Hung Tzi Yu*
On January 21, 2020 two days before China locked down Wuhan, a Taiwanese passenger arriving from the city tested positive for COVID-19.
Later that week, Taiwan imposed entry restrictions on visitors from China’s Hubei Province and subsequently expanded it to all Chinese nationals. By the end of February, almost all Taiwanese theatregoers were choosing, autonomously, to wear face masks during performances. The performing arts in Taiwan were not disrupted significantly until mid-March, when most foreign nationals were banned from entering the country, causing the cancellation of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts (an annual event for local and global artists). Most local theatre performances scheduled for April and May were cancelled or postponed. Those that insist on going ahead with their programme keep a strict list of names of audience members and/or adopt seat distancing. Major national art venues are not closed, but they enforce measures in line with the government’s social distancing advice and epidemic prevention guide.
Around mid-March, the Ministry of Culture in Taiwan responded to the crisis with the first round of emergency relief (budget of USD 50 million), which was targeted at independent practitioners and small businesses in the arts and cultural industries. The national relief programme provides them with subsidies to offset operational costs and cover employees’ salaries. Independent practitioners can be paid up to 60,000 NTD (USD 2,000), while performing arts companies can receive a subsidy up to 2,400,000 NTD (USD 80,000).
Other governmental alleviation plans include rent deduction for national artistic venues, interest subsidies for businesses and a flexible contract period for contracted artistic proposals.
Debates are going on over the effectiveness of the relief grants. Critics question the definition of independent practitioner and suggest that this is an opportunity for the Taiwanese government to tackle the long-existing problem of poor working conditions among artistic practitioners.
As for theatremakers: some seek to ameliorate the impact by releasing livestreams of scheduled productions. Others have moved their shows outdoors or, even, adapted them to be presented in other artistic forms. Yet others have taken the time to make past recordings and documents available, in cooperation with the Public Television Service Foundation.
*Hung Tzi-Yu, theatre critic and MA student of Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in National Taiwan University