In 1984, Stan Lai (賴聲川) and his newly formed Performance Workshop Theatre (表演工作坊) began seven months of improvisational work that culminated in the March 1985 premiere of That Evening, We Performed Crosstalk (那一夜，我們說相聲), a production that made the company’s name and revolutionized theater in Taiwan.
When a recording of the play was released later that year, it sold a million copies and the die was cast. Lai had brought xiangsheng (相聲), or crosstalk, a form of comedy developed in the Qing Dynasty featuring rapid-fire, complex banter between two (or more) performers and usually performed with an exaggerated Beijing accent, to a new audience that quickly became infatuated with it.
Although several well-known crosstalk actors had come to Taiwan with the retreating Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, by the 1970s the genre appeared to have died out here. Lai has a couple of theories as to why his company’s productions have been so popular.
Photo Courtesy of Performance Workshop Theatre
“There is not much comedy in Chinese society or literature. It’s not in our blood as Chinese people, but Chinese people do have a good sense of humor. Chinese opera has comedians and comedy parts, but they are not the same as in Western theater, which has a long tradition of comedy from the Romans on … even Shakespeare knew how to write comedy,” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “In Chinese culture there is only xiangsheng, but if you lose that there is a big hole left — and then we came along and filled that hole.”
Since 1985, Lai and company have produced four more crosstalk shows and two revivals. However, the last new production was Total Woman (這一夜，Women說相聲) in 2005. Fans have been impatiently waiting ever since.
Their prayers will be answered on March 18 when Crosstalk Travelers (那一夜，在旅途中說相聲) opens for a 13-show run at the National Theater as part of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts 2011.
“The whole thing was not meant to be a series, but people demanded it … I kept saying, ‘We’re a theater group, not a xiangsheng group.’ Each time it gets more difficult. It’s such a unique form, because we created a form of xiangsheng that is a whole evening, based on a whole theme instead of short pieces … To get me going you need a big enough topic. I would love to write short ones, but we have to be able to tie them together,” Lai said.
“It’s not easy, that’s why it takes four years, six years,” Lai said. “I’m not an autobiographical writer, you can’t find me in my work. But this time I put my own travel memories in. One [character] is a backpacker, one is a six-star traveler, they’re trapped on an island. Basically they both are lost.”
Crosstalk Travelers stars Performance Workshop stalwart Feng Yi-kang (馮翊綱) and Chu Chung-heng (屈中恆).
“Feng Yi-kang now has his own crosstalk group, he’s very good at this. Chu Chung-heng has been in four straight productions of mine … and he’s a fan of our xiangsheng … He’s a wonderful actor,” Lai said. “You need more acting than xiangsheng in this. Here they have very specific characters and they’re coming from very specific places.”
This show is the second time Lai and TV producer Wang Wei-chung (王偉忠) have collaborated; the first was The Village (寶島一村) in 2008, and Lai said Wang has brought a lot to the production.
“Wang is listed as an ‘artistic adviser,’ but really is he is the ‘cussing coach.’ He has such a command of cuss words, he’s like a dialogue coach,” Lai said.
“I love doing it [crosstalk] — not the process, that’s hard, but the result, the audience. It’s like the baseball owner who said there is nothing like a stadium full of people — there’s nothing like an audience when everyone is laughing for an evening.”
Crosstalk Travelers is a little over two hours long, with an intermission. It is performed in Mandarin and there will not be subtitles.
Three performances at the National Theater are already sold out, and a limited number of tickets remain for some of the other nights. After finishing in Taipei, the company will take the show on the road for a four-city tour.
WHAT: Performance Workshop Theatre, Crosstalk Travelers (那一夜，在旅途中說相聲)
WHERE: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
WHEN: March 18 to March 26 at 7:30pm and March 19, March 26 and March 27 at 2:30pm.
ADMISSION: NT$2,000 to NT$3,000 (weekdays the top ticket price is NT$2,800). March 19, March 26 and March 27 are sold out. Limited number of tickets left for March 18 and March 20. Tickets are available at the NTCH box office, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and 7-Eleven’s ibon and Hi-Life’s Life-ET kiosks
ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES: April 2 at 7:30pm and April 3 at 2:30pm at Tainan City Municipal Cultural Center (台南市立文化中心), 332, Jhonghua E Rd Sec 3, Greater Tainan (台南市中華東路三段332號); April 22 at 7:30pm and April 23 at 2:30pm at Taichung Chungshan Hall (台中中山堂), 98 Syueshih Rd, Greater Taichung (台中市學士路98號); May 7 at 7:30pm and May 8 at 2:30pm at Jhongli Arts Center (中壢藝術館), 16 Jhongmei Rd, Jhongli City, Taoyuan County (桃園縣中壢市中美路16號); May 20 at 7:30pm at Kaohsiung Chihteh Hall (高雄至德堂), 67 Wufu 1st Rd, Greater Kaohsiung (高雄市五福一路67號)
Admission: NT$900 to NT$2,800
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
The 22nd Taipei Arts Festival (臺北藝術節) opens tonight with three productions, a slightly scaled-down pandemic version that seeks to keep its tradition of big ideas, challenging programs and international connections alive and moving forward in an increasingly uncertain world. The theme of this year’s festival is “Super@#S%?” — as good a term as any when descriptives and superlatives seem not only inadequate, but somewhat irrelevant in a world where so many people cannot imagine being able to return to theaters, either as performers or audience members — they are too worried about having a job and their health. Technically, however, it is
Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) is both a Hakka outpost and a place of great ecological interest. The conjoined body of water from which it gets its name is the centerpiece of the 17.16-hectare Shuanglianpi Wildlife Refuge (雙連埤野生動物保護區). No waterways of significance fill or drain this scenic lake in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉). During the 1895 to 1945 period of Japanese rule, the colonial authorities — struggling to secure Taiwan’s foothills — encouraged Han people to settle in areas adjacent to indigenous communities. Around 1910, a 49-year-old Hakka pioneer called Tsou Cheng-sheng (鄒成生) from what’s now Taoyuan decided to begin farming at