P21. Infrastructures of Contemporary East Asian Performance

Session: Session 4, 8:30 – 10:00 am, Saturday 9/30

Category: Organized Panel

Location: Excellence

Chair: Tarryn Chun (University of Notre Dame)

Paper Presenters: Tarryn Chun (University of Notre Dame), Yizhou Huang (Saint Louis University), Hayana Kim (The Ohio State University), Laura MacDonald (Michigan State University)

Abstract: This panel builds on recent work on infrastructure in East Asian contexts to examine systems that intersect with, propel, and even impede developments in theatre and performance. On one level, the last several decades have seen the construction of state-of-the-art performing arts centers, theme parks, and other facilities that are embedded in dense networks of urban infrastructure across East Asia. Artists, in turn, are incentivized by creative opportunities, prestige, and box office revenues to craft new works tailored to these venues and their audiences. Meanwhile, increased interconnections among metropolitan theatre centers has also created new conduits for training, personnel exchange, and regional performance tourism.   Papers on this panel will analyze different facets of performance infrastructure in 21st century PRC, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea to explore how “infrastructure” as a concept provokes new directions in the study of contemporary theatre. First, Yizhou Huang (Saint Louis University) will examine innovative tourism, site-specific theatre, and the economy of affect in the infrastructural tour de force of Unique Henan, a recently constructed theme park on the outskirts of Zhengzhou that bills itself as “China’s first panoramic theme park of immersive theatre.” Then, Tarryn Chun (University of Notre Dame) will discuss the relationship among repertoire, aesthetics, and cutting-edge technological infrastructure within three new venues in Taiwan: the Taipei Performing Arts Center (2022), the Weiwuying National Kaohsiung Center for the Performing Arts (2018), and the National Taichung Theatre (2014). Continuing the focus on urban venues, Hayana Kim (The Ohio State University) will explore the significance of presenting Rimini Protokoll’s 100% Gwangju (2014) at the National Theater of Korea. Taking into account the theater’s location in urban Seoul, her paper will discuss what it means to turn the local, personal stories into communal memories, contextualizing the work around the opening of the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju in 2015. Finally, evaluating creators, performers, and audiences, Laura MacDonald (Michigan State University) will consider the growing exchange between musical theatre industries centered in Seoul and Tokyo and show how the industry in Japan may be increasingly relying upon South Korean infrastructure supporting actor training and new musical development.

Spectacular Spaces: Physical, Technological, and Cultural Infrastructures in Contemporary Taiwan Theatre

Speaker: Tarryn Chun
Role: Chair, Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Notre Dame
Abstract: Since the turn of the twenty-first century, visually stunning, state-of-the-art performance venues have been constructed in cities throughout the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. Often, these performing arts centers involve architectural design and technical consulting by foreign firms, while being funded and/or run by local and national government entities. Once opened to the public, they house high-profile performing arts events, festivals, and international tours, as well as programming with a range of goals such as arts education, accessibility, and community building. In so doing, they function as a unique meeting point for political, economic, cultural, social, and artistic agendas. At the same time, their cutting-edge architectural features and technical infrastructures also make them particularly appropriate venues for exploration of a more specific issue: the relationship between live performing arts and new digital technologies. This paper will examine the case studies of three recently constructed theatre spaces in Taiwan—the National Taichung Theatre (2014), the Weiwuying National Kaohsiung Center for the Performing Arts (2018), and the Taipei Performing Arts Center (2022)—in light of how their technical capacities have affected onstage repertoire, paratheatrical programming, and marketing. How have both the actual technical infrastructure of these venues and their attempts to appeal to generations of digital-native audience members affected their repertoire and design aesthetics? And how might these case studies help us to better understand the relationships among the different forms of physical, technological, cultural, economic, and political infrastructures that intersect in twenty-first century performing arts producing?

