打造台灣百老匯

舞台技術設計師楊金源的奇幻旅程
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2015 / 4月

文‧陳歆怡 圖‧林格立


馬戲團裡令人驚呼連連的飛天特技、演唱會上浮在半空中律動不已的巨型圓環、實驗劇場突然裂開的觀眾席⋯⋯這些令人目眩神迷、驚歎連連的舞台機關,幕後推手是技術根底深厚、又有美學素養的「舞台技術設計」。

任教於臺北藝術大學劇場設計學系的楊金源,是國內少數跨足理工與劇場技術的學者,近年他從事一連串產學合作,致力於舞台機關研發,也為人才培育扎根。

窺探劇場技術的後台功夫,你會發現,幕還未拉起,好戲已經上演!


2月中,在一處鐵皮搭建的舞台布景工廠內,高高瘦瘦、書生模樣的楊金源,正陪伴著五、六名資深機械師傅,趕工組裝一台超級機關─可360度旋轉並任意搖擺、升降的5米圓形舞台。舞台下方有3座曲柄支撐,透過電腦控制3軸的運動,就能讓平台自由搖擺。

這位大家口中的「老師」,一早就來到工廠,也是最晚離開,只見他一會兒蹲在地上檢查並組裝零件,一會兒講手機與合作廠商溝通,一會兒側耳傾聽運轉時的低微摩擦聲,像個嚴謹苛求的工程師。然而,當組裝完成、通電測試的那一刻,他又開心大喊:「哇!像不像兒童樂園的大玩具?這可能是劇場界首次做出可搖擺的舞台,也算世界首航!」

教室也能玩衝浪

這個搖擺旋轉台是為了某頒獎典禮量身定製,楊金源把它的「前身」歸功於一年前他與4名大三學生一起腦力激盪完成的課堂作業─「史都華6軸衝浪板模擬平台」,這個離地1公尺的衝浪板可以讓人站在上面,用搖桿操作前進後退、搖擺、旋轉等動作,是名副其實的大玩具。

楊金源解釋,這個衝浪板的設計原理是工業上熟知的「史都華平台」,由6個可伸縮的電動桿,組成並聯式的三角形結構,常應用在飛行模擬訓練器,電影《少年pi的奇幻漂流》中的船也是架在這樣的機構上拍攝。

「我跟學生都沒有做過這個機關,同學們花了兩個月,從設計、畫圖到動手焊接、組裝測試都自己來,我負責在課堂上帶著他們討論,並撰寫對這些文組學生有難度的自動控制程式。」楊金源說。

為了幫自己和學生圓夢,楊金源還在「flyingV群眾募資平台」上提案,成功募集到23萬元材料費;作品完成後,更邀請所有贊助者與系上學生,在實驗室舉辦一場別開生面的「衝浪大賽」,參賽者透過抽籤進行各種趣味花式的演出,例如頭頂一籃乒乓球不能掉落,或是邊衝浪邊鎮定撥手機給男/女朋友說情話。

楊金源說,模擬衝浪板意外地吸引舞台布景公司的注目,提出大型搖擺舞台的設計需求,催生出更厲害、載重能力數以噸計的3軸搖擺旋轉台。

「我常跟學生說,劇場技術並不深奧,只要善用數學工具及工程工具,沒有做不出來的設計。例如這兩個機關的共通點是國中數學就教過的原理:空間中的任何3點構成一個平面。」

 

在分工精細的表演藝術產業,舞台技術設計是獨立而專業的行當,職責是以紮實的技術根底,將導演或舞台設計師天馬行空的構想化為真實。

2001年,楊金源取得美國耶魯大學「技術設計與製作」藝術碩士學位返國,成為國內首位學院出身的舞台技術設計師;8年前他在北藝大成立「舞台動力實驗室」,展開一連串產學合作,是許多劇場指名合作的對象。

他的代表作包括:2009年聽障奧運的飛行技術;2011年為屏風表演班新作《王國密碼》設計雙人電動飛行機構系統與雙圓旋轉舞台;2012年為高雄十鼓橋糖文創園區規劃定目水劇場;2013年為陳綺貞《時間的歌》演唱會設計電動雙環機關;2014年為國家交響樂團歌劇《莎樂美》設計舞台機關,為田馥甄《如果》巡迴演唱會設計百變LED條燈幕。

