Taiwan Street Theater Circa 1966

Street theater in Taiwan back in 1966 was a neighborhood affair. On holidays the local temples hired theatrical troups like this one, the 正新義樂劇團, to put on classical operas like Peach Blossom Fan 桃花扇 or Madam White Snake 白蛇傳. It was all very casual, with people coming and going, and street vendors hawking grilled sausages and steamed corn.

The stage was thrown together quickly with bamboo scaffolding and bare light bulbs. The banner at the top rear is the name of this troup. Musicians sit on each side of the stage, and the actors whirl and twirl around center stage. I remember that generals in a story always had a catch of flags at the small of their back, to represent their armies, I guess.

Backstage two actors posed for the foreigner’s camera in front of racks of costumes. Lots of Internet sites describe the various styles of opera, music, makeup, and costumes. On the left is a scholar and/or official with the curious wings on the back of his cap – the style of which apparently changed over the centuries and can be used to identify the time period. Mandarins often had large, stiff belts that indicated rank (they resembled hula-hoops).

The stage manager took a moment to be photographed while the show took careof itself. In little companies like this one, actors of course played several roles and had frequent costume changes; this fellow had to be prepared to stand in from night to night for any absent talent.

This YouTube video seems close to the spirit of the old street theater, even if the neighborhood looks pretty upscale (right down to the jet plane taking off in the background) Their many musicians are seated in front of the stage instead of on the stage. And, this Wikipedia article on Taiwan Opera is quite comprehensive.

September 27, 2012

A new YouTube video has been added to the list at the lower right. a montage of snapshots taken in Taiwan in the mid 1960s, called Ilha Formosa.

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One Response to Taiwan Street Theater Circa 1966

  1. James Lande says:

    In Taiwan, this form of Chinese opera is called ge-zai-xi 歌仔戲.

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