Located in a lane near Yongkang Park in Taipei, Changyifang’s (彰藝坊) mission is to continue three generations of work with budaixi (布袋戲), or Taiwanese traditional puppet theater, and introduce the art form to a new audience.
The studio was founded by husband-and-wife team Chen I-tzu (陳羿錫) and Chen Tsung-ping (陳宗萍). The two met when Chen I-tzu, whose grandfather and father were puppet performers in Changhua County, was brought in to serve as a consultant on an exhibition called The Beauty of Taiwan Theater (台灣戲劇之美) at a gallery where Chen Tsung-ping worked.
Seeing the small, intricately made budaixi puppets was a revelation, Chen Tsung-ping says. While growing up in Yunlin County she had watched “golden light” (金光) puppet shows, which feature medium-sized puppets, at temple fairs. She was also familiar with puppet television shows like the popular Pili (霹靂) series, but Chen Tsung-ping says she had never seen traditional handmade glove puppets and didn’t even know they were part of Taiwanese culture.
“I was so surprised and curious. The puppets are so exquisite and lovely to look at, and I wanted to let more Taiwanese people, our people, know about them,” she says.
“In puppetry,” Chen Tsung-ping adds, “you see all these traditional arts, like embroidery, carving and performing, preserved. I studied art and I know if you don’t understand your own traditions, you cannot create new things.”
After marrying, the couple founded Changyifang, named after Changyiyuan (彰藝園), the puppet troupe Chen I-tzu’s father founded in Changhua County more than 80 years ago.
As soon as visitors walk into Changyifang’s combination studio-storefront, they are greeted with an explosion of colors: The company’s bags and accessories come in a rainbow of bright hues and lively patterns, including Taiwan floral cloth. Puppets are carefully arranged on shelves, with cards in English and Chinese explaining the characters’ backgrounds. Sheng (生) are male puppets of different ages, professions and temperaments, while female characters are called dan (旦). Others represent historical and literary characters, such as figures from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
What: Changyifang (彰藝坊)
Where: 27, Ln 47, Yongkang St, Taipei City (台北市永康街47巷27號)
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturdays 11am to 7pm, closed Sundays and Mondays
TELEPhone: (02) 3393-7330
On the Net: www.cyf-bodehi.com.tw
At the time the couple met, Chen I-tzu was serving as a consultant for scholars and groups like the Seden Society (西田社布袋戲基金會), which seeks to preserve traditional puppetry. Chen I-tzu, whose great-grandmother, grandfather and father all worked with budaixi, helped researchers choose the right paint colors for restoring a puppet’s face or made sure that costumes for different characters were assembled properly. His great-grandmother began sewing puppet costumes during the Japanese colonial era to earn extra money, while his paternal grandfather and father both carved puppet heads and performed.
When he first began working with his family “it wasn’t so much that I was interested in puppetry, as it was that we had to make a living,” says Chen I-tzu, who keeps wooden heads carved by his father on display in his studio. When he slips his hand into a budaixi puppet, even for a few minutes to show it off to a visitor, the puppet springs to life. Its tiny hands greet the viewer with delicate gestures while its head angles daintily to the side.
“When people became interested in preserving traditional puppetry, there was a need for people who are familiar with them because there weren’t a lot of specialists,” he says.