Senior American Theater Professional Engages Taiwan with Passion for Theatrics

Senior American Theater Professional Engages Taiwan with Passion for Theatrics
Photo Credit: Beyonder Times

What you need to know

Ruth Giordano moved to Taipei at the age of 54 in 2009. She had never lived in Asia and did not speak Chinese. Without a job and local friends, she felt lost and worried about her life as a senior immigrant. “My job was my everything. I didn’t know what I could do in Taiwan.”

At the end of 2013, a seven-minute commercial film “A Memory to Remember” by Kingston Technology Corporation went viral with over 1 million views on YouTube. This heartwarming short film told the story of an old woman who regularly went to a subway station to listen to her late husband’s announcement recording of “Mind the gap.” The lead actress is actually a resident of Taipei, and also the producer and director of Red Room Radio Redux (R4)(*1).

She is Ruth Giordano, who moved from New York to Taipei at the age of 54 with her husband in 2009. She had never lived in Asia and did not speak Chinese. Without a job and local friends, she felt lost and worried about her life as a senior immigrant. “My job was my everything. I didn’t know what I could do in Taiwan.”

From a ballet girl to a versatile theater professional

Giordano started to learn ballet as a little girl, aiming to become a professional dancer. However, as she turned into an adolescent, she lost interest in performing in the tight dance costumes. Participating in theater summer camps, Giordano figured out that she not only enjoyed acting but found her place behind the scenes. From managing electric machines to tailoring costumes, she learned all the basics of theatrics.

During her youth, she had the experience of working as a waitress, cashier and also a tailor in an apparel company. This made her certain that it was the theater experience that brought her the sense of achievement which she couldn’t find elsewhere. “Compared with being a glamorous star, I liked backstage more.” She volunteered to work in a theater as an apprentice for two years. To make a living over the period, she dedicated herself to costume-making, which also embarked her on a 30-year theater costume designer career.

Being in charge of the costumes of all characters in a play, Giordano had to read the structure of the storyline very carefully and take a deep look into each character. How many costume pieces should be prepared for a character (including backups), what kind of costumes should a character wear in a specific scene, and how to dress the actors as comfortably as possible — She endeavored to “make sure that everyone was on the same page.”

Years later, she became a versatile theater professional, gaining a wide range of experience as an actor, dancer, writer, director, designer and builder. She has worked with the Metropolitan Opera, the Tony Award-winning Williamstown Theatre Festival, major motion pictures and a number of on- and off-Broadway productions; meanwhile, she also collaborated with educational institutions, including the Julliard School in New York, and colleges and schools around the United States.

New voyage in Taiwan as a senior immigrant

After moving to Taiwan, Giordano did not know where she could make use of her skills and knowledge, despite her decades of experience in all aspects of theater production in the U.S. Fortunately, when she was invited by a friend to attend the first anniversary event of the Red Room(*2), she not only found her passion for theatrics ignited again, but met the people and community who she could partner with.

In 2012, she co-founded R4 as the artistic director, seeking to rekindle an appreciation for Western literary tradition. Technique-wise, R4 developed the concept of telling a story using only voices, sound effects, and selected background music. At the Taipei Fringe Festival in Fall 2012, R4 presented their work OPEN YOUR EARS! (adapted from MACBETH), and attracted the attention of Tim Berge, GM at ICRT-FM100. R4 and ICRT soon started to collaborate on recording scripts for broadcast and online release. By Christmas of 2012, R4 was on the air with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with several other scripts soon following.

“ICRT aims to connect locals and foreigners. I think it’s wonderful. Through our broadcast we can share the Western classics with a larger Taiwanese audience,” said Giordano. As voice and sounds are the only tools used in broadcasting, she demonstrated and explained, “When someone reads ‘the door opened,’ the sound of wind should appear right away. Every voice or sound should be closely followed by one another.” So far R4 has produced eight scripts for radio broadcast and on-demand online listening, and ten scripts for live shows with live sound effects (*3).

Bring the passion for theatrics to children education

For Giordano, community and communication are at the heart of the theater experience. Via R4, she carried out her passion for sharing great stories with the immediate community, but this was not enough for her. She further made use of her theater expertise to take part in the “Stage Time and Juice” program for children, aiming to inspire them to develop and explore themselves.

In this program, she strongly encourages children to share stories with their voices and sound effects. She invites the participants to take the stage in turns to share something funny or wise with a song, dance, joke, or story. Although some participants were not native English speakers, “it’s good to perform in English without being a perfectionist," said Giordano. "The point is learning to express yourself spontaneously.”

“If a child doesn’t feel comfortable to mimic the voice of a goat in front of others, I would say ‘It’s okay. He is just not ready for this.’ There is no right or wrong. Everyone has the choice upon what challenges he or she wants to take. There were kids who only showed up once and quit. It’s okay, too. At least they learned that it was not what they wanted. Just like I knew that becoming a pretty actress was not what I wanted, so I focused on being a backstage professional.”

Theater has never been an official part of Taiwan’s education system and most Taiwanese children are more or less reluctant to perform on stage. Giordano believes that “eye contact” is very crucial. The exchange of eye contact between audience and performers is actually a sign of companionship, telling performers “you are not alone.” She said, “For example when I was four years old, I once saw my parents burst out laughing while I was performing on stage. My parents told me that ‘We laughed because we love you.’ Then I realized that laughter doesn’t hurt. I think that is one of the reasons why I feel comfortable on stage.”

Before Giordano moved to Taiwan, she thought it would be difficult for her to adapt herself to the life in Taiwan. Seven years later, she feels very happy and grateful that she can share her passion and expertise with Taiwanese people. Having restarted her life in her fifties, she looks forward to more possibilities and challenges in her theater life.

*1. Red Room Radio Redux (R4) is part of the Red Room community which is “dedicated to listening.” The mission at R4 is to bring selections from the canon of Western literature to a wide audience using simple techniques of readers’ theater and radio drama.

*2. The Red Room is a not-for-profit platform based in Taipei since 2009. It has built a community for foreigners in Taiwan, and also played the role of connecting them with locals by providing a space for creative sharing, be it poetry, short stories, monologs, music or visual arts. In its regular events, participants are encouraged to freely perform whatever they were good at, without audition and rehearsal.

*3. R4 Repertoire
(Listen to R4 on ICRT-FM100.)

Beyonder Times has authorized publication of this article. The original text is published here.

Editor: Olivia Yang