Review of Night Market Theatre

Amusing and Delicious Art —

Review of Joshua Sofaer & Prototype Paradise Night Market Theatre
Originally published in Chinese in Art Plus Taiwan, issue of Dec. 2014
Written and translated by River Lin

Night Market Theatre is a real stall in the night market. Curated by Yoyo Kung and Juan Chin of Prototype Paradise who collaborated with UK artist Joshua Sofaer as artistic director, Night Market Theatre juxtaposes art and business as contemporary performance practice. It borrows the format of night market trading: the stall, the façade, the menu, and the queuing system, and is located in the Zhiqiang night market in Hualien, Taiwan. Artists have become the stallholders serving performances which you can’t quite take out or eat in but are nevertheless made for you in real time as you savor and experience them. With a sign that reads ‘Night Market Theatre’, the design of the stand attracts the general public. The conventional stall from which food would be provided to customers has been transformed into a miniature stage. The sense of drama has been heightened by two layers of black curtains, in what looks like the styling of a traditional Taiwanese puppet theatre. This theatrical stall in a jungle of food booths becomes a spectacle, and makes people aware that something interesting and out of the ordinary might happen. The performance begins. People congregate around the booth discussing the 35 dishes with unusual titles made by 8 artists, such as ‘Eat Your Sorrow’, ‘Bitchy, and ‘Sissy gets you high’. People are startled when a woman orders the performance ‘The Emperor is Coming’. A performer hands her a handmade traditional Chinese crown, then hits a gong and shouts: ‘The emperor is coming!’. Out of nowhere, the entire company gather round the audience member, kneeling down around her and shouting ‘A thousand blessings upon your majesty’. The performer hints that perhaps the audience-emperor should give the order for her ministers to stand. She does so and her assembled subjects fade away. The woman is embarrassed and amused. People clap and laugh and instantly get the concept of this dish and what Night Market Theatre is about. Performances are delivered one after the other over the coming hours, while the audience busy themselves cheering, taking photos, filming and laughing, in the air filled with the smell of BBQ and fried chicken. The enjoyable atmosphere reminded me of traditional open-air Taiwanese opera or puppet performance although I could sense that what Night Market Theatre was doing was different. Some questions came to mind. Why is it necessary to be in a night market? Is it a sort of environmental theatre*? How is it different from street theatre? What would happen if we changed the location to a creative market? How can we view Night Market Theatre as site-specific art? Let us examine how Night Market Theatre functions. Performers as stallholders stand by the counter and take the orders from the audience, giving them a numbered queuing card. Performers may introduce and recommend some dishes to you but still you have no idea about what you are going to get. You have to wait after ordering until your number is called. You go to the frame of the stall, the curtain opens, and now you get to see who is the artist/stallholder/chef for you. You pay. The artist presents a performance for you, the duration of which could range from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. The dish here is a participatory one-to-one performance aiming to create a personal, sensory and intimate experience. Not only is the audience member expected to interact with the artist but also to complete the performance with their collaboration. Sometimes the outer curtain is shut and sometimes it is open. This brilliantly transforms the area from an intimate private space to a border space somewhere between private and public. Then there is an opportunity for people to watch at a distance. In the performance ‘Bitchy’, for instance, the outer curtain was open. After receiving the payment, the performer began to insult the audience member in public. At first the audience may well feel confused or shocked. The person on the receiving end of this abuse is also the person who is in the condition of making the performance workable. The wider public is invited to witness the changing process of the audience member’s emotional reaction: being upset, confused, embarrassed, laughing, or angry. Or, in the performance ‘Embrace’ the outer curtain is shut. The artist came round from behind the stall to where the audience member was standing, and the public could only peep at the lower part of their two bodies below the curtain without fully assessing what they were doing. The audience members become additional performers and the one-to-one interactions subtly shift. The operation of opening or closing the outer curtain encourages visitors to become a certain kind of audience in relation to the public realm as well encouraging them to become participants in the performance scene. In terms of the artistic strategies here, the ‘general public’ who go to the night market is conceived as the target audience that every performer tries to work with. The approach of Night Market Theatre has left behind the stereotyped language of traditional theatre. Artists take social interactions in daily life, such as telling a story, singing, dancing, party games, fortune telling, and massage as a point of departure to devise their performances, which aim to be accessible to everybody. Building up performances within the social context of ordinary night market life was the aim. It was fitting then, that the duration and price of performances were ‘bite-sized’, and the costumes and props handmade, and low tech. These devices combine to reveal an understanding that Night Market Theatre revolves around the night market as a specific site, rather than the space of a black box. Interestingly, artists as stallholders sell their own bodies as an art meal. They use their bodies to create performance in which there coexist many possible meanings. They invite the audience to participate with their bodies too, creating an interactive process that refers to the state of social relationships in daily life. If strolling in a night market to buy and eat food is the social life-style in Taiwan (or in Asia more generally) from the outsider Joshua Sofaer’s view, then from concept to practice, we can see Night Market Theatre as an art intervention in civic culture that has brilliantly engaged artists and audiences to re-experience the social interaction as contemporary performance. It leads us to rethink how art is something that comes from, and is part of, our everyday life. Theatre makers have been trying to leave the black box. Audience development and marketing strategies have become trendy ways of trying to get attention. It seems Night Market Theatre has managed to inadvertently generate and realise the campaign slogan: The whole city is a theatre. It has successfully integrated site-specific audience participation and social interaction. As participatory performance practice in a local neighbourhood, Night Market Theatre is a remarkable cross-cultural collaboration. *Environmental theatre is a branch of the New Theatre movement of the 1960s that aimed to heighten audience awareness of theatre by eliminating the distinction between the audience’s and the actors’ space.


