Hugh Lee (李國修), founder of one of the nation’s leading theater groups — the Ping-Fong Acting Troupe (屏風表演班) — died yesterday at the age of 58 after battling cancer for three years.
The troupe announced Lee’s death yesterday morning and said that his wife, actress Moon Wang (王月), and their two children were with him when he passed away at 3:34am in Greater Taichung.
Lee, born in Taipei in 1955, first rose to stardom because of his comedic performances in TV shows in the 1980s and won a Golden Bell Award for “most promising actor” in 1982.
The actor also began working in local theater around that time and was one of the two actors featured in the 1985 play That Night We Performed Crosstalk (那一夜，我們說相聲), the first production of the now renowned Performance Workshop (表演工作坊) cofounded by Stan Lai (賴聲川).
Lee set up Ping-Fong in 1986 and was the group’s main actor, director and writer, before announcing in December 2011 that he was taking a break from the stage because of colon cancer diagnosed the previous year.
Lee’s works, such as Can Three Make It (三人行不行), were known for satirizing contemporary political and social events, and for using a few actors to play tens of characters.
One of Lee’s most notable productions was the Fong Ping Trilogy. The three plays tell the story of a fictional “Fong Ping” theater group’s disastrous attempts at staging its productions, reflecting the challenging environment local performance groups face.
Lee was the first recipient of the National Award for the Arts in the drama category when the award was established in 1997. He was honored for his works that combine traditional and modern art formats, and his efforts to build a professional theater group.
In a recording played during a press conference held by his family yesterday, Lee said he hoped that people would appreciate his life in the theater through the 27 scripts he left behind.
TV presenter and actor Sam Tseng (曾國城) has been asked to host the funeral. Tseng’s job is to make people laugh because Lee wanted people to feel they are going to see a performance, Lee’s son said.
Ping-Fong said its performances will go on as scheduled, and fans planning to attend his funeral are invited to register through the troupe’s Web site and encouraged to bring a ticket stub from a past performance.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday expressed his condolences to Lee’s family, describing Lee as a master of the performing arts who cultivated great talent in the field.
Lee’s death is a great loss to the arts and culture industry, Ma said.
“Mr Lee was an actor and director with rich talent and amazing creativity. He gave new life to Taiwan’s drama and left rich cultural assets for the nation,” Ma said on his Facebook page.
The president said he called Wang yesterday morning to express his condolences.
Ma said he had performed a show with Lee while serving as Taipei mayor in 2001 to promote traffic awareness regulations and was impressed with his patience.
“He patiently taught me how to perform and I realized that the reason he has been an influential figure in the performing arts is that he is willing to pass on his experience to others and to cultivate talent,” Ma said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture said it would propose awarding a presidential citation posthumously to Lee, in recognition of his life-long contribution to the performing arts in Taiwan. The Cabinet will review the proposal tomorrow, it said.