Experimenting the infinite space of performing arts with stage technologies
(Excerpt from an interview with the Creator)

Mathias Woo, Creator, Artistic Director and Spatial Designer (Woo)

Yu xiao, Reporter (Reporter)

Reporter: How did the idea of Freespace Tech Lab come about?
Woo:

The stage technologies are pivotal in performing arts. Besides actors, the lighting, sound design and the spacial concept of stage require a great deal of techniques and thinking. But exploration and experiments of these technical aspects of stage are lacking in the greater China region, that is Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

Zuni Icosahedron’s cross-media theatre productions have been extending the boundaries of theatre through exploring the relationship between technologies and stage over the past 35 years as an example. Take the large scale fancy projection that we often see on stage these days, Zuni began experimenting stage projections 25 years ago. In this regard, Zuni functions as a laboratory. Stage technologies and performance are equally important. Without the professional and creative support of stage technologies from the technical aspects, there is no way to complete a theatre production.

Reporter: A number of new theatres have been built in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years. Do you think new technologies  have been adopted in these new venues?  
Woo: It is unfortunate that we don’t see much development and adoption of new technologies in most of these recently built venues. There isn’t a reinvention of the relationship between the audience and the stage either. Besides, people’s focus on the fancy, costly facades of these new theatre buildings rather than on the front and back stages, which are the most crucial. The complement of the back stage with appropriate technologies is often ignored.

On top of that, a lot of these venues are not run by theatre groups or performing arts professionals. Unlike their counterparts in Europe, the US or even South Korea, where a lot of theatre buildings are run by performing arts groups.

Reporter:

How does Freespace Tech Lab, which is developed in collaboration with West Kowloon Cultural District, respond to these issues?
 
Woo:

We approach these issues from a few different perspectives. Firstly, from a creative perspective, which will allow us to experiment the dynamics between the technologies of stage and performance, and how new technologies can impact the relationship between the audience and the artists.

Then, the other important element of this collaboration is to offer training to not only secondary and tertiary students but also those in the architecture profession. We hope to introduce them the basic concepts of stage technologies. A lot of architects in Hong Kong have limited understanding of performing arts. Some of them have never even been to the theatre! They lack the appropriate concepts of museums, performing arts venues and various other buildings that serve the cultural purposes. For example, the size and location of the loading dock at many theatres were inaccurate. It is difficult to transfer knowledge and experiences from overseas consultants too as they might not fit in with our unique situation.

Hong Kong already has 50 years of history in performing arts. We have a lot of experience, but how come we cannot produce our own specialists in designing theatre buildings? Thus we hope this “laboratory” can offer workshops for students majoring in architecture and relevant architectural design disciplines. In future, we will offer programmes on professional stage technologies for architects and surveyors. Our collaboration with West Kowloon Cultural District is a long-term one. Many new stages will be built in this arts hub. These experiments can be great references for professionals.

Reporter: I was told that this lab consists of three parts -, Wittgenstein, In Search of Lost Time and the Movement Lab.

Woo:

Our lab will feature a different theme each week, encompassing the technical and creative aspects of theatre.

This year our focus is sound, light and space. Sound, Light and Space – there can be so many experiments, especially in a space like this. In this Tech Lab of ours, technologies are the main characters. We will explore the appropriation of electronic music in theatre during our first week with Wittgenstein. In Search of Lost Time will be the textual base for our second week experiment with vocals in relation to sound. We have invited Zhang Jun from Shanghai and Wei Hai-Ming from Taipei as well as actors from Hong Kong and Paris to take part in this event, which is also an experiment of languages.

Body movements will be the theme of the third week. Dancers will find themselves in a theatre surrounded by mirrors in order to explore the dynamics and possibilities between body movements and space.

In Chinese, the word art is comprised of “craftsmanship”, which means the technical aspect of an artwork, and “possibilities”, which refers to the creative side of a piece. Without the knowledge of the technical side of art as the foundation, it is impossible to elevate artistic works to a new dimension.