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Dual-national artist pushes for Taiwan's theatrical development

2019/06/01 11:29:34

By Lee Hsin-Yin, CNA staff reporter

Over the past 30 years, Catherine Diamond has been immersing herself in the study, practice and promotion of performing arts in Taiwan, as well as bringing her international experience to facilitate theatrical development in the country.

Diamond, originally from the United States, who received Republic of China (Taiwan) nationality last month under an amended immigration law that allows foreigners with special talent to gain citizenship without having to renounce their original nationality, said she is pleased to be recognized.

"It's not so much to recognize my contribution, it's to recognize that I do belong to the society," said the 66-year-old, who first came to Taiwan in 1977 as a student to study Chinese and instead became a member of the Neo Classic Dance Company.

Diamond has come and gone several times since then. Before she made Taiwan her permanent home in 1993, she had learned Asian traditional dances and traveled to many countries studying dance, including a year in Spain studying flamenco.

Theatrical achievements

Diamond was recognized by the government for her distinguished achievements in the cultural and artistic fields, one of the six categories of foreign nationals who will be allowed to retain their prior citizenship while also getting ROC identity.

Currently a professor teaching English and theatre at Soochow University, Diamond is also an active playwright and director, producing various spoken dramas adapted from Chinese traditional literature and folklore, including "Journey to the West" and "Legend of the White Snake."

These productions, under an eco-theatre project she runs in Taiwan and Southeast Asia, are designed to use local legends combined with local environmental problems, performed in local languages by local actors.

Diamond's efforts have widened her students' horizons, allowing them to use art expression to expose social problems, as well as getting them connected to regional theatrical development.

In the "Legend of the White Snake" performance, for instance, the Kinnari Ecological Theatre Project script sets the action in a non-specific time that includes both the 2003 SARS epidemic that began in the Guangdong animal markets of China and the current illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia for Chinese medicine.

In addition to her academic work, Diamond has produced numerous Flamenco-based dance dramas, performed by professional dancers in Taiwan and professional foreign musicians, diversifying the country's theatrical landscape.

She was also one of the foreigners to establish an English language theatre in Taipei, and danced flamenco herself around the island.

Modern drama development

Although young people are interested in performing theatre in Taiwan, she said, there is neither public, private, nor government support for making mature modern drama.

More "little theatre" venues would help to develop the genre, but modern drama was one of the last arts to be cultivated in Taiwan after music and modern dance, according to Diamond, the first dual national to write a book about the Taiwan little theatre.

Taiwan needs to have a national theatre dedicated to modern drama, she said, "just to try to raise the level of theatre performance by giving the theatre people a more secure situation."

A good example would be the Taiwan Traditional Theatre Center, she said, which not only organizes arts programs such as Taiwanese, Hakka and Peking operas from various troupes, but also accommodates resident performing groups including the GuoGuang Opera Company, known for traditional opera performances.

There should be similar establishments for contemporary performing artists so that they can focus on their creativity without being worried about box office returns and if they are on the right career path.

Second home

Aside from art, Diamond said she enjoys living in Taiwan, including its natural landscapes, civilized and open society, and friendly people.

"I appreciate the one-on-one relationships that I have here," she said. "Generally, people have treated me with kindness and consideration, and I have tried to show the same kindness and consideration to them."

She also urged the government to open its doors to foreign residents who have lived and worked in Taiwan for a long time to obtain ROC nationality, as they have contributed to the country in many ways and should be offered the same opportunity.

"I think Taiwan should seize the opportunity to offer citizenship to many of its foreign residents. It should not just be the privilege of a few people," Diamond said. "It will enhance Taiwan's international reputation."

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