One of the buzzwords in theater this year has been the term “fixed title theater” (定目劇), which has been used to describe the creation of big shows with long runs that are able to attract tourists and locals looking for theatrical entertainment, but who aren’t necessarily regular theater goers. Strictly speaking, this term is translated as “repertory theater,” but the idea is very different from what repertory connotes in the English theatrical tradition. One of the highlights that has been created as a result of the promotion of this type of production has been Contemporary Legend Theater’s (當代傳奇劇場) Legend Opera II series, a series of over 60 performances at the Auditorium of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
The Legend Opera II series is a new format for the theatrical group, mixing up straight performances of Beijing opera classics with modernized shows aimed at appealing to a younger audience. More importantly, some of the shows will be performed by young performers who have aspirations to become the next generation of Beijing opera stars.
Wu Hsing-kuo (吳興國), the founder of Contemporary Legend, has been fearless in finding ways to put Beijing opera in front of audiences outside the tight niche of elderly opera aficionados.
Other shows, most notably the revival of the social comedy Can Three Make It (三人行不行) by Ping Fong Acting Troupe (屏風表演班), which was staged as part of the Huashan Living Arts Festival (華山藝術生活節), proved that for productions that somehow manage to hit exactly the right note, it is possible for long-running shows to make a respectable box office showing. Unfortunately, the number of such shows has proved consistently small, and tends toward a kind of live vaudeville format that is not easily exportable.
Can Three Make It was one of many highlights at the Huashan Living Arts Festival (華山藝術生活節), which showcased a vast array of local theater, music, visual arts and cinema, and which took place at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914) in October.
This year, the event featured over 500 performances, screenings, seminars and workshops and it has already established itself as a major event on Taipei’s increasingly crowded arts calendar, as well as being an important showcase for artists striving for wider audience recognition. In addition to promoting the work of local artists, the festival has also helped Huashan establish itself as a place where art and theater can be found throughout the year, and events there are increasingly able to draw audiences from across a broad spectrum.
Among big, new productions that premiered in 2012, the season kicked off in March with the massive Cleopatra and Her Fools (艷后和她的小丑們), an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra by the Guo Guang Opera Company (國光劇團). The show featured some of the leading lights of Taiwan’s opera establishment, but in the end it turned out to be nothing more than a solid ensemble piece with one star turn, and with far too much invested in lavish costumes and various incidentals. The result was eye-catching rather than memorable.
Another big-ticket item was the production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (不可兒戲) adapted by Yu Kuang-chung (余光中). The success of the Chinese adaptation owes much to the skill of Yu, who is best known as a poet, essayist and prolific translator. Apart from the verbal pyrotechnics, Yu said that The Importance of Being Earnest was a social satire, and despite the period setting and the razor-sharp banter, the play is rooted in the hypocrisy and vanity that characterized Victorian England — which, when you think about it, mirrors much of contemporary society.