Harnessing History and Affect in Performative Tourism: The Case Study of Unique Henan

Speaker: Yizhou Huang
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Saint Louis University
Abstract: Situated on the outskirt of Zhengzhou, Henan province, Unique Henan bills itself as “China’s first panoramic theme park of immersive theatre” and opened its door to visitors in 2021. With twenty-one performance spaces, the park presents three mainstage productions and eighteen shorter pieces every day. Overseen by artistic director Wang Chaoge, the performances vary in topics, but they all highlight Henan province and its associations. Unique Henan emerges from a genealogy of theme parks and site-specific events within the province including Shaolin Zen Musical Ritual at the Shaolin Temple, the annual ceremonial worship of Huangdi Emperor in Xinzheng as well as Qingming Shanghe Yuan, a reconstruction of the Northern Song-Dynasty painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival in the city of Kaifeng. Unlike its predecessors that harken back to a specific historical period, Unique Henan, thanks to its extensive programs, incorporates a prolonged timeline that expands from the dubious Xia Dynasty to as recent as mid-twentieth century. In doing so, Unique Henan actively performs a specific narrative of Henan history that may be at odds with people’s lived experiences. In this article, I contextualize Unique Henan by examining its genealogy and historiography. Attending to how the use of the latest immersive aesthetics and technology enhances the existing model of site-specific tourism, I argue that Unique Henan integrates infrastructure into the economy of affect.

Rimini Protokoll’s 100% Gwangju: Weaving Personal Narratives and Performing the City’s History at the Crossroad of National Theatre of Korea and Asia Culture Center

Speaker: Hayana Kim
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: The Ohio State University
Abstract: In the spring of 2014, audiences in Seoul gathered at the National Theatre of Korea to watch Rimini Protokoll’s 100% Gwangju (2014). The work, created by a Berlin-based theater collective known for its innovative approach to performance art, was unique in adopting a form of new documentary theatre to allow a hundred of ordinary residents of Gwangju to stand on stage to perform their life stories. The work was both a critical and popular success not only because it amplified the local histories of Gwangju through the work of the leading performance group in the world theatre scene. Rather, the presentation of this work in the frame of the opening event for the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju further added to the theatregoers’ attention to the work: the Asia Culture Center is an art complex which the South Korean government invested an unprecedented support of over 4.7 billion USD over the period of ten years to foster performing arts scenes in Gwangju towards all Asia. Taking such contexts into account, this paper discusses the significance of considering two of the most preeminent theatre venues in South Korea in understanding the audiences’ engagement with the work. Drawing on my firsthand experience of watching the production as well as archival materials (video recording, photos, and reviews), I argue for the paramount importance of understanding the site-specific context of Rimini Protokoll’s 100% Gwangju, exploring the interconnections between National Theatre of Korea and Asia Culture Center in shaping the meanings of the work.

Musicals, actors, and audiences in the Seoul-Tokyo musical theatre exchange

Speaker: Laura MacDonald
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Michigan State University
Abstract: Despite the countries’ close proximity and complicated shared history, Japan and South Korea’s musical theatre industries have developed along very different lines. A dynamic exchange of musicals, performers, and audiences has become well-established, and as this paper will suggest, Japan may now be relying on South Korea after initially serving as a role model for musical theatre production. With their well-established relationships with western collaborators and unique approaches to casting, the production companies Takarazuka, Toho, and Shiki provided valuable examples to Korean musical theatre practitioners from the 1970s onwards. As the Korean musical theatre industry grew, Koreans expanded training and new musical development opportunities, generating a talented pool of performers and a growing catalogue of original Korean musicals. Korean performers and productions increasingly attracted Japanese musical theatre fans to Seoul, and the Japanese industry began casting Korean performers and producing Korean musicals. Highlighting variations in Japanese and Korean approaches to training and technique, as well as in production models, this paper will begin to outline the infrastructure that supports each industry. These conditions may help to explain why many Japanese theatregoers travel to Seoul but few Koreans attend musicals in Tokyo. The Korean actors and musicals that Japanese audiences enjoy deliver emotional performances and stories, and the enthusiastic Japanese reception suggests a symbiotic East Asian relationship has been formed, transcending any prior western primacy.