This year, WorldWideLab was held in Rome. We had a theme called Upheaval, and the material I chose is an excerpt, “Kuafa Chasing the Sun,” from the Classic of Mountains and Seas (an ancient Chinese work). “Kua(夸)” means “giant,” and “fu(父)” means “man.” In the classic, “Kuafu” is a giant who makes up his mind chasing after the sun. He never made it however, and finally died of thirsty. There is also another version describing Kuafu as a man born in the darkness of Chaos. He saw Light for the very first time from the sun. After the light he pursued, and only ended up of being scorched to death.
The production is composed by a cross-cultural team: Two directors (Laura Tesman from the United States and I from Taiwan) and one Italian actor have worked together to create the Kuafu of the WWL version, adapted from the original “Kuafu Chasing the Sun.”
Kuafu vs. the Hero
Before we started our rehearsal, Laura Tesman and I had collected numerous versions about Kuafu’s story, and had lots of discussions on each of them. The main issue is, “what does that myth mean to us in the contemporary world?”
The prototype of “Kuafu” in our discussion is the Hero, and his chasing after the sun is therefore a journey belonged to a hero. We made our reference to Joseph Cambell’s The Hero’s Journey, and we asked things like “why do we need a hero? Does the modern society still need one? ” However, in the Chinese context, Kuafu is usually used to describe one who is so arrogant as to miscalculate his capability. This is nothing like what we shall recognize in whom we would call Hero. “Kua” means giant, and so it bears the meaning of “exaggeration,” too. It recalls someone who does things without thinking, one who fails to discern the truth, and hence, with his limited perspective, ends up undertaking a mission beyond his ability.
Kuafu’s chasing the sun is basically a mission impossible, and all the heroics films are popular for exactly the same reason: that they have challenged something beyond their power. That is how I’ve come to the contradiction during the discussion, and the contradiction conforms with the conflict the modern people are facing: The heroes are in themselves stupid. Their success comes from their foolish effort, and maybe plus some good luck. But if they fail, that would be more than natural. The tricky thing is that everyone wants to be that hero; no one wants to fail.
When those who are not afraid of being criticized by the society have successfully become the heroes with their strong devotion to their dreams, they also bear upon themselves the qualities ready to be teased and despised by others. It is precisely because of the existence of the negative aspects that his success could purify the audience of their spirits: The heroes would reverse the audience ‘s negative impression on the Hero, or they might trigger their self-pity and fear. Whatever it is, the audience would experience it as a stimulation from the Hero’s Journey. Yet, what I feel more curious about is the hero’s self-struggle during the chase. What is happening inside his or her mind? What has supported the hero to finish that stupid journey? I don’t believe when one determines to pursue the goal, no obstacles would come in the way and no ideas of simply giving up ever pop up. He or she might even fall harshly to the dark valley of fear with a crushing defeat.
The Essence of Myth Lies in Self-Revelation
All healing processes must go through fear to reach the light, and must undergo darkness to see the sun. Dualism has split light and darkness in two. However, in Taoism, it is through the integration of both that harmony can be accomplished. This process of integration highlights the learning of balance as well as the embrace of coexistence. In the play, on the brink of collapsing, Kuafu’s fear of “unable to see the moon of tomorrow” grows. Nevertheless, his non-human companion Dex encourages him as such: “No sun, no moon.”
Dark coexists with the sun. There would be no sunlight without the darkness, and vice versa. To succeed, one must understand this reasoning and masters such coexistence. That is how the balance can be kept. It is only when the fear is accepted can one be free from it. Prone to either end of the spectrum means losing the balance, and overly bright optimism could only be false; it is only a mask to hide the brimming fear inside. Kuafu’s chasing after the sun is like a self-revelation. After stripping off one mask after another, he gains power.
We thus started our character shaping. Since ours was a corss-cultural production, we avoided social issues which might hugely differ from one culture to another, and focused particularly on the exploration of “humanity,” considering that humanity often bears similar discourses despite of cultural difference. For instance, consensus is more easily to reach on the discussion of “value of humanity” than on “human rights.” We hence put aside the diverse explanations we had collected, and reserved only the action in Kuafu’s story: “Determine to chase the sun; the process of chasing the sun; death.”
The Process of Creation
Francesco Meola is an active actor. He offered to use his drumming ability and provided us with a tambourine resembling the sun as well as the moon. He began using the tambourine from the very first rehearsal, to get familiar with it. To let him do as much as he could, we simplified the stage to a mere tambourine, a stick, and a chair, taking our inspiration from “one table, two chairs” from Chinese Opera. The purpose is to guide the focus to the solo performer. Francesco as a solo performer has interpreted all the characters: those before and during his journey, both humans and non-humans. This was a great challenge for the actor’s endurance, physical strength, and deftness to shift between roles. Francesco however was able to quickly absorb new skills like a sponge, which also became a challenge for the directors. They had to constantly put down higher standards for him deeper faith in him. They let him master the stage.
