“I came to Taiwan for an adventure and I instantly loved it. Although it has been really, really hard at times, I’m stubborn as hell and I’m still here! The people I met kept me going. These performers are passionate with what they do, even though the plight of the Taiwanese actor is a hard life. I’ve made the decision that if they are going to go through what they’ll go through – by way of familial and societal pressure for being a stage actor – then I would do everything I can to contribute towards an experience everyone can enjoy. Even if we are going to get burnt financially or whatever – let’s at the very least have a good time!”
This is the story of Brook Hall, the audacious American actor/director who has found his very own adventure in our city. Having just been inducted as equity in the AEA 14 years earlier, the assertive talent saw a clear linear path to his ‘big career’ in New York. But much like a surprising twist from a well-written script, a different city, far away, beckoned for our leading man.
Before the curtains open to the expecting audience, what is it like backstage?
BROOK: Naturally every director, every show has its own traditions. One that I really like is something we call the ‘show monster’ tradition. Basically you start out with a little stuffed animal and you then choose another cast member to a pass it on to. So while everyone hurdles in, before the curtains go up, you tell that person one positive thing about him and he gets to take it. They have ’til the next show to add something to it. So maybe they’ll stitch something on, or put a sticker on it, or tie something and the show monster gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It really helps to build positive energy before the show starts. Now, whoever has it at the very last night of the show, takes it to their next show and starts it with a new group. And so, at the moment, there are 5 or 6 show monsters travelling around in all the theatre companies in Taipei. It’s pretty cool!
Aside from the obvious orchestration and instructive traits necessary, what do you think makes a good director?
It’s half creative and half problem solving really. Somedays, it is just ‘oh, the costumes got lost in the mail’ or ‘oh, the car has a flat tire’ and so on. It can feel like you’re the captain of a ship in a storm and there’s a hole on the boat while it’s on fire. Day after day, you wake up in the morning and you can list like 15 problems that you have to figure out by the end of the day so you really have to know how to solve things. As cliché as it is, you have to think out of the box to come up with ideas to make things happen because nothing happens the way you think it would. You have to be really flexible and enjoy the uncertainty. If problems get to you then you can’t be a director. Half of the job is your ideas and the other half is solving all the problems to get to even one tenth of what your ideas were.
Since you were a stage actor and dancer beforehand, what made directing appealing for you to pursue?
Honestly, what I like the most about the theatre is the team work that happens to tell a great story. I was never the kind of performer that needed the attention. It wasn’t about that at all. It’s amazing to tell a story and to affect people and seeing the way they respond. I felt like I didn’t need to be held up or for people to clap for me but I wanted to be part of the whole process. To gather everybody together and make them work towards a unified goal, well the director can do that. So that’s what steered me to directing because I get to drive the car how I wanna drive the car, I get to choose what’s playing on the radio for the passengers – I can make the trip really horrible for them or I can make it fun.
A play usually lasts for an extended amount of time, how do the crew and cast keep the enthusiasm throughout the run?
It does get to a point where it is easy to phone it in but as a good actor, you have to train yourself to respond to every moment authentically. Yes, you may have said the words 200 times before and you know what’s gonna happen to the story next but each time is slightly different; you have to go up there and see it in new ways. That’s a big part of the skill, you have to find that nuance that you haven’t yet figured out.
I feel that other creatives have a more practical way to practise their chosen art form, as opposed to directing. What do you think?
I think it’s all the same pretty much. You don’t need a proper production to improve on your abilities, nor to read and study a lot of books – just go do it and make it work. You can get a camera, choose a little space, gather some friends together and start telling stories until it’s believable.
Knowing that you run both a theatre and a video production company, what is your take on multimedia applications and art forms on stage, does it convolute performing arts?
No, I don’t think so. I know it is easy to go overboard so there’s got to be subtlety, nuances and growth. You gotta know your proportions. If it’s in service to the story and if you can convey it better with all these new toys and whatever is coming out next year then do it. It would be unwise to limit yourself. To feel commercial pressure to conform to use it though, well that I don’t think is constructive. So at the end of the day, you have to make sure that the people are paying attention to the story. If people are talking about the lights or the falling helicopter in Miss Saigon or the falling chandelier in Phantom of the Opera or whatever is blowing up and other special effects instead of the story, then you’ve gone too far.
Now imagine this – It’s the end of a play’s run, the final show’s curtain call, the cast makes their bows to roaring applause – how do you feel?
It brings out the most stark feelings, it’s crazy. You think about the months you spent with the group of people you’ve lived on the same buses, airplanes, and hotel rooms with. You’ve gone everywhere with them and have done all these shows that made incredible bonds form. And then suddenly the bus drops you off on the corner and you don’t know when you’ll see these people again. But you get used to the feeling… So in those last moments, I just think of all the beautiful things we’ve created and accomplished together that I’m lucky to be taking with me.
After, it’s on to the next one.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO