台灣最值得記憶的聲音

相聲大師吳兆南
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2013 / 11月

文‧陳淑美


相聲大師吳兆南一直以說唱技藝聞名,被國畫大師張大千比喻為「清末京劇名丑劉趕三」的他,其實也是最令老京劇迷想念的丑角大師。

他的名言,「從前我說相聲,是為了活著;現在我活著,是為了說相聲!」矍鑠風趣的老者風範,不但是當下新世代傳統曲藝藝人的一代名師,也是台灣最會演戲、最值得記憶的聲音。


9月底,90歲的相聲大師吳兆南返台表演,這次他與徒弟樊光耀說的是《黃天霸戲貂蟬》,寶刀未老的吳兆南一下以老太太的聲音,扮演挑剔點戲的富家婆,一下子以威武的淨角身段扮起古代猛男黃天霸,然後再以娉婷的妖嬈女聲來演國色天香的貂蟬女,神采依舊的大師風範,令觀眾回味不已。

生於1925年的吳兆南,今年適逢90壽辰,弟子們已準備好要在美國唱京戲、說相聲擴大慶祝;「吳兆南劇藝社」也將以《步步驚之『喜』:吳門真煩傳》的賀壽喜劇,來為老師慶生。

最會演戲的聲音

在中國傳統戲曲上,相聲與戲曲本是一家。

行家形容,戲曲是「現身之說法」,以真實人物來扮演故事,相聲(及其他曲藝)則是「說法之現身」,以敘事扮演來演繹故事。許多相聲藝人也都有戲曲底子,如相聲的祖師爺——清代同光年間的朱紹文,曾是京劇丑角,後來在大陸北京天橋擺攤表演相聲;已過世的知名相聲藝人侯寶林,也是先演戲,再改行說相聲。

吳兆南與前賢走的也是同條路,來台後也是先演京劇,後才以相聲聞名。

去年底,吳兆南接受台北國光劇團的邀請,以京劇演員的身分登台,演出丑角劇目《打麵缸》與《紡棉花》,他的京劇「經歷」才又被重新宣揚。原來以「魏龍豪、吳兆南上台鞠躬」開場白被熟知的吳兆南,不僅是相聲大師,也是京劇大師。

吳兆南的戲曲生涯,得從那個兵馬倥傯的時代說起。

生長在一個京劇正流行的時代,吳兆南從小就是京劇迷。父親為銀行家,家境優渥,出門有洋車可坐,他念私立育英中學時,上了壽頤臣老師的國劇課,也加入學校京劇社團,看戲、學戲、唱戲,還上台演出。

年少繽紛的京劇生涯

1930年代的北京,是京劇最蓬勃的年代,富裕家庭出身的吳兆南,整天泡在戲園子,看過老伶工雷喜福、程永龍、尚和玉、馬德成的戲;連京劇圈傳誦的好戲──余叔岩《打漁殺家》、孟小冬《擊鼓罵曹》都看過。

吳兆南碰到不少今日在京劇史教科書裡的名角,例如知名的花臉演員楊小樓,他的徒弟侯海林,就是教吳兆南基本功及把子功的老師;楊小樓練戲的鐵棍,吳兆南也玩過;而楊小樓的女婿,京劇史上人稱「小梧桐」的劉硯芳,吳兆南叫他「劉九爺」,也是吳的老師。

吳兆南曾在劉硯芳家學《蔣幹盜書》方巾丑,四句唱詞怎麼學都不搭調,還讓來玩的著名花臉袁世海給他說戲。

14、15歲吳兆南開始登台演出,當時北京幾家戲院,晚上是職業大班時段,日場就租給學生演出。

「人家叫唱什麼,我們就演什麼,行頭戲服都是租來的,也不挑眼,那時唱戲,不花錢,也不掙錢,頂多就是給點洗臉小錢(當時上台演戲有小廝伺候演員,幫演員打水給肥皂、遞毛巾擦臉),」吳兆南說。

