Taipei Performing Arts Center Launches Musical Theater Training Project 2016
An integral part of building a solid foundation for any art, and enabling its continuing development, is the cultivation of talent. Taipei Performing Arts Center (TPAC) aims to become a venue where artists from different backgrounds can spark their creativity by interacting with one another.
Musicals are one of the many types of performance given space at TPAC, which recognizes that this art requires long-term engagement in order to cultivate performers who can sing, dance and act. Thus, TPAC has launched Musical Theater Training Project 2016, a new scheme designed to recruit and train talented performers to their full potential.
The scheme was devised by Pao-Chang Tsai, artistic director of local theater group Tainanren Ensemble. A versatile artist, Tsai writes, directs, acts and sings. His best-known musical production, Mulan, is based on the Chinese legend in which the eponymous heroine goes to battle on behalf of her elderly father. Following other successful works, Tsai has acquired a strong reputation in local theater circles. Not satisfied with the quality of local productions, however, Tsai headed to the U.K., U.S., and France to learn new ideas and techniques. This has enabled him to compare Taiwan’s music industry with those overseas, providing him with a clear understanding of the difficulty of cultivating musical talent in Taiwan.
Musical Theater Training Project 2016 aims to cultivate promising performers and improve their general environment, while also boosting the development of locally produced musicals. The first phase of training is remedial, intended to counter the inadequacies of the current educational system. Although performing arts institutions in Taiwan generally offer comprehensive curriculums—from creation to performance, on stage and behind the scenes, theory and practice—little time is given to actual technical training, so Taiwanese performers receive far less vocal and physical training than their counterparts overseas.
In addition, the shortage of resources for the production of campus projects means performing arts graduates lack experience, so although they have the qualifications they lack the skills to be professional performers. The situation is worsened by the fact that veteran performers are unable to earn satisfactory salarymake a living, tuition for training courses is above average, and studying abroad is expensive. This harsh reality has forced performers to work more instead of pursuing advanced studies.
Performing troupes have also failed to find a balance between rehearsal and training. In this environment of chronic under-training, performers are hamstrung because they do not have the time or resources to improve the quality of their performance.
As a type of performing arts, musicals have been under development in Taiwan for three decades. During this time, the training of the next generation of performers has largely been down to folk theater troupes. Though, in recent years, colleges have begun to offer training to students who aspire to work in the industry, resources for experienced performers remain limited. Thus, two of the main goals of Musical Theater Training Project 2016 are to discover young people with potential and to provide on-the-job training for working performers.
To be eligible for full sponsorship, candidates must have two years of performance experience and must finish a one-month training course. The March auditions saw 168 people vying for 40 spots. Among the candidates, 40% were working actors, 33% were students doing courses related to the performing arts, and up to 70% had an educational background in the performing arts.
For the first stage of the audition, each participant was required to perform a monologue of their choosing in any language. Many had chosen a Shakespeare excerpt, but some demonstrated creativity by performing a text they had written themselves. The contestants were then tested on their singing abilities with a song of their choosing. The final stage was a group dance test for which all participants had to stand in a line and repeat the moves shown to them, a process that offered immediate insight into their flexibility and coordination.
The 40 finalists include rising young actors who have already played leading roles on stage, such as Chang Fan-yu, who portrayed protagonist Sophie in the Mandarin version of the Broadway musical Mamma Mia! in China, and Chen Tzu-lun, artistic director of the Golden Stone U-Theatre. Starting on October 3, they will receive a month of training from ten international mentors specializing in different areas. Training will last an estimated ten hours a day and cover acting, vocalization, singing, dancing, stage combat, and musical audition skills.
One of the highlights of the course is the training in stage combat, which is relatively rare in Taiwan. Trainees will learn how to enact physical conflict, with moves such as face slaps and parries, and how to simulate gang fights. Voice and speech training are also included, with the focus on learning and producing a variety of accents on stage.
The training is planned to cover five major areas: musicals, body, singing, voice, and acting. The musical category includes appreciation of musicals, performance, and audition skills. Body training integrates dance, body movement, and stage combat. For singing, students will be taught group, solo, and jazz singing skills, while voice training will focus on speech and vocal warm-ups. The acting category will explore script analysis and role development in addition to acting practice. The one-month training course will conclude with a performance showcase. Students can learn a lot from the skills and knowledge of qualified instructors, says project founder Tsai, who notes that the ten instructors have a wealth of real-world experience.
Robert Najarian, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, specializes in acting, physical theater, and stage combat, and also teaches choreography, martial arts, and stunts.
Christian Fletcher, artistic director and producer at Forecast Productions, is an opera and musical actor, and also teaches at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Dane Alice Carreri is an expert on jazz music and composition and currently writes music and performs for the Don Gnu Physical Theatre in Denmark.
Mohamed Drissi, a choreographer, director, producer and actor, is serving concurrently as the director of the HK Musical Theatre Federation and the artistic director of the Hong Kong 3 Arts Musical Institute. He even flew to Taiwan to attend the audition so he could tailor his dance courses to fit the program.
Rusty Ferracane is a renowned U.S. musical actor, singer and director who has been working in the industry for nearly 40 years.
Darren Choehn is an American musical director, conductor, and pianist.
Jannik Elkær is an artistic director and choreographer at Don Ngu Physical Theatre who specializes in theater and film.
Craig Bohmler is a well-known composer and pianist who currently composes for the Arizona Opera. Harald Emgard, Senior Lecturer of Voice and Speech at Malmö Theatre Academy, University of Lund, will provide insight into the use of voice.
James Elliot, director of the 3Graces Theater Company and a lecturer at the New York Music and Theater Academy, will also share his knowledge and experience with the 40 finalists.
Taipei Performing Arts Center is still under construction and is slated to open in 2017. Planning began in 2013 with the formation of the TPAC Preparation Committee. To date, a number of meetings have been held to define the center’s future positioning and policies; the meetings have acted as a communication platform with the performing arts community in Taiwan. In the meantime, grants are being awarded to subsidize creative and long-term programs and so gradually build up creative energy to prepare for TPAC-made programs in the future. The Committee will also continue to bring international directors from a range of exhibition and performing venues to Taiwan where they will lead forums, workshops, and exchanges with people involved in local theater and help to cultivate talents in management. Musical Theater Training Project 2016 is seen as an integral part of this extensive preparation and is expected to infuse new energy into the Taiwanese musical landscape in the near future.