2002 / 8月
在紅樓劇場的開幕宣傳單上，有一排小小的中英文紅字，緊接在紅樓的標誌之下，上面寫著：「 anything can happen here 」 (任何事情都可能在這裡發生 )。李永豐滿懷喜悅指著已經上好紅漆新妝、紅樓八角形屋頂上的十六組鋼桁架說：「只要撐得下去，五年內，會發生很多事。」
Sun Sung-tang /photos courtesy of Yang Wen-ching /tr. by Butler Waugh
The Red House Theater in Taipei's Hsimenting area is part of the shared memories of several generations of Taiwanese. Today, July 26, 2002, the theater is having a grand re-opening. The program includes traditional cross-talk comedy, puppet shows, Taiwanese opera, talk show comedy, dance shows, jazz recitals, and just about everything. The performances transport the audience back to the days when life was simpler and this historic theater was in its prime.
At the very beginning, the Red House Theater was not even a theater; it was a retail shopping center with the best selection of international goods in Taiwan. The theater's location is outside of old Taipei's West Gate, which was a neglected cemetery through the end of the Qing dynasty. Not until Liu Ming-chuan opened Hsinchi Street and its marketplace did businesses begin to migrate here and people start to come.
In 1895, when Japan occupied Taiwan, a vendor's market was immediately established in the downtown area. Right behind the Red House Theater, the Hsimen Market was established in 1896; it was the first market in Taiwan to be officially built by the government. At the time it was called the Hsinchi Street Market, and it was a place where vendors selling vegetables, meat, hardware, and sundry items gathered. In 1907 the Hsimen Market was renovated and the design work was given to a young Japanese architect who had just arrived in Taiwan named Kondo Juro.
At the time Kondo received his education, Japan was borrowing extensively from Western-style architecture. As his first show of talent, Kondo designed the Hsimen Market in the shape of a cross, and added an eight-sided building as the market's entrance. This eight-sided building is today's Red House Theater. Local superstition is the reason behind the eight-sided architecture and people first called it the "Octagon Market," but since it was built entirely of red brick people gradually began referring to it as the "Red House." No one would have thought that today this building would be designated as a grade three historical building, or hold such a special place in the memories of so many citizens.
Huang Yung-chuan, who was born just outside the main entrance of the Red House, and who currently runs the Hsimen Red House Historical Workshop, explains that when the Octagon Market was first constructed, it immediately became a bustling local landmark. The first floor was a market that was divided into vendor stalls selling a variety of daily sundries and dry goods; on the periphery were vendors selling food such as vegetables, meat, and fish. The second floor was a coffee shop that the Japanese later converted to a children's amusement center. There was also a night market at the Octagon, which was open from four in the afternoon until midnight.
The late Lin Heng-tao, an expert on local history and customs, wrote that during the Japanese occupation the Octagon Market was Taiwan's most fashionable shopping area. Popular merchandise included milk candy, red bean sweet bread, Tong Luo barbeque, sushi, and other Japanese foods. There were also handguns, telescopes, Japanese Warrior brand art supplies, toys, sake, beer, and soft drinks. With such a large variety of products, not only the Japanese enjoyed shopping here, but also Taiwanese wishing to see what the world had to offer would come here to buy imported goods. Business was brisk.
In 1949, after the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan, the Red House was rented by several Shanghainese and was renamed the "Shanghai Gardens Theater." This was the first step in its transformation, and afterwards it became extremely popular producing performances of cross-talk, Shaohsing opera, and stage plays. In addition, it was during this time that Cantonese Shantou shacha hot pot was imported and established roots. That year one of life's greatest pleasures was spending an evening watching a movie in Hsimenting and then going to the Red House to enjoy shacha hot pot. At the height of its popularity, one narrow alley accommodated nearly ten shacha hot pot restaurants.
