Theatre professor Craig Quintero directed four Grinnell students in Taiwan this summer. For this Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), Teddy Hoffman ’14, Alex Hsieh ’14, Quinnita Bellows ’15, and Emma Sinai-Yunker ’15 helped develop “A Secret for a Secret: Performing the Poetry of Hsia Yu” and performed it at Taiwan’s National Experimental Theatre.
The four Grinnellians and several professional Taiwanese actors came to the first rehearsal at Quintero’s Riverbed Theatre Company with no script and not much of a set. This devised performance grew out of an interaction between the performers and the poetry of Hsia Yu, one of Taiwan’s most renowned contemporary poets. Initially, the Grinnell students constructed their own performances in response to the poems, and the Taiwanese performers discussed their first exposure to Yu’s poems and set some of them to music.
Over the next five weeks, the students contributed to every part of the production, from set construction to performance. They were encouraged to collaborate and offer suggestions on how to improve the production. Having prominent roles in constructing the set and creating the performances allowed the students a sense of ownership and authorship. Although Quintero was the director, the show belonged to all of them.
Hsia Yu attended two of the performances and praised both the overall production and the student actors. The performance was also favorably reviewed in the Taipei Times.
The four Grinnellians took much more away from the experience than a good review, though. “One of the most significant things I walked away with was experiencing the universality of theatrical expression,” said Hoffman. Though most of the Taiwanese cast members could speak English, at times language seemed superfluous. Said Hoffman: “The idea that we could connect, create, and communicate together despite any language barrier was remarkable and moving.”
Based on feedback from the students, the Taiwanese actors, and the community, Quintero said he would like to offer this opportunity to other students. “It was great to see them grow up as artists,” he said. Quintero also stressed the importance of taking performance out of an academic setting and providing the students with an international experience. In addition to introducing these four students to Taiwan, this experience showed them the universality of performance that can transcend language and culture.