London has the West End. New York has Broadway. For a quick theater fix on a visit to Taipei, visitors don’t have a great deal of choice. NK101, based out of a converted film studio in Nankang next to the building of the China Television Company, is trying to fill this market segment with an ongoing performance titled Formosa Fantasy: The Amazing Night of Taiwan, a spectacle that seeks to imitate the high wire acrobatics and tongue-in-cheek humor of hyper successful shows such as the Cirque du Soleil.
Over the last few years, the government has been making a concerted, if not altogether successful effort to encourage the creation of big shows with long runs that are able to attract tourists and locals looking for theatrical entertainment who are not necessarily regular theatergoers.
The term “fixed title theater” (定目劇) has been widely used to describe the aim of creating such theater events. Strictly speaking, this term is translated as “repertory theater,” but the idea is very different from what repertory connotes in the English theatrical tradition.
Contemporary Legend Theater’s (當代傳奇劇場) Legend Opera II series of performances at the Auditorium of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (see Taipei Times Sept. 27, p12) is one attempt to achieve this aim with a mixture of traditional and modernized productions of Beijing Opera running over a period of three months. Other companies, most notably the restaging of the social comedy Can Three Make It (三人行不行) by Ping Fong Acting Troupe (屏風表演班) as part of the Huashan Living Arts Festival (華山藝術生活節), proved that for shows that somehow manage to hit exactly the right note, it is possible for long-running shows to make a respectable box office.
Formosa Fantasy: The Amazing Night of Taiwan is quite different from these performances in that it has been designed particularly to appeal to tourists. In this respect it is similar to the Taipei Eye (台北戲棚) performances, which present a showcase of traditional arts four days a week and has established itself as a popular stop on the tourist itinerary (more information can be found at www.taipeieye.com).
Formosa Fantasy: The Amazing Night of Taiwan mixes these traditional arts with something akin to the Crazy Horse review in Paris, aiming to be spectacular, inviting, titillating and lighthearted, rather than attempting to educate audiences into the complexities of Beijing opera or nanguan music. It has also sought to break down the staid formality of the proscenium and brings the show into the main body of the auditorium in which audiences sit at wooden tables sipping tea and enjoying a selection of preserved fruit.
MADE IN TAIWAN
According to Carol Dai (戴家雯), manager for marketing and promotion, Formosa Fantasy: The Amazing Night of Taiwan was conceived primarily as a commercial venture aimed at filling a market niche for visitors to Taipei, and it is aimed very much at the growing numbers of visitors from China.
“We specifically wanted to focus on aspects of Taiwanese culture,” Dai said. For that reason, the show opens with a dance segment built around Taiwanese temple culture, has a variety review centered on traditional night market culture and closes with aboriginal singing and dancing. This puts it in a very different category from Taipei Eye, with its focus on high culture, mostly of Chinese origin.