The Beauty of Small Things
One French director, 19 actors and five theatrical organisations from various Asian regions
A bold idea conceived three years ago to produce a play that engages an avant-garde director from Europe and theatrical professionals from all over Asia, finally became a reality recently. Kaléidoscope, a co-production of the local Hiu Kok Drama Association and Performosa Theatre of Taiwan, was staged at the Small Auditorium of the Macao Cultural Centre (CCM) in September, as part of the Macao Foundation’s Performances for Citizens series.
Before the performance, CLOSER sat down with the director, Shaghayegh Beheshti (Shasha), a core member of Théâtre du Soleil - a globally acclaimed troupe in France – together with actors from Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia, to discuss the challenges and rewards of being a part of this cross-cultural creation.
Beginning in 2016, the project went through opening auditions, workshops and creative rehearsals, before the final performances were ready.
“Nearly 200 applicants were asked to write about their personal experiences and respond to a poem about identity and memory written by the director, in whatever form they wanted,” introduces CK Chan, the producer of the play. Eventually, 19 were selected by the director and collaborative organisations.
There were, of course, no right or wrong answers to the questions. The most cherished qualities they see in an actor, says Shasha, are “innocence, a child’s mind, burning passion, and curiosity”.
The actors contributed to this play by sharing their personal and family histories, each putting a piece of their memory into the ‘Kaléidoscope’.
Coined from Greek kalos, meaning ‘beauty’, eidos ‘shape’, and skopion ‘an instrument for viewing’, the word ‘kaléidoscope’, as well as the object itself, seems like a perfect embodiment of the play.
“A Kaléidoscope - the way to see beauty - is one of the things that is going to save us for the few years humanity has on Earth. Kaléidoscope is also the ancestor of cinema,” says Shasha, explaining the title of the show.
“Another essential characteristic for me is that the shapes of beauty can only be seen if you have light, mirrors and reflection. What I like is that the Kaléidoscope shape is made from “nothings” - sand, broken stones, glass - many little, insignificant things that seem like nothing, but altogether can just take your breath away and create beauty,” she adds.
“The Chinese expression for kaleidoscope, wan hua tong, means ten thousand flowers in a tube. I think it’s the most beautiful image for life,” the director adds, comparing flowers to humans, and the tube to the “dark tunnel” in a woman’s body that everyone goes through when being born.
“The actor’s job is to open fissures in the audiences’ hearts, to let them drop their protection and really feel the world,” says Shasha.
The 19 actors in Kaléidoscope come from Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Inevitably, challenges abound in such a diverse team.
“On the first day of the workshop last year, I had a delegation of 20 people coming to my hotel telling me ‘Shasha, our cultures are very different’…” the director recalls, laughing.
Olivia Chen Chiao-jung, an actress from Taiwan, remembers the cultural resistance she experienced. Coming from a place where politicians are constantly satirised and seen as funny characters, she felt unfamiliar and doubtful with the director’s portrayal of serious statesmen.
“But with time, I gradually understood. Shasha is always searching for something universal. That is important in every way, including theatre, a place to find truth and precious elements of humanity. Maybe it’s love, innocence, passion, curiosity…We do not forget cultural differences, we embrace them to find the universal,” says Olivia.
“We speak Cantonese, Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Shasha even speaks French and Persian. Every time we hear her voice reading poems in Persian, it always moves us to tears. That’s magical. Embrace the differences and we find something vibrating in our hearts. Not in our brains, not by rational analysing. It’s by action, by touching the heart, by listening to all the sounds in the theatre that brings characters to move other people,” she remarks.
The play itself has no clear plot or storyline: “Sometimes it’s not a story, but a moment,” says Eugene Ng Sian Kuan, an actor from Malaysia.
Another Singapore-based Hong Kong actress, Hung Chit Wah Felix (Wawa), offers a helpful analogy: “Imagine you are on a bus. When you look out of the window, you’ll see different moments. It may appear for just three seconds, or longer, one or two minutes if the bus stops for passengers to get on. Similarly, the whole play is to capture these moments in life. All the characters have their back-stories, but as a passer-by, you’ll only see it in a blink of an eye. You’ll have your own interpretation and imagination of the moments.”
Since beginning rehearsals on July 1, the director and actors lived and worked together. As Shasha says: “I don’t do theatre. I live theatre, I breathe theatre, I sleep theatre. The spirit, we say at the Théâtre du Soleil, is not just about what happens on stage, it’s what happens backstage as well.”
Prior to being performed in Macau, Kaléidoscope was staged in the Experimental Theater of National Theatre & Concert Hall (Taipei) from August 31 to September 8, and received positive reviews from the audience, including the leading film director Hou Hsiao-hsien. The team hopes to tour to other places as well, to explore the boundless possibilities of Kaléidoscope.
“A Kaléidoscope needs movement, it’s not an aesthetic image forever. Once you see an image, you’re never going to see it a second time. It gives you the feeling of ephemerality. Things don’t stay, but still, you can always make new things, new shapes with the same substances,” says the director, citing the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier’s words: ‘Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.’