In the beginning the Shanghai Gardens Theater staged Peking Opera. Unfortunately, there were few aficionados, and a full house would occur only once or twice a month, so after a short time performances stopped. Although Peking Opera couldn't find an audience, cross-talk (comic dialogues) and Shaohsing opera were subsequently staged and fortunes changed as the theater was often packed. The most popular Shaohsing opera singing stars included La Pa Hua, Wu Yen-li, Ko Shao-hua, and Chu Feng-chin; one opera, Tears Fall Remembering Home played for one month and every show was sold out. Popular cross-talk performers included Hou Juei-ting, Wang Hsiang-lin, Wei Lung-hao, Wu Yao-nan, and Chen Yi-an, as well as Ting Ping-sui, who later became a famous program host at China Broadcasting Company. These cross-talk performers were stars on the stage of the Red House. At the time, Peking Opera stars performing at the Yung Le Theater were earning NT$4,000 per month. Hou Jui-ting would also earn this extravagant amount for performing cross-talk at the Red House.
In the period immediately after Taiwan was recovered from Japan theatrical activities were limited. Before the February 28 Incident there were some Taiwanese plays, and there was a public performance by the Shanghai New China Theatrical Group, which came to Taiwan and then returned to China, but all were just a flash in the pan. Only in 1950 when Chiang Kai-Shek resumed the presidency did Taiwan's Mandarin and Taiwanese theater start a new phase. The Red House was there to meet this new trend and soon became an important venue for public performance of stage plays.
Regrettably, Taiwan as a country is adept at forgetting. After 1950, the growth and development of the theatrical movement was rarely recorded. People today are completely in the dark about that period and have little interest in finding out more about it. The distinguished stage critic Kung Min wrote that to understand the development of the Taiwan theater one cannot just go back to the '70s or '80s and ignore the pioneers.
Fortunately, the renowned director Chang Ying, along with Shao Yu-chen, who currently teaches in the drama department at the National Taiwan University of Arts, have written two books on the history of Taiwanese theater: Beat the Gong Three Times, and Performing Artists in the History of Taiwan Theater. These books will ensure that this and future generations understand how Taiwan's theater has developed.
On June 26, 1950, the Southeast Culture Workshop responded to a call from the president to provide relief to mainland compatriots by performing the six-scene drama Wen Tian Xiang at the Taipei Chungshan Hall. The director was Chang Ying, who mobilized over 200 people from the arts to participate. Scenery changes were quick, and the acting was superb, earning heartfelt praise from both the audience and newspapers. In attendance was future president Chiang Ching-kuo, at that time director of the Political Warfare Department, who viewed the performance with great enthusiasm and awarded the production NT$10,000 on the spot. This could be considered the first shot for Taiwan theater.
In 1953, the Red House Theater began to present stage plays. The first production was Family Tears, written by Chang Ying and directed by Liu Ken. Following that were several productions presented on the Red House stage and directed by Chang Ying, such as Pan Chin-lien, A City of Vengeance, The Happy Marriage, and Imaginings of an Average Taipei Resident. In addition, there were the Yung Le Theater, the Central Theater, the Star Theater, the Kuo Kuang Theater (which was later changed to the National Army Art Activities Center), and the Children's Theater. All of these venues had areas for stage performances, and even school auditoriums became theaters: Taipei Municipal First Girls' Senior High School was often used to perform stage plays. At that time there were 30 to 40 officially registered theaters. In 1957, professor Li Man-kui established the "Theater Society" and promoted the "experimental theater movement" at the Red House Theater. This was the origin of Taiwan's experimental theater.
Chang Ying remembers the situation during those years: without a doubt 1950 to 1963 were the most flourishing years. "This was the golden age for the Taiwan stage. Transportation was convenient to the Red House Theater, the venue was suitable for stage plays, and it attracted many theater devotees. There are many famous artists that began their careers on the stage: Chang Chung-wen, Mu Hung, Li Ying, Tien Feng, Fu Pi-hui, Tsao Chien, Chien Lu, Sun Yue, Lang Hsiung, Lu Pi-yun, Chang Ping-yu, and many more. All started acting on the stage before they went on to movies or television." He also recalls that there was no difference in the status of the actors; for each performance everyone was paid NT$50.