吳兆南少年時代的生活重心就是學戲、演戲、畫臉譜,「學戲比讀書還認真。」

1949年,吳兆南來到台灣,從一個「有被卻不會睡」(指不珍惜過往的舒適環境)的優渥少爺,變成「會睡,也買不起被」的落難青年,富家少年吳兆南得要自己營生了。

吳兆南在大陸念的是經濟系,到台灣後,有同學說要幫他找工作,也真給找著了,「我一看工作證寫著『吳兆南‧工友』,心裡彆扭極了,好歹我也唸過大學,這頭銜將來寫墓誌銘也不好看吧,」吳兆南笑著說。

一代京劇資深藝人

吳兆南決定另謀生路,與幾個朋友在基隆碼頭海水浴場開販賣部,白天賣香菸和麵條等吃食,到了晚上,浴場關門了,客人只准出不准進。「吃完晚飯,開了燈,沒啥娛樂,你打鼓,我拉胡琴,唱將起來,唱得好不好沒關係,娛樂才是重點,」吳兆南說。

結果這碼頭的人越聚越多,著名的丑行周金福、旦角筱劉玉琴、馬驪珠(著名影星胡錦的母親)、生角周正榮等職業演員都來了。「全都是好樣的,反正不會的,我就學,學了就上台,」吳兆南便正式下海成了京劇演員。

他還加入一個叫「光榮平劇社」的團體,開始遊走各班當演員。當時丑行演員很少,因此他與許多前輩京劇演員都搭配過,如生角胡少安、李金棠,旦角筱劉玉琴、顧正秋、秦慧芬、陳美麟等人,還當過復興劇校劇團的領隊。

2012年底,吳兆南應邀為國光劇團演戲,記者會上國光劇團藝術總監王安祈拿出兩張老照片,一是1967年前後吳兆南在台視演出《天女散花》的劇照,搭檔的是現已93歲、有「平劇皇后」之稱的戴綺霞,吳兆南飾演和尚。另一張是1959年、在基隆中正路演《牧羊卷》的劇照,吳兆南反串丑旦宋氏,這兩張彌足珍貴的京劇老照片發布之後,勾起很多老戲迷的回憶。

王安祈表示,在她的印象裡,吳兆南就是個逗趣的丑角演員,「大眼圓臉、口齒清晰,搶眼外型非常可愛討喜。」

吳兆南堪稱京劇界的老前輩,目前仍活躍在華人社會的京劇大小名角,如魏海敏等人,都跟他配過戲。吳兆南常演《蘇三起解》裡好心又懂世情的崇公道,戲中可憐妓女蘇三是乾女兒,「算起來,我在海峽兩岸的乾女兒超過百人,」吳兆南笑著說。

魏龍豪、吳兆南上台鞠躬

如果不是因為影視媒體興起後,京劇環境不景氣,吳兆南也不會成為今日大家口中的相聲大師。

1951年,愛聽相聲的元大集團老東家馬繼良認為「北京來的,一定能耍嘴皮子,也一定能說相聲。」於是吳兆南「被打鴨子上架」,受邀到永福橋附近的螢橋樂園書場說相聲。

「先是一人單口說,東拉西扯的,說不下去了,於是掛榜招賢,才請來陳逸安、魏龍豪、周胖子(周志泉)一起說。」吳兆南表示,當時相聲的內容大都是幼時從北京天橋聽來的記憶,完全沒有劇本,大家拼拼湊湊,加添一些自創的趣味就上台演出。一段時間後,又在螢橋河堤外的茶棚表演,並增加說書、唱大鼓、變魔術等表演,之後才到台北市的蓮園、紅樓劇場演出。

因大受歡迎,繼而在正聲廣播電台錄製相聲節目,但其目的在銷售「雙帆牌乳白魚肝油」等商品,而這些廣告也都由吳兆南等相聲藝人自製,說一段相聲,講一段廣告。又因節目得要有個開頭,魏、吳兩人便自創「魏龍豪、吳兆南上台鞠躬」的台詞,事實上,「在電台裡,我倆從來沒上過台,也沒鞠躬過,」吳兆南笑著說。

