“Have you stayed in Taiwan for such a long time because there are no opportunities in other countries?” This question has been raised from time to time in Brook Hall’s conversations with locals in Taiwan, and it always confuses him. Is Taiwan a place that isn’t worth talented people’s appreciation? Is it only people who don’t have a promising career that choose to stay here?
Hall is originally from New Mexico, U.S.A. He aimed at becoming a professional performer from the age of 12. Before graduating from college, he spent a year in Spain to learn flamenco. There weren’t many male actors who could dance back in the 1980s, so Hall was easily cast in many shows. He became a Broadway tour actor for eight years, playing in classics like “West Side Story”, “Peter Pan”, and “Singing in the Rain”, and so on.
In 2001, he was invited by his friend to direct a show in an arts festival in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Originally he planned to stay for only 2 months, but his talents as a dancer spontaneously opened the gate for him to develop his performing career in Taiwan. After winning the championship at a regional tap-dancing contest in Taichung, Hall started to teach tap dancing, and his expertise soon made him a vital role in the local show business. He performed the tango with Taiwanese top model, Lin Chi-ling, invited the renowned idol singer, Evonne Hsu, to perform in the Broadway show “Anything Goes” he directed, and performed in the Green Ray Theater’s “Human Condition 4”, directed by the prominent director, Wu Nien-jen.
As an experienced performer, he obtained a lot of opportunities. Over his first six years in Taiwan, he fell in love with the country’s vibrancy and friendliness. However, there are always twists in a play and Hall’s story in Taiwan is no exception. He faced betrayal from his local partners or employers, who absconded with the money. Unbelievably, this happened to him three times….
“In Taiwan, performers are never the priority.”
In 2010, Hall directed “The Golden Banana Incident”, produced by DaFeng Musical Theatre. In the last additional show of the play, the lead actress, Mini Chao, suddenly rushed to the stage in the middle of the show. She took the microphone and accused DaFeng of not paying any of the performers a single cent, stunning the audience.
As the director of the show, Hall was awkwardly caught in a dilemma. He said, the person in charge had promised again and again that he would arrange the payments, but none of the performers received any money, even by the last additional show.
Ten minutes before the show started, the performers became angry and depressed, and started to remove their makeup and costumes. The person in charge promised again that they would be paid the next day. His girlfriend was also present, and gave the bank deposit book and business stamps to the leading actor, pleading for the performers to finish the show. The performers knew, of course, that after they went on stage, the producer would no longer need them and he would go into hiding, which is exactly what happened. Hall recalled the incident, sighed and said, “This experience made me feel that, in Taiwan, performers are never the priority.”
In addition to this incident, which made the local news, a partner of his previous theatre betrayed him and fled Taiwan, leaving Hall with a debt of NT$ 8 million. Yet another time, he joined a film project on an eight-month contract, but the project was suddenly cancelled in the middle of filming and no compensation was paid.
What’s worse, he hasn’t received a permanent work permit after all these years in Taiwan. “I didn’t fully understand the regulations in the beginning. As a performing artist, I wasn’t aware that the way I had been working didn’t meet the requirement of ‘relevant experience’ for 5 (consecutive) years. So it took me even more years waiting for the permanent work permit,” said Hall.
We couldn’t help but raise the question: why did he still choose to stay here despite all of these events? Hall smiled wryly and said, “Taiwanese people are really interesting. You are very welcoming to ‘guests’, but when the guests become ‘locals’, you ask, ‘why are you still here?’”
Hall is not the first one who has said so. The Austrian Philosophy professor Herbert Hanreich once said, “Nearly nobody (in Taiwan) is really interested in what you (foreigners) are doing, what you are reading, what you are working on, what you are thinking about, what’s going on in the world and so on. Chitchatting is the utmost form of communication and it’s usually about food. Nobody argues with you, and what’s worse: nobody wants to argue with you, because nobody cares.”
“I want to create a better theatre environment for Taiwan!”
So, why is Hall still here? The reason is simple. “I like Taiwan. I don’t want to leave here with bad feelings,” said Hall firmly.
As a previous member of Actors Equity in the U.S., he wants to do something to stimulate and change the environment of the theatre industry in Taiwan. “Theatre art is still immature in Taiwan. The concept of contracts is problematic. Actors don’t get paid until they have finished the last show. Not to mention the low pay.”
“Do you know how many young people have to give up their theatre dream due to the unreasonably low pay? Some of them take part-time jobs at cafes, working as store clerks to make a living. Those who persist in their dreams mostly had a hard time negotiating with their families,” said Hall with a sigh.
In 2013, he directed and co-produced the Broadway rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. It successfully played for 30 shows with more and more tickets sold after each show. The success made him believe that as long as the quality of his productions are good enough, word-of-mouth will spread, bringing in more audience.
The following year, he founded a space called “Polymer”, which is a noncommercial art space made up of many small studios. He rented part of the space and created “The Lab Space”. Although the location is not in the center of the city, the size of the space is suitable for a small independent theatre. Hall rolled up his sleeves and started to create a theatre of his own and to direct his own shows.
“In the beginning there was no electricity, I only had a lantern. I painted the walls, arranged the wiring, and installed the air-conditioner. I once cut myself accidentally, so this place even has my blood in it,” said Hall jokingly. Compared with other formal performing spaces, there was no need to sign a contract promising not to damage the space. He could do whatever he wanted to the space to meet the needs of each show and had the freedom needed for authentic art creation.
He started to look for actors to nurture his own group. Of course some people doubted his decision as well. “Who’s going to come so far to this place to see a show?” Hall didn’t have full confidence either, but he knew that it was a way to demonstrate how to create a “right” environment for performing arts. “I gave myself a year. If there was no audience at all, I would leave Taiwan.” In 2014, he directed five shows for “Tuesdays with Morrie” and the last show was sold out.
He took a deep breath of relief. “No matter what, I hope that The Lab Space can continue to operate. I don’t need fame. I just want to create good shows and enjoy performing. I want to become a real creator and a real actor,” said Hall.
Looking back on the past 15 years in Taiwan, he thinks Taiwan has given him wonderful memories from since he arrived here at the age 26. He has enjoyed good days on this island. What he wants to do now is further develop his professional skills, and make use of them to stimulate the vibrancy and creativity of Taiwan’s art-scape. “That’s win-win! Who says you don’t have opportunities in Taiwan?” smiled Hall.
Taiwan was a muse for Hall. Since 2001, He has been involved in all areas of Taiwanese show business, which led to his directing and producing for stage and film. In 2008, he produced his first show, the hit “Smokey Joe’s Cafe”. Since then, he’s continued to add feathers to his producer, director, and choreographer caps by starting the Butterfly Effect Theatre Company, with “Title of show” in 2012 and, the month-long Mandarin Language premiere of the Rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”.
“The Lab Space” was his idea after difficulties he encountered finding a suitable small performing space for Hedwig. As the resident director, he is responsible for producing and directing all Lab shows, activities, and classes.