絕代風華: 百歲紅樓展新顏

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2002 / 8月

文‧孫松堂 圖‧楊文卿


二○○二年七月二十六日,擁有幾代台灣人共同記憶的西門町紅樓劇場重新隆重開幕了,節目從相聲、布袋戲、歌仔戲、脫口秀、歌舞秀、爵士樂演奏……,一應俱全。將我們帶回往日那個生活簡單卻風華絕代的歷史舞台。


紅樓劇場最初的功能並不是劇場,而是台北最具國際特色的零售市場。紅樓劇場現址在舊台北城的西門外,直到清末還是一片荒塚,經過劉銘傳開闢「新起街」及市集、招商至此屯聚,才逐漸有了人氣。

近藤十郎

一八九五年,日本佔有台灣,隨即在都市地區設置集中攤商的市場。位在紅樓後方的西門市場,成立於一八九六年,是台灣第一個官方興建的市場,當時稱「新起街市場」,市場內菜販、肉販、五金、雜貨業者聚集。一九○七年西門市場重建,設計工作交給剛來台灣的日本年輕建築師近藤十郎。

近藤十郎受教育的年代,正是西洋風格建築被大量引進日本的時候;初顯身手的近藤十郎設計了「十」字型的西門市場主體,再添上「八角樓」做為市場出入口,而這個「八角樓」就是目前通稱的「紅樓」。至於為何要建「八角樓」,據說是為了鎮邪,當時台灣人都稱這棟八角樓為「八卦樓」,再加上全樓壁體以紅磚砌成,遂稱紅樓。任誰也沒有想到,「紅樓」日後不但變成台北的三級古蹟,還成為許多民眾青春的回憶。

一出生就住在紅樓正門口旁,目前成立「西門紅樓文史工作室」的黃永銓表示,「八角樓」建成之後,立刻成為新興街市的地標。最初的「八角樓」一樓是市場,內部被隔成一間間販賣店,出售各種日用百貨、南北乾貨;菜、肉、魚等食攤則圍繞四周。二樓則是咖啡廳;後來日本人把二樓改成兒童遊樂場。八角樓還有夜市,營業時間從每日下午四時到午夜。

已故的前台灣省文獻會主委林衡道曾為文指出,日據時代的八角樓,是獨步全台的時髦商城,最大眾化的貨品包括森永牛奶糖、豆沙甜麵包、銅鑼燒、壽司等日本食物,還有手槍、望遠鏡、繪有日本武士的紙牌、玩具、日本清酒、啤酒、汽水,樣樣齊全。因為貨品樣式多,不只日本人喜歡來這裡逛,想開眼界的台灣人也經常上門買東洋貨,生意十分興隆。

沙茶火鍋香噴噴

一九四九年,國民政府撤退來台,紅樓被幾個上海人承租下來,改稱「滬園劇場」,這是它轉型的第一步,後來並以相聲、紹興戲、話劇紅極一時。此外,廣東汕頭的沙茶火鍋也在此時引進,並在此地落地生根。

當年在西門鬧區看場電影後到紅樓旁吃頓沙茶火鍋,被視為生活中的一大享受。紅樓的沙茶火鍋店鼎盛時,一條狹小的巷道,擠了近十家沙茶火鍋店。

「滬園劇場」初期唱的是京戲,可惜沒有多少知音,一個月難得出現一、兩次滿座,沒有多久就散了。京劇做不起來,後來引進相聲及紹興戲,居然有了轉機,而且經常高朋滿座。當時包括喇叭花、吳燕麗、葛少華、朱鳳卿等人唱的紹興戲最受戲迷喜愛,一齣《淚灑相思地》連唱一個月,場場客滿。

說相聲的有侯瑞亭、王祥林、魏龍豪、吳兆南、陳逸安,還有日後成為中廣公司著名節目主持人的丁秉燧等,這批第一代來台的相聲演員,都是紅樓的台柱明星,當時永樂戲院京劇名伶一個月可以賺到四千元,侯瑞亭在紅樓說相聲時也可以拿到這個數目,毫不遜色。

台灣光復後的話劇活動,從二二八事件前台語話劇演出、和上海新中國劇團來台公演後再返回上海,在台灣劇壇都只是曇花一現,直到民國三十九年 ,先總統蔣中正在台復職起,台灣國台語話劇運動才正式展開新的局面,紅樓剛好接上這股熱潮,成了公演話劇的重地之一。

令人遺憾的是,台灣似乎是個善於遺忘的國家。民國三十九年以來,那一頁頁、一波波的戲劇運動,歷史鮮少記載,現代人也都茫然無知,更無心探究。資深戲劇評論家貢敏就曾為文指出,要瞭解台灣戲劇發展史,不能粗略地自七十或八十年代寫起,而把早年的蓽路籃縷一筆抹煞。

所幸近年來,資深導演張英及獻身戲劇工作多年、目前任教於台灣藝術大學戲劇系的邵玉珍,以出書的方式,分別完成具有史觀的台灣話劇歷史《打鑼三響包得行》及《留住話劇歷史的表演藝術家》,也讓當世和後世瞭解台灣的戲劇發展過程。