1960年代之後,說相聲營生越來越不容易,吳兆南的夫人徐白珩開了間烤肉店幫助家計。

1969年吳兆南受邀到香港演出,卻被人舉報演「匪戲」《望江亭》而被禁止率團出國,讓他對政局有點心灰意冷,後來聽說美國航空公司推出只要拿美國移民簽證,就能先搭機赴美,再分期付款付機票的優惠方案,吳兆南覺得新鮮,跑到旅行社辦簽證,於是糊里糊塗就出國移民了。

移民美國後,吳兆南開了間肉品公司;若僑界有唱戲、說相聲的機會,也會登台表演。

傳統技藝代代相傳

1976~1992年,他與魏龍豪合作,陸續出版《相聲集錦》、《相聲選粹》、《相聲補軼》共48集、250個名段的錄音帶,其中幾乎都是魏、吳兩人在電台演出的老段子,不僅是目前50歲以上民眾幼時娛樂的來源,也是後來許多曲藝藝人的學習範本。包括台北曲藝團、相聲瓦舍、漢霖說唱藝術團的團員,或是吳兆南劇藝社的相聲藝人如郭志傑、馮翊綱、王振全等人,都是先學習這些老段子,才開始自己創作。

吳兆南對傳統曲藝文化的貢獻,早在1979年就獲得文建會薪傳獎與文化獎。1999年,與吳兆南搭檔的魏龍豪過世,吳兆南意識到當時已逐漸沒落、失傳的相聲藝術必須要趕快傳藝,半年間,先後收了鄧力、侯冠群、郎祖筠、劉增鍇、劉爾金、樊光耀等人為弟子。2000年,吳兆南又獲美國林肯文化藝術中心頒發終生藝術成就獎;2009年獲金曲獎特別貢獻獎。

以相聲大師聞名華人世界半世紀,但若問吳兆南的最愛,不少認識的朋友都會說:「吳老師是個戲痴,他還是愛演京劇吧!」因為他只要跟愛戲人聊起京劇劇目身段等話題,滔滔不絕可以說上兩三個小時。

與吳老師一起排練《打麵缸》的國光劇團排練指導馬寶山就指出,吳老師的口條好,聲音清亮乾淨,特別是道地而有韻味的京白,演出時,一下子就吸引眾人的眼光。

馬寶山表示,過去老京劇舞台,並沒有今日以換幕、燈光來烘托氣氛,演員只能以精熟的演技來表現劇情,吳老師的演出完全體現表演為主的舞台特色。更令馬寶山讚嘆的是,吳老師排演時完全不用看劇本,所有台詞都可朗朗上口,許多京劇及相聲演出,都已經內化到他身體裡了。

已屆耄耋之年的吳兆南,至今對上台表演看重的態度,更是後生晚輩的學習典範。

吳老師以丑行應工,京戲裡的丑行常要扮醜,爬高走低,被刮耳光,甚至從椅子上假意摔下來都是必要之事。

去年演出《打麵缸》時,有幾場戲是吳老師得要整個身體弓身彎腰到悶不通風的桌底下十數分鐘,排演時,顧及吳老師的年紀,馬寶山跟吳老師說,「您就簡單點演了吧﹗」吳老師卻堅持,戲就是要照規矩演,二話不說,跟著表演的節奏,說鑽就鑽,「光是這尊重角色的精神,就足以讓年輕演員學習。」

為吳兆南出版過許多相聲專輯的王在元表示,吳老師對文化傳承有使命感,這幾年耗費許多精力收藏許多戲曲、曲藝錄音帶、刊物、行頭等文物,後來收徒弟、成立相聲劇藝社,在美台兩地風塵僕僕趕場演出,為的就是要把老祖宗的藝術傳承下去。

學藝,就是用心、熟能生巧

「技藝,要怎樣學才能學到精髓?」

吳老的回答頗令人玩味:「學藝這件事情沒有別的方法,就是不斷重複的練習。」吳兆南表示,首先就是要真心的喜歡;其次要想辦法弄懂它的細節,比方說相聲或丑角的步伐等,要知道來龍去脈,去體會它,坦承自己的會與不會,然後重複再重複,不斷的把藝術「吃」進去,「技,就是用心,熟能生巧罷了。」