楊金源指出,一般舞台布景公司很難在舞台機關的技術上做出突破,因為傳統師傅大都是因循慣例做事,不習慣創新也不熟悉電腦科技,學院反而有資源和時間成本專注於技術實驗與研發。

「劇場技術設計的時間往往被極度壓縮,不像工業設計的產品開發,有反覆試驗與修正的機會,但正因為每次研發都是創新挑戰,每次機關登台都是首演,才讓這一行充滿魅力。」楊金源說。

電機高材生勇敢跳槽

回首學藝之路,楊金源有段充滿戲劇化的轉折歷程。

楊金源自承,從小到大是「考試」常勝軍,從台大電機系一路念到研究所,卻在24歲當兵前夕,意識到自己只是順應社會價值觀與父母的期待,心裡根本不想踏入學者生涯,更不想到科學園區當個工程師。

就在他對前途感到迷惘時,某晚赫然想起高中時第一次欣賞舞台劇《暗戀桃花源》的畫面:「我記得桃花瓣落下,映著金士傑老師臉上的淚痕,那種感動與震撼好像才在昨日。我覺得戲劇這行好有趣。你明知道它是假的,卻會被它觸動到心靈深處。」他搖醒同寢室的死黨,拉著對方騎車到關渡山上,指著遠方的淡水河晨曦和腳下動工中的北藝大(當時是藝術學院)校園起誓:「我要考上這所學校,成為劇場的一份子!」

決定轉換跑道後,楊金源在退伍前報考了藝術學院,卻首次嘗到落榜滋味。他再花一年積極參加劇場相關研習課程,並旁聽臺大文學院所有戲劇相關課程,終於考上臺大戲劇研究所,並在研2考取教育部公費留學,研3時順利申請到美國耶魯大學戲劇學院,主修劇場技術設計與製作。

初到耶魯時楊金源受到很大的文化震撼:「原來學習不只是坐在教室聽老師講解,還有扎扎實實的工廠實習。我的同學幾乎從小都在車庫間玩耍,對動手做並不覺稀奇,我念了6年電機,卻連馬達都沒摸過,得從鋸木頭、鎖螺絲學起。」

楊金源回憶耶魯那3年勞累卻充實的訓練:每天早上8點半到下午兩點是理論課,內容包含結構、電力、機械及物理,中午沒有休息時間,得自己趁空塞個三明治果腹,下午2點到6點都待在舞台工廠做工,接受資深木工、焊工、道具師傅的操練,傍晚拖著疲憊的身軀回宿舍,還要埋頭寫理論課的作業。此外,學校每學期都有演出,學生需輪流擔任技術指導(technical director)、燈光指導、道具技術(prop master)等,也會擔任彼此的助理。

做中學,享受知識樂趣

歷經耶魯洗禮,楊金源從一介書生脫胎換骨為十八般武藝兼具的劇場「黑手」;另一方面,他的理工背景也發揮優勢,「以前念的物理化學知識,在劇場都是摸得到、可驗證的『活知識』,也能跟生活產生連結,讓我愛上這些學問!我還能扮演技術人員與藝術家之間的轉譯者,讓兩邊的想法及需求能充分傳遞、交流。」

返台後,楊金源把耶魯的教學方式融入北藝大的劇場技術設計課程,期許學生能養成獨立思考與解決問題的能力。「在真實劇場中,無論導演出什麼難題,技術指導都要能接招,解決每次全新的課題。不過有耶魯老同學說,我怎麼把大學部當研究所來教!」

今年即將畢業的大四學生杜旻靜,是楊金源激賞的優秀學生之一,她曾獨立製作舞台劇《查理三世和他的停車場》的自動水平升降斜坡機關,靈感源自她一件小小的學期作業。

杜旻靜說,每次收到楊金源批閱過的設計作業,上面總是密密麻麻寫滿眉批,點出哪些環節有瑕疵、會出什麼問題,「但老師卻不提供『標準答案』,要我們自己找解方。」杜旻靜說。

