The Night We Became Crosstalk Comedians

A legendary performance of Chinese contemporary theater



This play, Performance Workshop's premiere work, became a milestone in the development of recent theater in Taiwan for its fusion of tradition and modernity, its innovative creativity, and its powerful performance. Created as an experimental work by writer-director Stan Lai and the actors Lee Li-chun and Li Kuo-hsiu, the play was an unexpected smash hit, hailed by the media as “the marriage of fine art and popular culture.” The Taipei run and Taiwan tour totaled 20 sold-out performances (a record at the time for a single performance). The subsequent audio recording issued by UFO Records was an unprecedented hit, claiming number 1 on the popular recording charts for many consecutive weeks, and quickly attaining Platinum status, bringing the stage play to a broad, popular audience.

In a gaudy Taipei nightclub, two entertainers announce the evening’s main attraction: a famous but forgotten duo will appear in a rare performance of the dying traditional Chinese stand-up comedy form xiang-sheng (hsiang-sheng). However, the famous pair fails to appear on cue. Baffled, the two onstage entertainers decide to try to impersonate the famous pair to allow the show to go on. Unfamiliar with the ancient art of xiang-sheng, they begin pathetically, but slowly improve, until mysteriously, they seem transformed into the two “famous” performers, and the audience is transposed scene by scene into time, where the two performers perform stand-up comedy Chinese style, commenting on crucial and often tragic moments in modern Chinese history. In a black comic final scene, the two performers recount the events of their own death, in an earthquake, in the Ch’ing Dynasty.

Among other things, The Night We Became Hsiang-Sheng Comedians was seen as a comment on the death of culture in modern Taiwan. Critic Ma Shu-li called the play ”using the form of xiang-sheng to write xiang-sheng's elegy.” The play served as the opening event of the Sixth New Aspect International Arts Festival, Taipei. Its success spurred a revival of xiang-sheng performance in Taiwan teahouses. Thus aside from creating an exciting and new kind of theater experience at a time when modern theater in Taiwan was in its formative stage, the play inadvertently revived the traditional art form it had pronounced dead.

The Night We Became Hsiang Sheng Comedians is the premiere effort of the Performance Workshop. The newly formed group consists of two of Taiwan's most popular actors, Li Kuo-hsiu and Li Li-chun, and its most consistently innovative stage director, Lai Sheng-chuan. The three-man collective is commonly referred to in the Chinese press as "two Li's and a Lai".
This play, like others Mr. Lai has directed, developed not from a script but through collaborative improvisation combined with research. The results of this method have, so far, electrified Taiwan's still underdeveloped theater.
Last year, Mr. Lai directed a series of vignettes about retarded children by the Lan Ling Theater Workshop, Taiwan's seminal theater group. "Plucking Stars," as the production was called, managed to be realistic, inspired and genuinely moving without ever becoming preachy or patronizing. Mr. Lai's collaborators this time, though widely recognized as comic actors from TV, movie and stage appearances, have had varied enough acting careers to lend depth and conviction to their roles. The combination of these talents was bound to be a success, but the magnitude of it has been a welcome surprise to the group.
It is greatly to the group's credit that in spite of its rather lofty and amusing aims, the play never bogs down in solemn profundities or obscure symbolism. Buoyed by the original, often startling humor and swept along by the plays energetic pace, the audience doesn't think about the essentially serious messages embedded within the piece's tight meticulous structure until later, and then more likely than not with an irrepressible smile.
——Paul Shackman, "Resuscitating Taiwan's "Cross Talk" Comedy" Asian Wall Street Journal, 5/17/85

Script:Stan Lai, Lee Li-chun, Lee Kuo-hsiu

Directed by Stan Lai

Cast: Lee Li-chun, Lee Kuo-hsiu

Scenic and Lighting Design: Alan Kuang-yen Nieh

Costume and Makeup Design: Pamela Chin

Produced by Xu Boyun

World Premier: 3/1/1985 National Arts Hall, Taipei

Toured Cities: Taichung, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Chungli

The memories of Crosstalk, our memories...

Through the traditional performing art form and with deep philosophical meanings, Performance Workshop strives to reflect many things that are vanishing in contemporary society.

Script: Collective creation led by Stan Lai

Creative Process Participated by Lee Li-chun, Lee Kuo-hsiu

Directed by Stan Lai

Cast: Lee Li-chun, Feng Yigang

Scenic and Lighting Design: Alan Kuang-yen Nieh

Costumes and Makeup Design: Pamela Chin

Sound Design: Zhang Xiaowen

Produced by Nai-chu Ding

Toured Cities: Taipei, Tainan, Taichung, Hsinchu, Chungli,  Kaohsiung, Los Angeles, Kinmen, Singapore

 
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