Gill Reflects on Taiwan

Hi All,
Greetings from Taiwan!!

We took a shuttle bus from the airport, down freeways, through mountain tunnels and past towns & industry cuddled up to rice paddies & vegie gardens – to make the best use of space. It looks like north coast NSW – same weeds, also banana plants, pawpaws, & many other tropical fruits that I don’t know.

Saw lots of motor scooters ridden by people wearing rain ponchos & sometimes a traditional straw hat.

Our hosts greeted us at the school with hand-drawn signs of our names, so I met Christy(!), Joseph and Chantelle who walked me around the corner to their 3 story flat. Christy & her husband speak some English, Joseph is 10 & a bit shy, Chantelle is 3.They have Taiwanese names which I haven’t learnt yet. Mostly they speak Mandarin. They gave me some nice veg food which I promptly threw up due to being exhausted after sitting up all night on the plane…

After snoozing in my very nice bed, I woke to discover that I was on the 3rd floor, in a room of my own, with a view of misty mountains and rice paddies all around & of a cement factory & other flats.

Singing in the concert that evening seemed to cure the nausea, several hundred people from the school were a very appreciative audience.

The school is big by our standards, the kids are keen & the teachers translate for us!
We generally are in small groups taking a class. We sing the music through & then teach it to the class. Most fun bit today was impromptu performance of ‘The Owl & the Pussy Cat’ (me starring as cat) – to great hilarity…

Home cooked Taiwanese meals are abundant – the school cooks lunch for all students (at least 800) & also for us Wayfarers! Lots of vegies, various mushrooms, rice, sweet corn, noodles, greens, soup, tofu. Like home but better!

It rains heavily often during the day, there are big puddles, gumboots & umbrellas every where. Our clothes dry on a covered balcony helped by a de-humidifier fan.

Christy took me for a walk this arvo, first to the farmers co-op shop sponsored by the school, selling fruit & veg, dry goods & hand made Steiner-ish crafts. We chatted with the manager & her friend & enjoyed a homemade cookie. Next we walked up the road where Christy says many people take early morning walks, past a few houses, vegie gardens, many orchards of tropical fruits, a Mini Golf and a very ornate temple. Discovered at this point that the camera battery is flat, also soon this laptop battery will run out: then I’m not sure if I can borrow an adapter to charge everything. So communication may be short lived!

Best try & save & send this now.
Love, Gill.

A Ring Bearer dress rehearsal…

This is a collection of anecdotes from our dress rehearsal for the Ring Bearer performance in the Backnang Burgerhaus. Little snippets of what went on, generally the amusing moments. It was written from back stage though, with many interruptions for me to run onstage and act, so read it as a series of excerpts, a sporadic running commentary, not necessarily linked into a cohesive whole.

I’m sitting backstage in this fabulously huge and professional theatre waiting for our dress rehearsal to begin. Kristin has spent the morning attempting to get some lighting set up and is now up at the back of the theatre in the lighting box playing with very high tech equipment. Rohan and Theo are backstage with me and have just broken into a rendition of ‘To Isengard’ with harmonies and in F major (not minor) which is highly amusing, but they sang a little too loud so have earned themselves shouts from those who are working on stage QUIET BACKSTAGE!

Those who did the workshop with us who are dancing Song of the Elves have come backstage to get an elf dress, so all Wayfarers have got out their different sized robes and are matched them up with the appropriate sized person. “you put in on by first putting the elastic over your head, then you flip the long bit over…” passing on all the tricks of the trade… Kia is organising things and doing it well. Including ensuring that everyone knows where to put the robe after they have finished with it so that those Wayfarers who need them in a later scene don’t have to run around backstage frantically trying to find them! Then a final reminder for how to stand and walk as an elf before heading onstage to practice the dance.

As the rehearsal progresses, we get the same reminders that we seem to need everywhere we go. Keep further to stage left and COME FORWARD! The ‘old forest’ scene is looking and sounding fabulous. This group have come up with a whole lot of very evil tree noises which makes the whole thing so much more effective. Gawain and Will have just run off stage yelling Help! and when offstage, with big grins on their faces, have reverted to amusingly pathetic high pitched calls. The scenes are so familiar now that I only half listen to what is going on, but I am surprised out of my complacency by the sound of a new voice responding to their calls for help. With a German accent. He does a fabulous job and it immediately reminds me of when we performed this in Taiwan. The student there who played Tom Bom was fantastic and his “Bombadil is talking” line was so cool that we still quote it!

The pub scene is always a lot of fun to do. Normally I stand on stage and chat to the Theodore, very animatedly, with broad grins and lots of unrelated hand gestures, about whatever particular thing his gone wrong in our performance so far, but today there are so many more people in the pub that I am not needed and can stand in the wings and watch the new blocking that has gone into the scene.

The next amusing moment comes from Theodore who points out that he and the other black riders, after stabbing Frodo then running away (for no good reason), come back on stage to finish him off, but instead of actually doing it, they then wait patiently a few steps away giving the elves time to gather themselves and finally come on stage and fight them off! But we fixed the timing so it is now all okay!

One of the biggest challenges for us is in this performance is that all the narrations are being done in German. This is particularly hard in the Council of Elrond scene where we have a long narration during which everyone on stage simultaneously freezes and unfreezes about six times. All at specific moments. I walk on as Legolas and stand gravely beside Theo (a random elf), and I find it almost impossible to look at him and not laugh. Particularly when we repeatedly stop the scene to shuffle further downstage, or because Bilbo hesitated too long before singing, or people didn’t go up on their toes at the correct moment. Then I look at Boromir and see that the under tunic for his costume is all bunched up around his ears and he hasn’t noticed. My favourite moment though was watching Matt as Bilbo standing with the most fabulously hopeful look on his face in the moment in the scene where Elrond is choosing those who will travel with Frodo. Priceless.