In those early days there were no intermissions. If an audience member wished to use the restroom or smoke a cigarette, they would wait for scenery change. Actors would sing without microphones, just relying on the strength of their voice. For effects, they would use sounds from a record. In the past, the Red House Theater's seats were wooden benches that were hard and uncomfortable. Yet in those difficult times, the audience did not even think about it, often sitting in rapt attention for two or three hours at a time. Production costs had to be carefully considered. A play has only one performance per day, unlike a movie, so a large investment was hard to recoup.
After 1961, television suddenly became popular and the movies were forced by poor box office receipts to adopt new topics and a new look. Stars of the stage started to appear on the silver screen, and the interest of the audience followed them. Slowly the curtain fell on the popularity of stage performances.
Ironically, the Ministry of Education had just begun to present the Golden Tripod Awards for live theater. The first award ceremony was held at the end of December, 1963, a time just before stage plays were to fall from popularity. That year the Best Actor award was presented to Ma Chi (Tornado), the Best Actress award to Ming Ke (Fragrance of Toil), and the Best Director award to Liu Shuo-fu (Tornado). Chang Ying believes that the Golden Tripod Awards marked the perfect punctuation to the end of Taiwan's golden age of stage performance. Under the pressure of television and movies, stage plays were difficult to produce in first-rate theaters, and were only occasionally performed for a select audience to appreciate.
Beginning in 1963, the Red House Theater began to show movies. At first the films were mostly black and white Hong Kong martial arts movies. These films were loved by young and old, and received much support from their fans. Afterwards, the Red House began showing second-run domestic films and foreign films. Huang Yung-chuan remembers the movies The Kingdom and the Beauty starring Lin Tai and The Love Eternal starring Le Ti and Ling Po, which created a sensation in Taiwan. Though the films were shown many times, when they appeared second-run at the Red House Theater the place was packed, even after a month of showings. "Many parents would take their children and see the films together. It wasn't like today where kids just hang around with their schoolmates," Huang explains. People who are about 50 years old have lasting memories of being able to see two old foreign films for just a small bit of money at the Red House Theater.
Paper Windmill Foundation chairman Ke Yi-cheng, has special memories of going to the Red House to see Audrey Hepburn in the movie War and Peace. The price of a ticket was NT$3.50 and the movie was three hours long, which he felt was extremely satisfying. "This is a memory from my youth that I will never forget."
Many years later, Ke Yi-cheng has returned to the Red House. He is now over 50 yet feelings from that time make it hard for him to forget this building. "This building is so beautiful, and so many Taipei residents remember it from their youth. It was tough to see it being neglected for so long." But now the city government is renovating the place, and Paper Windmill feels honor bound to get involved, which has much to do with Ke Yi-cheng's memories of those years.
Saying the Red House was "neglected by time" was a nice way of saying it had begun showing adult movies and attracting a special crowd, and, though you wouldn't think it likely, in the end it became a gathering place for homosexuals. When this situation was reported in the media, it certainly drew attention to Red House, but it also deterred many ordinary citizens from going there to see movies. For many years the building went without repair and when it rained outside, it would rain inside as well. The number of patrons fell, and the shacha hot pot vendors in the area closed up shop and moved to another area. Compared to the past adjectives "prosperous" and "bustling," the Red House was now "desolate" and "run down," and for many seeing this development was hard to bear.
Dream of the Red Chamber
In 1994, Yaoshan Cultural Foundation executive director Alice Chiu, Body Phase Studio's Wang Mo Lin, and Shi Chien University lecturer Yan Chung-hsien, among others, could no longer bear to watch the Red House fall into disrepair and neglect, so they began to promote a performance activity called "Dream of the Red Chamber." The performances included traditional Chinese rhythmic monologue (something like rap), stage skits, folk singing, Taiwan nakashi music, variety show dancing, and more, in the hope it might plant a seed for rebirth in this area. This endeavor continued for a period of time, until former mayor Chen Shui-bian was elected and the Red House was designated as a grade three historic site and repair work began. At that time, the director of the Information Services Department, Luo Wen-chia, proposed a plan that would transform the Red House into a movie museum, and long term renovation started.