楊金源也不會擺架子,在帶學生對外合作時,從設計到裝台都跟學生討論,工作名單也會列出學生姓名,連酬勞分配都開誠布公,「我希望學生了解,劇場中人人要相互效力與尊重,才能成就一齣好戲。」楊金源說。

50天完成超級任務

近年,楊金源帶領學生完成不少超級任務,其中,2009年聽障奧運開幕式的飛行機關,是他自我突破的里程碑,更證明台灣也有能力打造高水準的劇場技術。

當時,這場國際級的開幕式,竟是在演出前50天才找上楊金源,賦予的任務是讓歌后張惠妹從10公尺的高塔飛升到30公尺的高度,飛行80公尺後再緩緩降落舞台,此外還有名模林嘉綺結合投影布幔的海中女神表演,外加4名特技演員的空中表演。

雖然在此之前,楊金源只為劇場製作過10至15公尺的飛行機關,但膽大藝高的他認為,「凡事總有第一次,也為台灣爭一口氣。」

時間緊迫下,楊金源仍為海中女神製作了1:100及1:5比例的模型,以向導演示範演出效果,並量身設計與打造10台「捲揚機」,作為懸吊系統的心臟。他利用天空上的22公釐鋼纜做為水平運輸軌道,透過小滑輪將表演者身上的兩條鋼纜與上空軌道連結,再透過電腦程式精準控制。

演出前一天,整套機關首度完整測試與彩排,效果良好,不過楊金源深夜從會場開車返家,卻因連日疲累,睏到把車撞上水泥墩,幸好只是車毀而無人受傷。

臨危受命,這場飛天秀讓台灣劇場技術往前邁出一大步,但是有段插曲卻讓楊金源耿耿於懷:演出當天下午,有2台捲揚機突然無法運作,追查原因是前一晚場館總電源徹夜未關,造成其中2台伺服馬達的驅動器當機。

「整個下午我和機電工程師一直測試,直到觀眾進場,還在討論怎麼叫醒機器。最後只能跟舞台總監說,必須放棄2名特技演員的演出。聽說那兩位演員練習了1年,宣布消息時,我很想哭,覺得愧對他們。」這個教訓讓楊金源此後不論設計什麼,都會預先設想備援方案。

打造台灣百老匯

舞台技術設計在許多國家是獨立而多人協作的行當,例如美國一齣百老匯歌舞劇,早在演出前2年就會開始進行舞台技術研發,投注龐大製作成本,更導入先進的自動控制系統,只為展現令人目眩神馳的舞台效果。

反觀台灣,舞台技術的開發應用才剛起步,至今沒有專門從事技術設計的公司,人才也如鳳毛麟爪。原因為何?

楊金源指出,台灣表演藝術產業長期受限於市場狹隘及經費短缺,鮮少有演出單位能獨立負擔機關設計與製作的費用和相關人才,「台灣劇場都苦哈哈,目前只有演唱會有視野與資本支撐技術研發。」

累積這麼多的實戰經驗,楊金源也看見希望,他發現,台灣從事機械製造及工業自動化系統的人才濟濟,「只是劇場界沒有把這些廠商拉進來。」這些年,楊金源花許多時間尋訪廠商,與原本不知劇場為何物的老闆博感情,只因堅持舞台機關從零件到組裝都是台灣製造。

楊金源也看好劇場技術在台灣的前景。不久的將來,北、中、南會新增數個現代化劇場,例如台中國家歌劇院、台北藝術中心等,需要更多劇場技術相關人才。此外,台灣流行音樂演唱會愈發蓬勃,也大力向優秀技術人才招手。

楊金源從去年起帶著幾名優秀的畢業生,與從事演唱會製作的「必應創造」發展事業夥伴關係,就是想讓舞台技術這一行在台灣扎根與前進。「只要從現在開始,腳踏實地累積know-how,10年後,台灣劇場也能追上百老匯!」他發下豪語。

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EN

Building a Taiwanese Broadway: Eugene Yang’s Fantastic Journey

Chen Hsin-yi /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Scott Williams

Technical design for the stage rarely makes headlines, but its technically and aesthetically skilled professionals are a crucial part of the backstage infrastructure creating the effects that enable circus aerialists, pop stars, and experimental theaters to make audiences “ooh” and “aah.”

