2009 / 9月
Jackie Chen /tr. by David Smith
Li Siaopin, rehearsal director of the GuoGuang Opera Company, opines that "Big Sister Wei" (a respectful term indicating the fact that she has been in the theater world longer than him) has embarked on a voyage of discovery, spurred on to it by a sense of mission as a Peking Opera performer.
"Throughout her entire artistic career, she has never been one to compromise. Beginning with her school days, she always held herself to a high standard." In years past, for example, Wei was unsatisfied with her pronunciation of the language of Peking Opera, so not long after they started allowing people to travel to the mainland she went to Hong Kong to have a teacher correct her pronunciation, one character at a time.
Wei was afflicted for a time with vocal cord nodules, the scourge of singers everywhere. Her singing was hampered, and she got panicky when it came time to hit the high notes. Many famous performers have retired from the stage after developing vocal cord nodules, but not Wei. Under the guidance of a physician, she worked to change her vocalization technique and find the right resonance spot. In the end she was able to make the necessary adjustments and overcome the problem.
Many feel that Wei has gotten where she is today because of childhood experiences, some fortuitous events, and her determination.
Wei had a tough childhood. She did have the benefit of a loving father and older sister, but her mother abandoned the family when she was two years old, and Wei was packed off to board in the theater school at age 10; then her father passed away when she was 15. Very early on, Wei came to understand that you can't depend on others for anything. "If you aren't in charge of your own destiny, then you will be controlled by someone else, which is horrible!"
Says Wei: "In the performing arts, you get up on the stage and it's all up to you. You're all alone, and no one can help you. You don't get any special favors from anybody, and you can't bullshit your way through. The incredible thing about the performing arts is that your worth is determined in a tiny little swatch of real estate."
Perhaps it is this understanding that makes Wei so very resilient under the pressure of the stage.
One can't help but wonder how she bears up under the pressure, particularly given the fact that she always plays a lead role. Li Siaopin once asked her that very question.
"Big Sister Wei always says: 'Can a person go without sleep?' She means two things by that. First, a performer's commitment to her audience is extremely important, so before taking to the stage she has to set everything aside, go to sleep, and get rested. Second, a professional performer is confident in herself, so no matter how great the pressure, she knows that once she gets up on stage everything will work out just fine."
Of all the performers in the Taiwan theatrical community, Wei is acknowledged to be the toughest under pressure, and the most self-disciplined. She lives by a few simple rules: no smoking, no alcohol, and only healthy eating. She eats nothing spicy, and avoids junky snacks and anything else that would affect her vocal cords and acting. Her biggest indulgence is a bowl of shaved ice on days when she doesn't have to perform. Asked whether such an ascetic existence doesn't ever get boring, she responds: "I'm used to it. The very thought of boredom has never even occurred."
Amidst today's glittering affluence, the audience for traditional arts has dwindled to a small minority. After pouring her life's blood into the theater, does the situation leave Wei feeling lonely at all? She is philosophical about it.
Says Wei: "It's natural these days that young people aren't familiar with traditional arts. It's strange, in fact, when a young person is familiar with them. If you get into the traditional arts any more, it's because someone has brought you in. It's just like classical literature-young people aren't going to read it unless they're guided to it. I would like to be that guide."
She adds: "Every now and then I do feel a twinge of regret that people don't care about something so wonderful. But I remain upbeat, because you can't force things on people. I'd rather hold on to that bit of loneliness, because solitude may just be the fountainhead of art, and the beginning of creation."