English is the language we used to develop the play. Yet, there appeared a language gap when the actor tried to adapt it into Italian on the stage, and when the precise, neutral and double-meaning lines developed from English instantly revealed on the actor as a Italian improvisational comical gesture. Francesco felt depressed, and hoped that he could also use English in the performance to help him stay focused on the “neutral” position.
We became aware of the power of language, as well as the bodily culture behind it and the physical inertia when we spoke it out. This new understanding and the process itself is interesting. On the stage, language has to be used carefully and precisely. I personally believe that the less it’s used, the better. Sometimes, Too many speeches only prevent one’s imagination. They frame people up, and we are deprived of the organic beauty and the depth of listening.
However, with the audience being Italian, we still had to use Italian in the performance. To mend this gap, we returned to the body for a solution: the public region, and then the spine and the knees…we turned to a situation when no language yet came out. We let the body release all the cultural inertia led by the languages. Step by step, we led him to remember the scenes by his body first, and only let languages join in slowly. To retain the local features, we assigned the most concise words to those lines with mysterious and prophetical qualities. As for the supplementary characters, we let the actor keep his Italian comical inertia to do what he would like to.
The tambourine was utilized throughout the chasing journey. This was a bit like the percussion rhythm in Chinese Opera, and could create a supreme space of imagination. How to further take advantage of the tambourine is something worth exploring in the future. Yet in general, merely the usage of the tambourine has rendered the performance more oriental; Francesco’s powerful acting together with this exotic element has made this play some what more mysterious.
This journey from a myth to a solo has undergone several steps:
The Presentation of the Stage
The presentation of the stage needs to be as simple as possible, but levels of space must still exist. When it is a solo, the stage can be as simple as nothing, or else there must be sufficient levels of light changes to make the stage even more three-dimensional looking, so as to complement the actor’s performance. Also, usage of light districts needs to be reduced, and efforts should be put in the rendering of the stage as a piece of flowing picture.
Much physical strength is also needed during the performance. Even though the actor is very experienced, we still have to work together on the shifting between roles. We don’t really have enough time, yet the actor is endowed with a very good quality: openness. He is totally willing to constantly try, and the result is that we have produced at least 9 characters with fixed lines, not including the characters improvised by him. The most difficult part is the skill to make the shift at the precise moment. How to do this is of course a secret; the actor will have to master his or her own body well to achieve that.
In general, “Kuafu” is a production which successfully creates cross-cultural experiences. We hope that this work could be even more mature and complete in the future, and believe that there is good chance for it to be developed into a even more delicate work with top quality.
Written by Jocelyn Yuchia Chang (Taipei/Taiwan)
Translated by Yu-Ting Kao
創作之初，本就考量到這會是一個跨文化的合作團隊，由兩位導演（來自台灣的我，和美國導演Laura Tesman)與一位義大利男演員（Francesco Meola) 共同組成這個跨文化創作組合，我們一起將原本的「夸父逐日」改編成為這次在WWL呈現的版本「夸父」。
夸父 VS. 英雄
所有被療癒的過程，都必先經歷恐懼才能看見光。必先經歷黑夜才會看見太陽。二元對立的思維將光明與黑暗分屬兩邊，但在道家思想陰陽調和才能終見和諧。陰與陽的調和過程講究平衡的學習、講究接受共存。戲中夸父在近幾放棄的邊緣，心生對死亡的恐懼怕見不到明日月亮，同行的非人類夥伴Dex鼓勵他，「No sun, no moon.」黑暗和陽光是並存的，沒有黑暗則見不到曙光，但沒有光也不會有黑暗。要能夠成功，必須懂得黑暗和光明的道理，缺一不可。知道何時該收何時該放，這樣才能保持平衡，要能深入恐懼才不會被恐懼所左右。傾向兩極的任何一方，都是失衡。表面的樂觀開朗並不是真的光明，那只是面具，表示心裡有更多的恐懼。夸父逐日的過程，也像是在自我揭露的過程。脫下一層又一層的面具的過程，也是獲得力量的過程。
Francesco Meola 是個主動積極的演員，他提供了他的打鼓的技能，並主動貢獻了一個像太陽也像月亮的手鼓，從排練的第一次就開始使用，且熟悉它的特性。我們參考了中國京劇一桌二椅的舞台概念，將舞台上的素材簡化成一面鼓、一個手杖、一張椅子。簡化的理由無非就是想讓表演聚焦在單人表演身上。讓演員有充分的表演創作空間，可自由發揮他的想像。Francesco詮釋了所有的角色，所有可能在旅途前、旅途中會出現的角色，不管是人類或者非人類。這挑戰了演員的耐力、體力和角色切換的能力，吸收能力像海綿般強壯的Francesco也挑戰了導演們的能力，我們必須不斷地調高我們對他的要求，並相信他，把舞台放心交給他。