“We’re keeping tradition alive by keeping up with the times,” said Huang Wen-lang (黃文郎), manager of the Wu Zhou Yuan Puppet Theater Troupe (五洲園掌中劇團), referring to the 10 performances he and his troupe will be giving at the Red House Theater over the next three weeks.
Having built on a tradition developed by Huang’s grandfather, puppet master and national treasure Huang Hai-tai (黃海岱), that saw the emergence of one of the country’s most distinctive art forms, the Taichung-based group remains one of the biggest names in Taiwanese glove puppet theater.
Huang leads what is generally billed as the Second Troupe (第二團) of Wu Zhou Yuan, which since its formation under Huang’s father Huang Chun-ching (黃俊卿) in 1975 has been acclaimed as the “king of theater puppetry.”
“There are two main kinds of puppet theater,” Huang said, explaining the inspiration for the current program. “There are free outdoor performances, mostly at temples, and theater performances, where you have to buy a ticket to get in. The golden age of theater performances was from 1945 to 1969 and then from 1973 to 1990. They played mostly in second-run cinemas. In the 1990s it wasn’t that people didn’t like puppet theater any more, but that most of the second-run cinemas started to close [because of the penetration of cable television], and we didn’t have suitable venues any more.”
The shows at the Red House Theater are being touted as a return to the golden age of theater-based puppet shows, and will show off the eclectic nature of Taiwanese puppetry. Huang said the show Conquering All Under Heaven (爭霸天下系列布袋戲) is drawn from his father’s repertoire, though he has rewritten and condensed it for a contemporary audience.
WHAT: Conquering All Under Heaven by Wu Zhou Yuan Glove Puppet Theater Troupe(五洲園掌中劇團—爭霸天下系列布袋戲)
WHERE: Red House Theater (紅樓劇場), 10 Chengdu Rd, Taipei City (台北市成都路10號)
WHEN: Tomorrow at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm, Aug. 8 and Aug. 12 to Aug. 15 at 7:30pm, Aug. 9 and Aug. 16 at 2:30pm; free outdoor performances Aug. 3 to Aug. 6, Aug. 10 to Aug. 11 and Aug. 17 to Aug. 20 at 7:30pm
ADMISSION: Tickets are NT$200 and NT$300, available at the venue, through NTCH ticketing or online at www.artsticket.com.tw
ON THE NET: www.redhouse.org.tw
“We keep the tradition, but now this troupe is in its third generation. Changes have been made. We have sped up the pacing of the story and added all kinds of special effects,” Huang said. The puppets too have taken on a more contemporary appearance, with styles that have fed into the contemporary cosplay fashion trend.
Huang’s troupe shares many similarities with the Pili (霹靂布袋戲) television puppet shows, run by another branch of the Huang family.
“We have stuck to stage shows,” Huang said, “carrying on a family tradition that goes back nearly a century. We want to keep stage puppets alive, and this is part of the reason for these performances.”
Huang believes the vitality of Taiwanese puppetry lies in its ability to absorb all kinds of influences. “In China, they have tried to maintain traditional styles, but here [in Taiwan], puppetry has shown incredible imagination, with all kinds of weird stuff like three-headed monsters and such making an appearance on stage ... Some of the characters even have neon lights worked into their costumes.”
The martial arts trilogy Conquering All Under Heaven tells the tale of a war between good and evil forces, which battle to obtain a sutra that contains the secret to conquering the whole world. The conflict provides plenty of opportunity for Huang to show off the technical skills in the manipulation of glove puppets that have won Taiwan international praise. These will be supplemented by light and sound effects to create an absorbing stage experience. Conquering All Under Heaven will be presented in two versions, a theater show in the Red House Theater and an outdoor version in the plaza.