1992 / 3月
Ventine Tsai /tr. by Andrew Morton
Outdoor stage performance is going downhill, and the better drama troupes are rapidly coming indoors to appear at cultural happenings or in public performances. But even the Hsiao Hsi Yuan and Ming Hua Yuan troupes don't intend to completely abandon outdoor appearances at temples. Apart from additional opportunities to perform, just what is the attraction of the outdoor stage?"
"Traditional temple festivals are the actor's best training-ground," points out Ming Hua Yuan's Chen Sheng-tsai, fifth son in the family. He explains that outdoor stage audience reaction is 'immediate'--if they're bored they just turn aside and walk off, but if they're enjoying themselves they show it.
Tsing Hua University institute of social anthropology researcher Huang Ying-mei thinks the experience of long-term outdoor stage performance has helped the Ming Hua Yuan to appreciate the audience's needs and the pulse of the times, a major factor in their success.
Advantages of the Outdoor Stage: The outdoor stage is also a place where audiences can directly test artistes' abilities. Once when Hsiao Hsi Yuan director Hsu Wang was appearing at Wanhua, a member of the audience told him a story during the pause between the matinee and evening performances, expecting him to be able to turn it into a full-scale play for that same evening. That night Hsu Wang pulled out all the stops and performed the story from beginning to end as if he'd known it for years. The member of the audience was absolutely bowled over. Unexpected contingencies of the outdoor stage are the best circumstances for testing whether a performer really has what it takes.
Ming Hua Yuan's Chen Sheng-tsai maintains that "folk opera going beyond temple festivals is as inevitable as the earlier trend away from the indoor stage and towards the outdoor stage," and Hsiao Hsi Yuan's executive secretary Hsu Kuo-liang is well aware that "the territory of temple performance will steadily shrink along with declining audiences, even disappear altogether, because the younger generation won't go to temples to watch." Even so, they both take outdoor stage performance very seriously indeed.
Apart from being a test, the outdoor stage's relative freedom and laissez-faire also provide actors with greater opportunity for spontaneity. Chu Su-mei, director of the Chen Chu opera troupe which only performs on the outdoor stage, believes that although fully rehearsed indoor stage drama is more tightly paced, it is a kind of 'dead drama;' it's nothing like most outdoor stages where just the rough outline is explained by the dramatist and, after a simple cobbling together of the play, the show begins and the performers make the best of it on the night. "Even in a performance on the indoor stage, the concept of 'living drama' should never be abandoned," says Chu Su-yun. Otherwise, as performers follow a set text, movements and gestures over a long period, there's a risk that in the process of developing greater refinement they will lose folk opera's unique grass-roots appeal.
Cultural Ambience of Temples: From an anthropological angle, the temple environment is a religious, cultural and social focal point. Here drama performance blends in with religious festivals and with the audience. It is far more than the "artistic performance" of the indoor stage.
But we do not mean to draw any such clear distinction between the indoor and outdoor stage.
The Ming Hua Yuan troupe, who often perform on the indoor stage today, tend to turn to the outdoor stage for a trial run before public performances of a new play, then take it back to the indoor stage. This process enlivens the play itself, while also raising the standard of temple performance.
In this regard, the Hsiao Hsi Yuan troupe also has a new concept: "Suggesting that organizers relocate cultural happenings to temples." This would allow old audiences, good troupes and new audiences to raise their standards together, and injects new life into temple culture. Take the Lantern Festival for example; at the Tz'u Sheng Kung, a Taipei temple venue highly regarded by drama troupes, a week or fortnight of traditional drama performances would allow the temple to serve a wider range of religious, cultural, social and touristic functions.
Today, at a time when drama troupes are seeking to break new ground, it may be worth preserving this more natural method of performance.