活了大半輩子,身體健康,他又是怎樣保養的?逗趣的吳兆南不改幽默地回答:「養生,就八個字:食睡兩安,二便(大小便)暢通。」簡單明瞭。

吳老還有「心寬即是福」的化解之道,他會抄寫讀到或體會到的句子,當作座右銘。

例如,「河流邊鮮少有筆直的堤岸,彎處常有淤泥污染,倒不必惡言責備,畢竟是被動與偶然。」意思是即使碰到不如意事,如有人要坑騙於你,不用太過苛責,因為這可能是坑害你的人因當時的環境、個人難處而為,設身處地為其著想就能釋懷。

「我的一生,沒有敵人,」吳兆南表示,許多老藝人到某一年紀都說要封箱,或是把藝術掛起來,不演了,「我從來不做此想,只要有人看得起我,願意讓我為藝術貢獻,我就會出馬。」

「從前我說相聲,是為了活著;現在我活著,是為了說相聲!」

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EN

Wu Zhaonan, Master of Crosstalk

Jackie Chen /tr. by Jonathan Barnard

Wu Zhaonan, master of crosstalk, is renowned for his vocal arts. No less a luminary than Zhang Da­qian, the dean of Chinese classical painting, has compared Wu to the late Qing Dynasty’s Liu Gan­san, widely regarded as history’s greatest Peking Opera clown.

“I used to perform crosstalk to live,” he says. “Now I live to perform crosstalk!” A hale, hearty and witty ­senior, Wu is the representative traditional performing arts figure of his generation and is known for having Taiwan’s “most memorable voice.”


At the end of September Wu Zhao­nan, the 90-year-old master of “crosstalk” (xiang­sheng, or comic dialogue), returned to Taiwan. On this occasion he and his student Fan Guang­yao were performing ­Huang ­Tianba Toys with Diao Chan. Although Wu is getting on in years his talents are undiminished, and he found it easy to switch from playing a rich old bitch who is super picky about what operas to watch to playing a great beauty. Exposed to the charismatic and vigorous presence of a great master, audiences experienced a wave of nostalgia.

Born in 1925, Wu turned 90 this year (by the traditional Chinese method of counting a person’s age), and to celebrate that milestone his former students arranged a program of Peking Opera and crosstalk performances in the United States and Taiwan.

A most animated voice

In the realm of traditional Chinese performance arts, Peking Opera and crosstalk are placed in the same category. Those in the know say that in opera one acts out a story, whereas in crosstalk and other spoken performances people must use their voices to animate a narrative story. Many crosstalk performers have a base of experience in opera, including the granddaddy of them all, Zhu Zhao­wen, who started out playing clown roles in Peking operas during the late 19th century before turning to performing crosstalk dialogues in the Tian­qiao area of Beijing.

At the end of last year, Wu Zhao­nan accepted an invitation from Tai­pei’s Guo­guang Opera Company to play clown roles in the operas Flour Vat and Spinning Cotton. The performances shone the spotlight on his Peking Opera skills. It turns out that Wu, who has long been known, along with Wei Long­hao, as one of Taiwan’s greatest masters of crosstalk, is also a great master of Peking Opera.

Any description of Wu’s career in opera must start with a discussion of the war-torn era in which he spent his youth in mainland China.

Wu grew up in an era when Peking Opera was all the rage, and he became a big fan at a young age. His father was a banker, and the family’s circumstances comfortable, with cars to ride when they went out. He attended Yu­ying, a private junior high school, where he took a class on Peking Opera with a teacher named Shou Yi­chen. He also joined the school’s Peking Opera club, where he would watch, study, sing and begin to act in operas.

Rich operatic experience as a youngster

The 1930s was a flourishing period for Peking Opera in Beijing, and Wu, as a child of affluence, would frequently spend all day at the opera house.