Eugene Yang teaches in the Department of Theatrical Design and Technology at the Tai­pei National University of the Arts (TNUA) and is one of the few scholars in Taiwan versed in both engineering and theatrical design. Over the last few years, Yang has been devoting himself to fostering cooperation between academia and industry, doing R&D for theatrical organizations, and developing young talent.

When you peek backstage and see the designers at work, you quickly realize how much effort goes in behind the scenes to make a play good.


The bookish Eugene Yang stands in a corrugated steel facility that produces scenery, working with five or six experienced machinists to meet a looming deadline. They are assembling a piece of stage machinery that uses three computer-controlled actuators to manipulate a movable stage. The device is capable of raising, lowering, and rotating through a full 360 degrees a round stage up to five meters in diameter, and tilting it to boot.

Surfing in class

The tilting, rotating stage was custom built for an awards ceremony. Yang says it grew out of a surfing simulator he designed with four students as a class project last year. The simulator sits one meter above the floor and can move forwards and backwards, as well as tilt and rotate. It’s as much fun as its name suggests.

Yang explains that their “surfboard’s” design was derived from the “Stewart platform” familiar to industry. Such platforms have six extendable actuators arranged in triangles and are commonly used in flight simulators. Filmmakers even used one when shooting Life of Pi, attaching it to the bottom of the lifeboat to create wave-like motions.

“Neither the students nor I had ever built such a device. They spent two months developing designs, creating blueprints, welding, assembling, and testing.” Meanwhile, Yang used flyingV, a crowdfunding platform, to raise the money they needed to buy materials. The fundraising campaign ultimately brought in NT$230,000, which was put towards making their dream a reality.

When the machine was complete, the students invited their backers and their classmates in the theatrical design program to take part in a “surfing competition” in the lab. Attendees drew lots to participate in events that ranged from keeping a basket of ping pong balls balanced on one’s head to calling a girl or boyfriend to whisper sweet nothings, all naturally performed while “surfing.”

In the performing arts, divisions of labor tend to be sharply defined. Stage technology is therefore viewed as its own distinct professional field, the mission of which is to bring the bold and imaginative ideas of the director or stage designer to life.

Yang earned a master’s degree in technical design and production from Yale University in 2001, then returned home as Taiwan’s first academically trained technical stage designer. He founded the Stage Machine Lab at TNUA eight years ago and has gone on to initiate a series of joint academic–industrial endeavors, turning the lab into the go-to partner for many of Taiwan’s theaters.

Yang says that companies that build sets rarely develop breakthrough stage machinery technologies because most are old-school. They aren’t used to innovating and aren’t familiar with computer technology. Instead, they simply apply tried-and-true methods to their work. Academia, on the other hand, spends a large amount of time and money on technological experimentation and development.

A change of direction

Yang didn’t set out to work in the theater.

He was a good student, did well on his entrance exams, and won admission to National Taiwan University’s Department of Electrical Engineering, earning both undergraduate and graduate degrees there. But at the age of 24, on the eve of his military service, he realized that he’d been following social and parental expectations rather than his own heart. He didn’t want an academic career, and had no interest in working as an engineer at one of Taiwan’s science parks.

While wondering what to do about his future, he remembered his first experience with the theater: seeing Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land in high school. “I recalled the peach blossoms falling from the trees and the light reflecting off of Chin Shih-chieh’s tears. The emotions it stirred were still fresh.” He roused his best friend and roommate, dragged him onto his motorcycle, and rode up into the mountains around ­Guandu. As the dawn light flickered on the Dan­shui River in the distance, he pointed to the TNUA (then still known as the National Institute of the Arts) campus below them and vowed that he would study there and have a career in the theater.

When Yang took the arts institute admissions exam just before completing his military service, he tasted failure for the first time in his life. He would spend a full year taking theater-related classes before he finally gained admission to NTU’s graduate program in theater.

