Tradition and Innovation: An Interview with the Producer of Contemporary Legend Theatre, Lin Hsiu-weiReturn
TELDAP e-Newsletter (February, 2012)
Tradition and Innovation: An Interview with the Producer of Contemporary Legend Theatre, Lin Hsiu-wei
TELDAP e-newsletter/HSU, Chien-Ho
In the basement of Contemporary Legendary Theatre, the director reads the play lines as he carefully directs his young students who pay meticulous attention to each step and move they make. Over and over he reads the lines as he raises and lowers his voice. The students step outside and inside as the director orders. They ceaselessly polish their act with every class and every performance; a careless action is not permitted as each detail becomes more refined during rehearsals.
From “Kingdom of Desire” to “Shuihu 108,” Wu Hsing-kuo published “Heroes Don’t give up-Forward! The Legendary Journey of Kingdom of Desire” in October of 2010. The preface of book talks about the enthusiasm of youth and their undying courage. Contemporary Legend Theatre continues to use tradition to innovate, breaking down barriers between China and the west. We are curious what twist of fate led Wu Hsing-kuo producing these well-known plays that are so appealing to the masses?
His wife, Lin Xiu-wei, was very ebuliant in the interview. Wu born of second generation immigrants. Because of family finances, he was sent at a young age to National Taiwan College of Performing Arts. He had a very strong personality and he worked harder than anyone else. After studying for eight years, his teacher fully supported him and recommended him to the theater department of Chinese Culture University. Because of Professor Hou Qi-ping’s recommendation, he was able to join Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. After joining, he was exposed to a wide variety of art from all over. He went to the art gallery and enjoyed the creative works there, studied modern music, and practiced calligraphy and cultivated his language ability. These experiences opened his horizons; they also helped him realize the basic traditional skills of the human body, which can be manifest with a variety of appearances, and be applied on the modern stage. All these experiences helped Wu realize that all the traditions he had learned were indeed applicable.
Video explanation: Wu Xing-guo sings a solo in “Lear is Here” – TELDAP Union Catalogs
As a soldier, he served in Lu Guang Chinese Opera Troupe. In the past, Wu had learned to play an acrobatic male role(Wu Sheng), but he felt like the true essence of Beijing Opera was playing the role of an old person, and from there he stepped it up a notch and invested himself in learning Beijing Opera. This later helped him significantly with interpreting Greek tragedies and Shakespearian plays. Also, created his own repertoire of plays such as “Lear is here,” “Waiting for Godot,” and “Kingdom of Desire” - all of which are transformations of traditional plays. For example, in the traditional opera, “Qingfeng Pavilion,” two old people cry and fight with each other as they wait for the return of their unfilial son. Also, in Fan Zhong-yu’s “Wen Qiao,” “Nao Fu,” “Da Gun,” “Chu Xiang” there is a lively and quick-witted philosophical dialogue between Fan and a woman collecting firewood. The feelings and notions of these operas are actually very similar to “Waiting for Godot.”
Wu derives aspects of traditional theater and incorporates them with western works. The blend of Chinese with Western leaves people breath-taken and moved. At the same time, he also loves movies, especially the Shakespearian plays filmed by Kurosawa Akira and Laurence Olivier (1907-1989). These nutrients and elements that came out of different courses in history have played a very influential role in his vision.
Picture: Qi Mang-sha's coat: National Taiwan College of Performing Arts- Peking Opera Museum-cultural relic colection.
However, mixing tradition with innovation while maintaining propriety is not a simple task. Beijing Opera is the refinement of aesthetics. In the eyes of its actors, the amount of energy exerted in performances is incomparable. Bodily control, expression, meticulousness, and diversity are things that western actors lack. At the same time, the attire is bound together layer upon layer, which tests the actors tolerance. In these restricting and binding clothes we still express the beauty of the costume such as hair, sleeves etc... These are things we don’t let other people know and we cover up during all the performances. In addition, among the Beijing Operas there are many classics, each with its own style and special characteristics, which contain the wisdom of the sages. Regardless of whether it is implications from stories, bodily exploration, or including costumes, makeup, or styling aesthetics - there exists an independent ambience in every classic opera. This can only be truly comprehended after entering a Beijing Opera hall.
Throughout the process of integrating tradition with innovation, Contemporary Legend Theatre miraculously retains a balance of tradition and innovation. On one hand, every effort is made with regards to the costumes, lighting, and the stage set and pushing out the old and bringing in the new with regard to aesthetics and content to compete with traditional Beijing Opera. On another hand it diligently carries on the legacy of Beijing Opera; “singing, reading, writing, and fighting” are skills that Contemporary Legend Theatre will never abandon; operating a “freehand” theater while leaving room for performance, without excessive stage props and equipment, expressing a type of refined beauty
Contemporary Legend Theatre never repeats itself; it is always innovating and making breakthroughs. It doesn’t flow with popular trends, but hopes to create its own trend. It continuously promotes new kinds of dramas like electric rock, hip-hop, and musical dramas. Standing on the grounds of conservation, they hope to be more classical than the classics by restoring modern society with classical realism and romantic concepts that it has lost. They desire to guide modern people in choosing dramas and requesting actors, thus allowing them to be able to see more brilliant performances.
Since the end of 2011, Contemporary Legend Theatre has been preparing to take classic plays to the small performing arts hall at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. They are to perform with a hip-hop style, and through a lively and modern theatrical technique, they will invite the audience to perform with them. Two or three young actors will act out 22 roles from 8 operas including Xiao Fang-niu, the Drunken Beauty, Xiang-yu bidding farewell to his favorite concubine, Shock in Han Palace, Pan Si-dong, Wu Long-yuan, and Wu-song Dadian. If there is no training of Yang Gui-fei’s kung fu, the musical talent and physique of Mei-pai, Xiao Fang-niu’s female role(Hua Dan) and clown role(Chou), and Xiang-yu’s male face painted role (Jing), these two performers must exert all their energy to represent Contemporary Legend Theater’s focus on the physical capabilities and literary talent of young people.
Beijing Opera embellishes the cultural imagination of the last generation through fast rhythm and colorful characteristics. Contemporary Legend Theatre uses “innovation” and “tradition” as its fundamental principles to let young people perform old traditions, and to let the older generation develop more creativity and pave a bright future. Just as Wu said: “Make your beloved tradition have a multifaceted dialogue with the contemporary world.”
Publisher：Fan-Sen Wang, Vice President of Academia Sinica Editor-in-Chief：Zong-Kun Li Publishing Department：Taiwan e-Learning and Digital Archives Program, TELDAP Executive Editor：Sub-project: Digital Information - the New and Creative Way of Communicating Mailing Address：The Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica
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Issue：TELDAP e-Newsletter (February, 2012) Publish Date：02/15 /2012 First Issue：02/15 /2007（Published on 15th every 2 months）
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