, Yu Lin, and the Mask, characters, look on. 

Gergel commented, “I know of a few foreigners who have lived here for years that signed up for Mandarin lessons after seeing Love, a/Verse.  A few even asked me if I had interviewed their partners as I was writing.  Apparently, some of the themes hit close to home.”

Love, a/Verse premiered over five nights at Thinkers’ Theatre on Dihua Street in the Dadaocheng neighborhood of Taipei City.  For those that did not have a chance to see the performance, a selection from Love, a/Verse is set to be revived as part of Taipei Shorts VI at Authentic Playground in Taipei from January 12-14 and 19-21. More information can be found on the Instagram page of Taipei Shorts.

Left: In “Love, a/Verse”, Yu Lin and Emil try to navigate the tangled dynamics of love and language. Right: Sigrid Yang (left) and Gia Tsai (right) play Mask and Yu Lin in “Love, a/Verse”, where Mask and Yu Lin share an inseparable relationship.

 

Code Switch Theater Company plans to build on the energy generated from Love, a/Verse with its next production, Tale to Tale: Taipei (一「説」即發:台北) a multilingual storytelling competition.  Performers will be invited to share a personal story in Mandarin, English, or their native language, and audiences will vote on their favorites.  In keeping with Code Switch’s mission, simultaneous translations will be provided for the audience. The December show’s theme is “Wrap it Up: Reflections and Endings”. More details, including a link to the application for storytellers, can be found on Code Switch’s Facebook and Instagram pages.  

Director Valerie Lin says this form of devised, collaborative work has been like “piecing together a poem—collecting strengths from all corners. They seem unrelated, yet they pull on each other and give meaning.”

Sigrid Yang, actor and playwright, adds, “Working with a mixed foreign-Taiwanese team is a learning process. There might be differences, but we all focus more on the parts that we share and what we are trying to accomplish.”

As Code Switch looks toward 2024, they continue to explore new avenues of expression, from adaptations to horror to puppet theater, all the while collecting strengths from the myriad corners of Taiwan. They invite all those who call the island home to connect with them on their journey of creation at the crossroads of cultures.

Links:

instagram.com/codeswitchtaiwan/

facebook.com/codeswitchtheaterco

instagram.com/taipeishorts/

BRANDON GERGEL is a Taipei-based writer.  In addition to his work on Love, a/Verse, Brandon co-wrote Dream a Dream for you, which debuted at the 2022 Taipei Fringe Festival. He has also contributed works to the Taipei 24-Hour Play Festival, Grass Jelly Monologue Jam, and Stage Fight 30 in 60. His play New Year’s Bird Count was staged at Taipei Shorts V, and Equinox will be staged as part of Taipei Shorts VI in November.  He manages the writing program at an academy in Taipei. 

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