He soon began to enjoy success in his new field. He won a Ministry of Education fellowship for study abroad during his second year in the program, and earned admission to a graduate program at Yale during his third. It was at Yale that he began studying technical design and production for the theater.

Yang’s studies at Yale resulted in severe culture shock: “Who knew there was more to learning than sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher lecture? Students in the program were also expected to participate in practicums.” He spent three grueling but fruitful years training in the US. He had classes from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. ­every day, covering topics ranging from architecture and machinery to electricity and physics. With no break for lunch, he stuffed a sandwich into his mouth whenever he had a spare moment.

He worked beside experienced carpenters, welders, and prop masters in the afternoon building stages and sets, then dragged his exhausted body back to the dorms to spend his evenings on the homework from his morning classes. The theater program also put on performances every term, with students expected to take turns serving as technical directors, lighting directors, and prop masters, as well as serving as each others’ assistants.

Learning while doing

Yang’s baptism by fire at Yale transformed him from a good student into a theatrical jack of all trades. His engineering background also provided him with certain advantages. “I was able to apply the chemistry and physics I’d learned previously to the theater, and came to love them for being so useful in my everyday life.”

After returning to Taiwan, Yang began integrating what he learned at Yale into his theatrical design classes at TNUA, encouraging students to develop their independent thinking and problem solving capabilities.

Du Min­jing, a graduating senior, is one of Yang’s most promising students. She recently created an automatically horizontally aligned slanted lift for the play Richard III and His Underground Parking Lot, basing the design on a small semester project on which she had worked previously.

Du says that when Yang eval­uates design assignments, he always fills the margins of every page with notes, pointing out shortcomings and the kinds of problems that may result. But, she adds, “He doesn’t provide us with a ‘correct answer.’ He wants us to work one out for ­ourselves.”

A 50-day mission

Yang has led his students on some amazing projects, including stage machinery for the 2009 Deaflympics opening ceremony. More than a personal milestone for Yang, that particular project also proved to the world that Taiwan is capable of building top-flight stage technology. The organizers came to Yang only 50 days before the opening ceremony, asking him to create a suspension system that would enable songstress A-mei to take off from a ten-meter tower, soar to a height of 30 meters, and travel a total distance of 80 meters before landing softly on the stage. They also wanted the system to allow four acrobats to perform in the air while model Patina Lin played the part of a sea nymph against a projected backdrop.

Yang custom designed and built ten winches to serve as the system’s heart. He used 22-millimeter steel cables as horizontal guides, then connected the performers to the aerial guides using two steel cables and small block-and-tackle setups, which were precisely controlled using software.

The death-defying aerial performance represented a huge leap forward for Taiwanese stage design, but an incident just before the show left a bad taste in Yang’s mouth. The venue left the power on the night before the event, causing servomotors in two of the winches to break down unexpectedly on the afternoon of the performance.

“An electromechanical engineer and I spent the whole afternoon testing the winches. We were working on getting them running again right up until the audience entered the venue, but ended up having to tell the stage manager that two of the aerialists wouldn’t be able to perform. I heard that the two had trained for a year for the show. I was so ashamed that I wanted to cry when they were told the news.” The experience taught Yang to always have backups ready, no matter what he was designing.

Building a Taiwanese Broadway

Yang is optimistic about the outlook for technical stage design in Taiwan, noting that Taiwan has a great deal of talent in the areas of automated systems for industry and machine manufacturing. “It’s just that the theatrical world hasn’t brought these firms into the fold.” Yang would like to ensure that his stage machines are assembled in Taiwan using parts manufactured in Taiwan, and has therefore spent significant amounts of time seeking out, visiting, and forming relationships with owners of local companies who previously hadn’t a clue about the theater.

With several new modern theaters slated to open across Taiwan in the near future, including the National Tai­chung Theater (currently under renovation) and the Tai­pei Performing Arts Center, and with pop music concerts becoming more elaborate, he believes demand for technical designers will grow.

Yang and a group of outstanding graduates have been working with concert producer B’in Live since last year, developing business partnerships aimed at better establishing and advancing the development of technical stage design in Taiwan. “If we start accumulating practical know-how now, Taiwanese theaters will be on a par with Broadway in a decade!”

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