一九五○年六月二十六日,東南文化工作團為響應政府救濟大陸災胞的號召,在台北中山堂公演六景十一幕悲壯歷史劇《文天祥》,就是由張英執導;當時動員演藝界兩百餘人參加,換景之快,演出之精彩,獲得觀眾和報紙熱烈好評;時任政戰部主任的蔣經國看得興奮,當場犒賞一萬元,可以說為台灣劇場打響第一炮。

話劇天堂

一九五三年,紅樓劇場也開始演話劇,張英編劇、劉垠導演的《天倫淚》就在紅樓首演。之後,由張英執導的《潘金蓮》、《賭國仇城》、《三笑姻緣》、《台北小人物狂想曲》,陸續在紅樓劇場登場。除此之外,還有永樂戲院、中央戲院、明星戲院、國光戲院(後改為國軍文藝活動中心)、兒童戲院,都是演話劇的場所,甚至學校的大禮堂也成為劇場;像北一女禮堂就經常被外借演話劇。當時登記有案的劇場多達三、四十個,一九五七年,李曼瑰教授成立「戲劇社」,在紅樓劇場倡導「小劇場運動」,這是小劇場的濫觴。

張英回憶當年的情景說,毫無疑問,從民國三十八年到五十二年,話劇的演出最為興盛,「這是台灣話劇的黃金時代,紅樓劇場因為交通方便,場地也適合演話劇,因此吸引不少熱愛此道的劇迷前來捧場。許多國內知名的藝人都是從演話劇崛起,像張仲文、穆虹、李影、田豐、傅碧輝、曹健、錢璐、孫越、郎雄、盧碧雲、張冰玉等均是由演話劇再進入電影、電視界。」他還記得當時演員沒有大小牌之分,演一場戲的酬勞是每人五十元。

當年話劇不像現在有中場休息,觀眾如要上廁所、抽根煙,都是利用換幕空檔;演員說唱不用麥克風,全憑一條亮嗓子,但為了效果,會利用唱片製造音效。過去的紅樓全部是木板排椅,硬梆梆的很不舒服,但在那個克難的時代,觀眾一點也不在意,照樣看得津津有味,且一坐就是二、三個鐘頭。倒是成本要仔細核算一番,張英說,話劇不像電影,一天只演一場,投資太大很難收回成本。

民國五十年後,電視崛起,而電影也在不景氣中逼出了若干新的題材,有了一番新貌,話劇演員接二連三走上大銀幕,觀眾的興趣也跟著轉了方向,舞台劇場逐漸沒落,終致落幕。

巧的是,由教育部頒發的首屆話劇金鼎獎,就選在民國五十二年十二月底,也就是話劇沒落時舉行;當年最佳男主角頒給馬驥《旋風》、最佳女主角是明格《盡瘁留芳》,最佳導演頒給劉碩夫《旋風》。張英認為,首屆話劇金鼎獎,可以說是給台灣話劇黃金時代劃下一個完美的句點。此後台灣話劇在強勢電影、電視的壓力下,很難再進入首輪戲院演出,只能偶爾演給特定觀眾欣賞。

熱門二輪

民國五十二年起,紅樓劇場開始放映電影,初期是以香港出品的黑白武俠片為主,于素秋、蕭芳芳、陳寶珠三人主演的武俠片,受到許多影迷的支持,大人小孩都愛看。之後紅樓又改映二輪國片及西片,黃永銓記得,林黛主演的《江山美人》,樂蒂、凌波轟動台灣的《梁山伯與祝英台》,儘管下片多時,以二輪片在紅樓公演時,依然造成滿坑滿谷的盛況,連演一個月還不能下片,「許多父母帶著子女一起看電影,不像現在青少年都是跟同學一起逛街。」對紅樓戲院只要花一點錢即可看兩部舊西片的往事,年齡在五十歲上下的人記憶尤其深刻。

紙風車文教基金會董事長柯一正對紅樓就有一分難以忘懷的情誼,他記得第一次到紅樓看的電影是奧黛麗赫本主演的《戰爭與和平》,一張票才三塊半,片長近三個小時,真是過癮極了:「那是我的青春回憶,永生難忘。」

多年後,柯一正又回到紅樓,昔日的少年已年過半百,但年少的情懷,讓他對這棟建築物有些不捨、有些傷感,「它曾是那麼美好,是許多台北人的青春,真捨不得它被時光湮沒。」因此,這次市政府重整紅樓,紙風車義無反顧的投入,跟柯一正深懷當年的紅樓歲月有很大的關係。

說起紅樓戲院遭時光湮沒一事,那應該是它開始放映三級片吸引特定族群,未料卻成為同志在此尋找慰藉的場所。此事經媒體報導後,紅樓的名氣愈加響亮,卻阻礙了一般人進場看電影的念頭。再加上戲院年久失修,經常發生屋外下大雨,場內下小雨的窘態,光顧紅樓的人就愈加稀少了,附近的沙茶火鍋店賺不到錢,也紛紛收攤,轉到他處營生。與早年「繁華」、「熱鬧」相比,紅樓此時只能以「蒼涼」與「破落」形容,看了著實令人不忍。