Then the death of Gandalf. Genevieve is fabulous as the Balrog, she finally has enough space to really jump around and look wild. Gandalf is caught and falls off stage crying “fly you fools!” Then, instead of being horror struck, we all grin widely then burst out laughing because there is Terry, out of view of the audience, but in full view of us, sitting on the floor. A figure wearing a long grey cloak and a pointy hat, with her hands folded neatly in her lap, her legs out straight in front of her, her toes pointing upward, and watching us with a very interested and expectant expression. The complete opposite of the horrifying death which is what we are meant to be picturing as we act out horror and grief.

I’m not sure that our dress rehearsals are particularly professional. Well, that is if the dress rehearsal is meant to be serious like a performance. We use our dress rehearsals to make jokes and do silly things. Or perhaps it is the other way around. We make jokes and laugh a lot to help us to get through the dress rehearsals. This is really the more sensible view, I think, because our rehearsals are usually at the end of an already long day’s teaching and everyone is always tired. Today hasn’t been too bad in the scheme of Ring Bearer days though. Teaching in the morning, then dress rehearsal all afternoon- about a ten hour day. Not too bad really. It will be twelve hours tomorrow with the children’s performance in the morning then this a at night.

There is always an added level of excitement for me when we are performing it with other people. I haven’t really spoken a lot about the wonderful people who did the workshop with us this time. But they did a fabulous job and have been more fully integrated into the play than we have ever managed before. Narrators, small speaking roles, Orcs, elf dance, trees, soloists and instrumentalists. They have really added to the richness of the production. Having the narrations in German (mammoth task as it probably was to translate) certainly made the whole thing more understandable for everyone.

And now the performance has been and gone. It went well! Congrats, all!

The Ring Bearer-Backstage


Getting ready to go onstage


It is really quite dark backstage, which can make for some fun long exposure photography!



More waiting and preparing


The workshop participants got to watch the parts of the show that they weren't in...


The elves dance around Frodo saving him from the deadly shoulder wound. unfortunately we never properly choreographed this dance so it always involves a lot of watching each other closely and frantically trying to remember what we did last time!


Knitting has become the new pastime among Wayfarers, it would seem...


The Prancing Pony-the four Hobbits arrive at the inn. Everyone else is frozen in a fabulous tableaux, with Aragorn standing mysteriously (and given the camera position, very obviously) at the side.


Waiting and sleeping

Gill reflects on Latvia 10-15th July

I board the overnight train to Latvia with no qualms, knowing it may be stuffy at night but that it will have great views and a place to lie down. It does, and the Latvian guard is nicer and there are no false accusations of theft.

I sit at the same table as a Russian grandmother and share my supply of fruit and nuts. I notice she is sad. We communicate non-verbally. Next morning, when I want to sleep in, she insists I join her to share her breakfast of homemade pickled pork, lambs fry, pickled cucumber, tomato and black bread. I relish it. She tells me that her homemade food will make me strong. Terry, our Russian speaker, has found out that this woman’s sister has just died, leaving her much more alone in the world. Later she tells me, non verbally, that grieving will make the heart strong.

The forest east of Moscow is more lush than to the west, more Cedar and more varieties of flowers. The villages are bigger with more prosperous buildings. In Latvia there is more cultivation and the signs become more readable.

We stay at a Latvian waldorf school in Adazi. The children are away for summer holidays, we spread out in the beautiful rooms allocated to us, eat buckets of berries and swim in the clear, clean lake. There’s rehearsal and planning, 3hrs of singing with the local kindergarten and and some sight seeing with our Waldorf school hosts. I miss staying in someone’s home immersed in their language and culture.

The school is identifiably Steinerish – polished pine, octagonal shaped rooms, pitched ceilings, stained glass, hand-died fabrics and wool, gardens indoor and out, play equipment made of undressed logs all set amidst a park of Linden, Ash and Elms. The lake is 5 mins walk away, fringed by forest. There I feast on wild Red Currants and Blueberries.

We perform a well received concert at a school in the Capital, Riga, and Mass at the Riga Dom Cathedral. Very exciting to sing music written for cathedrals inside them. After the Riga Dom mass we are invited up to the gallery to see the famous organ – one of the most beautiful and the biggest organ in the world at te time it as built. The organist played Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor flooded my whole being, I was almost teary remembering it played by my school organist 45 years ago. 

Afterwards Renate and I went to the Museum of Occupation – about Latvia during Soviet control 1940’s – 1991. I feel physically sick reading about the way people were treated – massacred, herded to impossible living conditions in Siberia, families split up, culture and language forbidden. There is a wrenching poem about trees growing on massacre sites …‘trees remembering’… Latvia was used as a pawn during the 2nd World war, Hitler took over from Stalin and committed similar atrocities, then Churchill did a deal where Latvia was returned to Soviet rule. The exhibition mentions the ways people maintained their national identity and language. In 1991 the independence movement culminated in millions of people all over the Balkans linking hands and singing for freedom. Latvia and Estonia gained independence and proudly maintain their national identity. A poem speaks of survival ‘when my feet don’t remember the way…
                                                 …my heart exhalts and remembers…’

Wonderful people!


After such a long time without posting anything, it seems appropriate that I begin again by putting up a photo of our Estonian friends! You are all such wonderful, warm, friendly, cheerful and fabulous people! we all feel so lucky to have been able to meet and spend time with you!