By the time he was 14 or 15, Wu was already performing operas up on stage. Back then Beijing had several opera houses that would offer professional performances at night but rent themselves out during the day to student groups, who would use them to put on their own performances.

“We would perform whatever people asked for,” Wu recalls. “Our costumes and accessories were all rented, and we weren’t too picky about them. With those performances, we typically broke even, or at most lost just a little.”

In those years Wu put his focus on studying and performing operas and practicing how to apply operatic makeup. “I was more diligent about opera than about my academic studies.”

In 1949, Wu came to Taiwan, where he experienced a dramatic­ fall in economic circumstances. A rich kid no ­longer, he had to figure out how to earn his own living.

Wu explains that he had majored in economics on the mainland, and when he arrived in Taiwan, a classmate gave him a lead on a job. “When I saw that the employee ID card read ‘Wu Zhao­nan, janitor,’ it really pained me inside,” says Wu, smiling. “After all, I had been to college, and I felt that the job designation would look bad on my tombstone.” So he looked for some other way to make ends meet.

A senior figure in Peking Opera

Back then Wu and several friends opened a store on a swimming beach by a Kee­lung dock. During the day they sold cigarettes and foods such as noodles. At night the beach closed and customers were only allowed to leave but not enter. “After eating, we’d turn on the lights and entertain ourselves,” Wu recalls. “Someone would beat a drum. Someone else would play the hu­qin two-stringed fiddle. And others would sing.”

They started attracting a larger and larger crowd, including showbiz people such as the famous performer of clown roles Zhou ­Jinfu, the player of female roles Xiao Liu Yu­qin, Ma Li­zhu (mother of the starlet Hu Chin), and the player of male roles Zhou Zheng­rong. “They were all role models. When I didn’t know how to do something, I’d watch them and then perform it right away for myself.” It was then that Wu finally took the plunge and officially became a Peking Opera actor.

At the end of 2012, when Wu was invited to perform with the Guo­guang Opera Company, Wang An-chi, Guo­guang’s artistic director, pulled out two photos during the press conference. One of them was of Wu playing a monk in Lady of Heaven Scatters Flowers for a TTV production in 1967. Wu’s costar for that production was Dai Qi­xia, who had been known as the “queen of Peking Opera.” The other photo was taken during a 1959 production of Shepherd Story on Kee­lung’s Zhong­zheng Road. Wu played a female clown named Song. The two images incited much nostalgia among opera fans.

Wang explains that she had always felt that Wu was a funny man with everything needed to play clown roles in Peking Opera: “Big eyes on a round face, gift of the gab, and an eye-catching appearance that was extremely lovable.”

Ascending the stage to take a bow

If not for the rise of film and television and the decline in Peking Opera’s economic fortunes, Wu never would have moved into crosstalk.

He recalls how in 1951 Ma Ji­liang, then head of the ­Yuanta Group, opined, “If you come from Beijing, you surely know how to banter, and you can surely perform crosstalk.” Ma twisted Wu’s arm to put on crosstalk shows at a performance hall near the ­Yongfu Bridge in Taipei.

“At first it was just me all by my lonesome self. I was constantly scurrying all over the stage and never stopped talking,” recalls Wu. “I brought in Chen Yi’an, Wei Long­hao, and Zhou Zhi­quan so that we could perform dialogues.” Wu explains that the content was based on what he could remember from the performances he had seen in Beijing’s Tian­qiao. It was completely unscripted and relied on ensembles of improvisers. In time they also started to perform at a teahouse next to a nearby river embankment. What’s more, they added other narrative performance arts such as shuo­shu and chang­dagu, as well as magic shows and other acts. Later, they would take these shows to Tai­pei’s Lian­yuan and Red House performance halls.

Earning rave reviews, they started to record crosstalk dialogues for a Cheng­sheng Broadcasting radio show. The shows were aimed at selling products such as cod liver oil, and Wu and the other crosstalk performers would also make all the commercials. They’d perform a bit of crosstalk and then read a commercial. And because the show needed a beginning, Wei and Wu would always say, “Wei and Wu ascend the stage to take a bow.” In reality, explains Wu, laughing, “At the studio we never got up on stage and never took a bow.”

