Taiwan-based Shan Puppet Theater has presented a rare Hakka interpretation of the classic Chinese novel Water Margin (水滸傳) at the Taiwan Center in Los Angeles.
The troupe’s interpretation of Wu Song Kills a Tiger (武松打虎), one of the best-known parts of Water Margin, tells the tale of a wayward protagonist who wins over a town by single-handedly slaying a tiger.
Unusually for a traditional Taiwanese glove puppetry show, the troupe performed the play mainly in Hakka, with a smattering of Mandarin, English and Hoklo, commonly known as Taiwanese.
Troupe cofounder Huang Wu-shan (黃武山) told the Central News Agency that despite first learning the art of glove puppetry in Taiwanese, his mentor Li Tien-lu (李天祿), a widely known puppet master in Taiwan, encouraged him to perform in Hakka, his mother tongue.
“The master told me: ‘You’re a Hakka. You can perform puppet plays in your native language,’” Huang said.
Given Hakka’s minority status in Taiwan, he felt compelled to pass the culture on to a new generation by contributing to its revival, Huang said.
To achieve his goals, he learned folk songs from Hakka diva Lai Pi-hsia (賴碧霞) and blended Hakka music and stage art with a contemporary sensibility for his own puppet show.
Shan Puppet Theater, founded by Huang in 2002, is one of only a few Taiwanese troupes to perform puppet plays in Hakka.
The troupe was invited by the Ministry of Culture to stage a tour of six US shows, with additional stops in Texas (Houston, San Antonio and Austin) and Michigan (Detroit and Ann Arbor).
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