一九九四年,樂山基金會執行長丘如華、身體氣象館王墨林、實踐大學講師顏忠賢等人,不忍見到紅樓日漸殘破而無人聞問,推動《紅樓夢、西門情》展演活動,節目有竹板快書、小劇場、民歌演唱、台語那卡西、綜藝舞團等,希望為附近區域的再生埋下種子。這份努力持續了一段時間,直到前市長陳水扁任內,紅樓才被指定為三級古蹟,並展開修復工作。當時的新聞處長羅文嘉也提出規畫建議,要改建紅樓為電影主題博物館,隨即進行長時間的封館整修。

紅樓夢、西門情

馬英九市長上任後,延續原有的古蹟再生做法,但是對紅樓修復的功能定位,則改向多功能的藝文活動規畫,而不只限在懷舊、嚴肅的電影博物館。文化局長龍應台則希望紅樓劇場可以讓傳統說唱藝術恢復生命,讓過去活躍在廟前、市集的民間說唱或雜技,甚至江湖郎中的賣藥吆喝,成為聚光燈的藝術演出。

龍局長的立意雖佳,但是執行起來,卻不是一件容易的事,且在「零預算」的前提下,為紅樓尋找新生命,誰願意做這種蝕本的生意?因此公開招標多次,每次都流標收場。直到今年三月,紙風車抱著「雖千萬人吾往矣」的決心,標下紅樓的經營權,並和市府簽了五年的長約,且立刻投入二千萬元整修,才有今日紅樓的再現江湖。

紅樓風情

柯一正說,他們先把獲利放在一邊,主要是看了紅樓的裡裡外外,覺得有非做不可的念頭,「不僅為了自己年輕時的記憶,也為了保留所有人曾經在紅樓度過的美好時光。」

紙風車執行長李永豐也表示,為了讓觀眾熟悉紅樓劇場,感受它的特殊性,紙風車預計半年內要投入三千萬元,屆時更能看到紅樓劇場硬體的成績。至於演出成功率,他坦承只有百分之十的把握。既然如此,當初為什麼要做呢?

李永豐說,總是要有人去做吧!如果大家都執意它的盈虧,而忽視它的薪火傳承,人生不是變得很無趣嗎?紙風車之所以願意接下這個擔子,心裡最重要的想法,就是無論做得成功與否,都會給後面接掌的人做個參考,「不要像我們這樣事事靠摸索,」李永豐說。

另外,他們也想為台灣留下一些好的東西,像是台灣最早的大型鼓霸大樂團、廖峻、澎澎等本土重要的脫口秀、司馬中原的鬼話連篇、鄧志鴻和他的偶、于美人愛說笑等,都是節目安排的重點,「我們要貼近民眾的生活,而不是走艱澀的藝術路線,」李永豐說。

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。」 

p.088

整修後的紅樓劇場,美侖美奐、古色古香,令人發思古之幽情。

p.089

紅樓劇場初建時,以有辟邪功能的「八角樓」作為市場出入口,再加上全樓以紅磚砌成,遂稱「紅樓」。(黃正安提供)

p.091

曾在紅樓編導多齣話劇的張英,於一九五八年擔任《苦女尋親記》製片,張小燕(左)以此片獲得亞洲影展最佳童星獎,在她未獲獎前,我們一直掛零。(張英提供)

p.091

這是《賭國仇城》在紅樓劇場公演的劇目。(孫松堂提供)

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一九六三年,張英導演的《賭國仇城》在紅樓上演,叫好又叫座,由左至右,劉維斌、崔冰(飾仇寡婦)和黃宗迅(飾仇亦森)。(孫松堂提供)

p.092

「紅樓劇場」今年三月進行全面大整修,未來希望以常民說唱藝術恢復它的生命。

p.093

一出生即住在紅樓正門口旁的黃永銓,對紅樓感情深厚,他成立「西門紅樓文史工作室」,記錄此地發生的種種。

p.094

紙風車執行長李永豐抱著「明知山有虎,偏向虎山行」的毅力,要為蒼老的紅樓精心著裝,再現紅樓風情。(鐘永和攝)

p.095

歷史悠久的鼓霸大樂隊登上紅樓劇場,音樂已經響起,來賓也坐定,好戲要開鑼了。(鐘永和攝)

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近期文章

EN

The Red House: 100 Years and a New Elegance

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.

Kondo Juro

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.

Fragrant hotpot

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.

Drama heaven

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.

The comeback

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."

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The renovated Red House Theater: stately, antique, evoking thoughts of the past.

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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)

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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)

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This is the event program for A City of Vengeance performed at the Red House Theater. (courtesy of Sun Sung-tang)

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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)

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In March of this year the Red House Theater began major renovation. Hopefully, folk arts such as storytelling will bring it back to life.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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