不給外帶也無法內用— 好吃又好玩的日常藝術《夜市劇場》

文/林人中 (原文刊載於 Art Plus 2014,12月號)

由英國藝術家約書亞沙發兒(Joshua Sofaer)擔任藝術總監,原型樂園劇團貢幼穎與秦嘉嫄策展的《夜市劇場》計劃,並非一個將整座夜市變作表演空間的行為藝術游擊,而確確實實是一間攤販!以「作生意」(art as business)作為觀念藝術實踐,諧擬(parody)店面、攤車、菜單、號碼牌等硬體要素,空降花蓮自強夜市一隅,限期掛牌營業,藝術家叫賣攬客,賣的是「表演」。每道演出都必須經歷顧客付錢給老闆的交易行為後,使得進行。不提供外帶,也無法內用,只能在當下即時經驗。



就操作手續來談,夜市劇場是這樣看(/玩)的:表演者會輪流在櫃台接單,為你介紹夜市劇場或推薦適合你的表演,但你仍無法從菜名知道葫蘆裡賣什麼藥。點餐(/戲)後,你領到號碼牌,等待叫號。終於你來到攤車前,攤車窗口黑幕打開,你才知道你點到的表演是由誰供應,付錢後,他便為你進行一場30秒至5分鐘不等的演出。特別的是,這裡所有表演都從一對一(one on one performance)出發,其藝術目的強調單一觀眾專屬的感官經驗,製造了私有感與參與性,而「觀眾參與」(audience participation)在此不僅止於「與表演者互動」的層次,而是「合作」(collaboration)。每一道表演,都是為了能與觀眾一起完成而生產,而攤車鏡框外延黑幕的開關運用,將一對一表演所訴諸的親密性,同時置於開放性的曖昧之間。譬如,「犯賤」這道演出,黑幕是開啓的,顧客付錢給表演者後,表演者開始「冒犯觀眾」對之惡言羞辱。所有觀眾便看著表演者者如何辱罵該名觀眾,及過程中觀眾種種疑惑、尷尬、難堪、笑場或沮喪等各種反應。或如「擁抱」,黑幕闔上,一旁觀眾只見該觀眾與表演者兩雙腿露在黑幕下方,內容則不得而入。黑幕的開關選擇,依據表演內容需求而定。這麼作,不脫讓單一觀眾在視線上成為這露天劇場中的當然共同演出者,同時鼓勵群眾成為公共場域中的當然觀眾。

就表演創作策略來說,逛夜市的「大眾」是所有表演者企圖合作的對象(ideal audience)。故演出內容前提上便拋棄了刻板印象中劇場藝術的語彙與文本,而轉將日常生活中人人皆可參與執行(accessible)的一對一或一對多行為譬如講笑話、說故事、唱歌、跳舞、玩遊戲、馬殺雞及算命等,作為表演型式的發展原型。隨之,如同小吃般的簡短表演長度及其訂價策略、表演者服裝與道具的低成本(low tech)與手工感、文本裡可共享的特定社會及文化脈絡之通俗性、一對一近距離表演的敘事技巧等設計,都圍繞著表演者與觀眾對「這裡是夜市」的在場意識而製造。綜觀菜單,每一項表演都是「賣身」,藝術家以身體作為符號、物件、場域的多義及可觀性,讓觀眾同時以自己的身體官能共構作品,讓每件作品的執行過程都指向了一種人與人的社會互動關係。

換句或說,若約書亞沙發兒詮釋「逛夜市」及「吃」是台灣文化(或亞洲)特有的「社交」生活模式。那麼《夜市劇場》從內部觀念到外部執行,作為藝術介入大眾文化場域的手段,即十足聰明地讓當代表演化作一種社交與關係的藝術(art as socializing and making relationships)的再經驗,它帶領我們回到藝術能使人們重新返視現實的本質,藝術來自且就在(from and in)日常生活的姿態。



Art Plus Taiwan : Prototype Paradise : Joshua Sofaer : photography courtesy of  Prototype Paradise