Beginning in the 1960s it became harder and harder to get crosstalk gigs. Wu and his wife Xu Bai­heng opened a barbeque restaurant to help make ends meet.

In 1969 Wu was invited to perform in Hong Kong, where he performed Wang­jian Pavilion. The show was regarded as pro-Communist by the ROC government, and he was banned from leaving Taiwan to perform. The incident soured him on politics. Later, when he heard that US airlines were allowing people, so long as they had a US visa, to pay off their tickets to America on a payment schedule after traveling, he rushed to a travel agency, basically deciding to emigrate on a whim.

After moving to the United States, Wu opened a dried beef company and performed in shows directed at the overseas Chinese community whenever an opportunity presented itself.

Passing down traditional performing arts

Between 1976 and 1992 Wu and Wei produced a series of 48 tapes containing 250 crosstalk dialogues. They were mostly segments from their old radio shows. A source of great enjoyment for people now in their 50s and older, they have also served as models for a great many. Performers for groups such as the Tai­pei Quyi Troupe, Comedians Workshop, and the Han­lin Folk Arts Storytelling Troupe, including Guo Zhi­jie, Feng Yi­gang and others, have all studied these segments before creating their own dialogues.

As early as 1979, Wu’s contributions to traditional performing arts were recognized with a Folk Art Heritage Award from the Council for Cultural Affairs. In 1999 Wu’s longtime collaborator Wei passed away, and Wu became conscious of the urgent need to start passing along the dying art of crosstalk. He took on Hou Guan­qun, Lang Zu­yun, Liu Zeng­kai, Liu Er­jin, Fan Guang­yao and others as students. In 2009 Wu won a Golden Melody Lifetime Contribution Award.

Although he has been famous in the Chinese-speaking realm for half a century as a result of his crosstalk performances, his friends often say: “Wu is a Peking Opera fanatic—that’s his true love!” Once you get him talking about the Peking operas he loves, he can keep going for hours.

The Guo­guang Opera Company’s Ma Bao­shan, who has directed Wu in rehearsals of the opera Flour Vat, points out that Wu is very articulate and has a strong and clear voice, making him particularly well suited to the rhythms of authentic Peking Opera. When performing, he quickly gains the audience’s attention.

What has impressed Ma even more is that Wu never has to look at the script when rehearsing. The lines slip fluently from his mouth because they’ve all been committed to memory over so many years of performing Peking Opera and crosstalk dialogues.

Although a wizened senior, Wu has a seriousness and commitment that offers lessons to his juniors.

Performers of clown roles have to make themselves up to look as ugly as possible. They move with exaggerated motions and walk stooped over. They often get slapped or must fall off of chairs.

Last year, when performing Flour Vat, in several scenes Wu had to crouch under a table for ten minutes­ at a time. In consideration of his age Ma said, “Let’s make this easier for you.” But Wu was adamant that they had to play it the right way and refused to complain about any discomfort, going under the table whenever it was required. “When it comes to faithfully representing a role, younger performers can learn a lot from him.”

Practice makes perfect

“How do you go about learning the essence of a performance art?” Wu’s response gives people a lot to ponder.

“When you’re learning a performance art, there isn’t any way around it: you’ve just got to constantly practice,” Wu explains. First of all, you have to truly like it. Secondly, you have to find a way to understand its intricacies. For instance, there’s the choreography you’ve got to master for crosstalk or a clown role. You’ve got to know all the ins and outs. You’ve got to be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do, and then you’ve got to practice it over and over again. “The craft is effort. Practice makes perfect.”

Well up in years, his health remains good. Wu, always given to joking, stays true to form on this subject: “You can sum up health with just a few words: sleep and eat well and keep the sewage pipes, front and back, flowing smoothly.” His answer is simple and clear.

“In my life, I’ve had no enemies,” Wu says. Many old performers hang up their costumes once they get to a certain age, never to act again. “I’ve never thought about retiring. So long as people respect me enough to invite me to perform, I’ll go.”

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