When current mayor Ma Ying-jeou began serving his term, renovation work continued, but the intended function of the Red House was redefined. The plan changed to serving multifunctional art activities, and was not limited to a nostalgic but lifeless movie museum. Cultural Affairs Bureau director Lung Ying-tai hopes that the Red House Theater will help revive the oral arts tradition, and save the performance arts often found at temples and markets, such as folk storytelling, singing, acrobatics, and even medicine show entertainment, gathering it all together to share the limelight under one roof.
Lung Ying-tai was determined, but her task was daunting, especially with the "zero budget" precondition under which the plan proceeded. Who would accept a money-losing business proposition just to revive the Red House? Bidding was announced several times, yet there were no takers. It wasn't until March of this year that Paper Windmill decided to go against the tide, offered an acceptable bid, and signed a five-year contract for the right to operate the Red House. Paper Windmill immediately invested NT$20 million in renovation, and that takes us up to today's Red House.
Ke Yi-cheng says they are putting profit aside. The deciding factor was looking at the exterior and interior of the Red House and feeling that something had to be done. "It's not just our personal memories of youth involved here. We hope to preserve something of the precious times that everyone has spent at the Red House."
Red House romance
So that people can become familiar with and appreciate the special nature of the Red House Theater, Paper Windmill executive director Lee Yung-feng says they are planning to spend another NT$10 million within the next six months, after which an upgrade in the Red House's appearance will become apparent. He is frank when he estimates the chance of the performances' success as only about ten percent. If this is true, why would anyone attempt this undertaking? Lee replies that all you need is someone who is willing to do it. If everyone was just out to make a profit and ignored passing the torch to future generations, wouldn't life become less interesting?
Lee Yung-feng adds that regardless of whether their project is a success or not, at least it will serve as a reference for those who succeed them. "This way they won't just be groping in the dark like we are." In addition they also hope to preserve something of Taiwan's past, such as Taiwan's earliest Kupa Band, the talk show comedy of Liao Chun, Peng Peng, and others, the ghost stories of Ssuma Chung-yuan, the puppets of Teng Chih-hung, the comedy of Yu Mei-jen, and more; these are the main programs that are scheduled. "We want to get close to people's lives. We are not going the route of presenting art that is abstruse or obscure."
On the Red House Theater's opening announcement there is a line of small type in English and Chinese printed below the Red House logo. It says "Anything can happen here." Li Yung-feng proudly points to 16 newly repainted beams in the Red House's roof and says, "We just have to hold on. In the next five years a lot of things are going to happen."
The renovated Red House Theater: stately, antique, evoking thoughts of the past.
When today's Red House Theater was first built, it was merely the entrance building to a market; the octagonal shape was meant to exorcise spirits. The building was made completely from red brick and gradually became known as the "Red House." (photo courtesy of Huang Cheng-an)
Chang Ying wrote and directed many stage plays performed at the Red House Theater, as well as produced the 1958 movie Diary of a Wretched Girl Searching for Her Family, with Chang Hsiao-yen (left). She received the Asian Film Festival award for best child actress. Before this Taiwan had never won an award for film. (courtesy of Chang Ying)
This is the event program for A City of Vengeance performed at the Red House Theater. (courtesy of Sun Sung-tang)
In 1963 Chang Ying directed A City of Vengeance, which was performed at the Red House Theater to shouts of Bravo! and packed houses. From left to right: Liu Wei-pin, Cui Ping (playing the widow Ms. Chiu), and Huang Tsung-hsun (playing Chiu Yi-sen). (courtesy of Sun Sung-tang)
In March of this year the Red House Theater began major renovation. Hopefully, folk arts such as storytelling will bring it back to life.
Living next door to the Red House since birth, Huang Yung-chuan has deep feelings for the building. He established the Hsimen Red House Historical Workshop, which records what has happened through the history of this place.
Paper Windmill Theater executive director Lee Yung-feng, undeterred by the dangers ahead, has painstakingly renovated the old building, and a coyly romantic Red House has taken shape. (photo by Chung Yung-he)
A band with a long history, the Kupa Big Band, appears on the Red House stage. The music has already started and the audience have taken their seats. A good time is guaranteed for all. (photo by Chung Yung-he)