This Is Not an Embassy (Made in Taiwan)
By Stefan Kaegi
Stefan Kaegi brings together theatre and diplomacy to present a portrait of Taiwan, a country that is both recognised and not recognised on the international scene. Protagonists of the show simulate the opening of a non-embassy. What can we learn from earthquake prevention for the field of diplomacy? How would you imagine a representation of Taiwan on a stage? How to stage a portrait of a new form of peer-to-peer diplomacy? Which flag, which anthem and which ritual to fit our time?
In 1945 Taiwan became an original member of the United Nations and even a full member of the security council as „Republic of China“. But in 1971 Nixon reestablished harmonic relations between the US and mainland China, and Taiwan had to leave the UN. Ever since, Taiwan has struggled to find diplomatic recognition: only fourteen of its diplomatic missions have embassy status; the island state is excluded from organizations like the WHO or UNESCO; the country’s athletes run under the flag of „Chinese Taipei“. Not only since the war in Ukraine, China has again and again made clear that it doesn’t want countries and companies to approach Taiwan as an independent country or even represent it as such on a map. Although Taiwan has many international friends and trading partners, no one can afford to break with China, the world’s second largest economy. Therefore Taiwan is just the most visible representative of this global dilemma.
Plate tectonics and earthquakes
Taiwan is regularly struck by earthquakes and even some occasional volcanic eruptions. Geologically, Taiwan is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a seismically particularly active zone at the edge of the Pacific. Not far from Taipei, the Philippine Sea plate moves north- westwards by an average of 7 cm a year against the Eurasian plate, on which the Chinese mainland also stands. This geological description of Taiwan reads like a metaphor for the country’s quest for independence, as its history is also marked by friction between major power blocks and by eruptions.
The „Sunflower Movement“ was a student protest in Spring 2014 in Taiwan against a controversial agreement that would have allowed China, among other things, to partially take over the free press in Taiwan. During the protests, the parliament building in Taipei was occupied by about 400 demonstrators during twenty-four days. An entire generation was politicized. New forms of participatory democracy and digital transparency were developed. The movement gained nationwide support, ended after concessions were made by the China-friendly government led it to lose its majority in the next election. The search for new forms of participation and transparency continued, making Taiwan one of the most advanced democracies in Asia, an example that „even the Chinese can do democracy“, as one semiconductor expert puts it. In parallel, the country developed a new form of foreign policy that allows the country to network with other countries even under the radar of official diplomacy. In this frame, „de facto ambassadors“ are stationed in representations that are not embassies and yet operate as such on a peer- to-peer-level.
Representation, between theatre and diplomacy
Theatre is the place of representation. In theatre we identify and empathize with protagonists who stand for something bigger than themselves. What if theatre would build the portable sample of a country that looks both like an ancient and futuristic version of China, a pre-communist and post-totalitarian reflection of it? What if the theater would organize the temporary and nomadic representation of this territory which, although it could not officially exist as a nation, would nevertheless exist on stage at each performance?
Research and performance
Director Stefan Kaegi, along with Taiwanese artists, conducted research during a seven-week residency at the Taipei National Theatre, querying political, science, and industry protagonists. The results will flow into a stage play which he currently rehearses with a digital activist, a diplomat, and the heiress of a Taiwan bubble tea empire. The piece will premiere at Haus der Berliner Festspiele at the beginning of 2024 and tour in Europe and Asian in 2024.
Concept and direction: Stefan Kaegi
Scenography: Dominic Huber
Research: Yinru Lo
Dramaturgy: Szu-Ni Wen, Caroline Barneaud
Video: Mikko Gaestel
Music: Polly Esther
With: David Wu, Chiayo Kuo, Szu-Ya Wang
Production Europe: Tristan Pannatier
Production Taïwan: Mu Chin
A production of Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne and the National Theatre & Concert Hall, Taipei and Rimini Apparat, in co-production with Berliner Festspiele, Centro Dramático Nacional Madrid, Volkstheater Wien and Zürcher Theater Spektakel and others.