婉轉九腔十八調──客家採茶戲盼薪傳

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2000 / 6月

文‧張瓊方 圖‧薛繼光


和許多族群一樣,客家也有屬於自己特色的戲曲,但隨著時代的變遷漸趨沒落,不僅鮮為人知,甚至連年輕的客家子弟都不曾見識過。

從三腳採茶戲到客家大戲,從內台演出座無虛席,到如今戲棚下觀眾三三兩兩,客家戲曲的特色何在?有哪些特別吸引人處?與京戲(平劇)、崑曲、歌仔戲有何不同?


現在要看客家大戲,等閒日子很難,總要等到有什麼神明生日,或是節慶的「酬神」時刻。去年過年前,農曆十一月初八,「榮興客家採茶劇團」應邀在苗栗頭份上興里的伯公廟前演出了「收冬戲」,也就是所謂的「平安戲」。

平安戲

每年冬天,上興里村民為感謝伯公庇佑,在收割後、正對著伯公廟的田地上搭起了戲棚,請戲酬神。

酬神戲少不得要扮仙,所謂「扮仙」就是在正戲開演前,由演員扮成「三仙」或「八仙」,把民眾酬神、還願、祈福、除煞等心願傳達給神明。

滴滴答答下著雨,天氣又溼又冷,台下幾位忠實的老觀眾,撐著傘,坐在台下等戲開演,後台演員見狀趕緊梳妝打扮,唯恐讓老人家等太久。

洋琴、胖胡、嗩吶吹奏起來,戲正式開演,今日午戲戲碼《棋盤山》,演的是薛平貴遇難、兒子率兵救駕,在棋盤山遇賊婆的故事。觀眾在雨中看得聚精會神、津津有味,但算一算台下人數,連同娃娃車裡的嬰兒在內,不到十人,真個是演戲的人比看戲的人多。

千迴百折,餘音裊裊

客家大戲是由傳統的三腳採茶戲發展出來的,而採茶戲的基本元素則是名聞遐邇的客家山歌。

「採茶要採兩三片、三日冇採就老了……」

客家山歌時而委婉動人、時而清脆高亢,韻味十足。清末提倡文學改良的黃遵憲在《人境廬詩草》描述客家山歌︰「瑤峒月夜,男女隔嶺唱和,興往情來,餘音裊娜,猶存歌仙之遺風,一字千回百折,哀厲而長,稱山歌。」

採茶歌,又稱山歌。不少人會哼唱,不會唱的人也偶有所聞,但究竟什麼是「採茶戲」,很多人就不明所以了。

採茶戲是客家戲的總稱,起源於江西贛南九龍山茶區。它與四平、亂彈相同,是早期隨著大陸移民傳到台灣的戲劇。

話說茶與居處山區、丘陵的客家族群息息相關,種茶、採茶、山嶺間你來我往地吆喝、呼朋引伴,逐漸發展變成曲調。由山歌的歌謠變成「採茶唱」歌舞(稱採茶燈或茶籃燈),再慢慢演變成演員人數不超過三人的「三腳採茶」民間小戲。

「地方性、活潑性是地方戲曲的兩大特色,」台灣戲曲專科學校校長鄭榮興指出,由山歌、歌舞演變而來的三腳採茶戲,相當具有客家特色,無論是唱腔、故事情節、人物對話都與客家的生活環境密切相關。

台灣客家的採茶劇團分佈在北台灣客家聚落桃竹苗等地,其他縣市客家聚落並沒有採茶劇團。據說是因為早期有一批三腳戲班團員移居桃竹苗一帶,在當地組成戲班演戲,而南部的客家移民中沒有戲班中人,一直以來只有山歌傳唱,沒有採茶劇團。

台灣的採茶戲一開始被政府列入大陸劇種,後來又與歌仔戲混淆不清,直到近年,客家採茶戲才以「客家戲曲」之名,被視為單一劇種。

三腳採茶

客家戲之所以稱為採茶戲,除了唱腔為客家的山歌採茶調外,傳統三腳採茶戲的故事內容也都是圍繞著「採茶」打轉。

流傳台灣的三腳採茶戲,完全是以張三郎賣茶的故事為主軸,衍伸出各個小段的戲齣。

三腳採茶戲的特色在於「三腳」,演員只有一丑二旦。

故事內容大致上是:張三郎與妻子、妹妹三人上山採茶,路上準備簡單的供品祭拜伯公(上山採茶)。茶葉採收完畢,茶郎在家無所事事,妻妹於是勸他扛茶到外地去賣(送郎十里亭),茶郎於是出外賣茶,妻捨不得丈夫遠行,拉著茶郎的傘尾不肯鬆手(綁傘尾),茶郎無奈將妻推開上船。茶郎到了異鄉桃花村,遇見熱情的酒店大姊,兩人情投意合(糶酒)。三年後,茶郎的茶賣完了、錢也花光了,不得不返鄉,酒店大姊於是送茶郎(勸郎怪姐)。茶郎妻擔心茶郎的安危,去找算命仙卜卦(問卜),賣茶郎回家(陳仕雲),姑嫂迎接賣茶郎(接哥)、(山歌對)、(打海棠),返家後,茶郎妻向茶郎盤問茶錢去處,茶郎反駁茶郎妻(盤堵),最後故事以喜劇收場。

在地的客家採茶

「妹在那崗郎這崗,眼角丟來真難當,葵花有心專向日,妹若有心手向郎。」

「對面阿哥眼真歪,三番四次偷看我,大大方方奔(給)你看,日後相思莫怨我。」

三腳採茶戲內容詼諧逗趣,戲中不時穿插男女調情的山歌小調,因而一度被認為「淫穢」,遭官方禁演。由於三腳採茶被認為難登大雅之堂,廟會酬神、拜拜多捨採茶而選擇亂彈、四平等大戲。

「這種戲冇人要看啦,」十幾歲開始演戲,至今已六十幾歲的黃秀滿歌劇團團長黃秀滿指出,一般作醮請戲都要演大戲,誰要請只有三個人演出的小戲?

基於以上的種種原因,採茶戲經過「改良」,不僅加入許許多多歷史故事,也與亂彈、四平融合、交流,大約在民國十年左右,發展出所謂的改良戲,也就是所謂的「客家大戲」。

至此,台灣的客家戲已不同於「原產地」,而有了「在地」的特色與風貌。

九腔十八調

曲調、唱腔原本是戲劇的重點,鄭榮興說:「所謂的戲曲,不唱曲,就不叫戲。」

客家山歌的曲調種類繁多,內容豐富,素有「九腔十八調」之稱。所謂的腔,指的是客家語言特有的腔,調則是小調,根據鄭榮興的估算,客家小調有幾百首之多。

採茶戲的曲調則以採茶調、山歌仔、平板為主。平板、山歌仔屬於大調,曲調固定,但詞可以隨意變化。

傳統的三腳採茶戲有固定的唱腔,不能隨意更改;改良的採茶戲則以採茶調(平板)為主要唱腔,山歌仔為次要唱腔,傳統的九腔十八調則成了點綴性的唱腔。

演員方面,因採茶戲中常有男女調情的山歌小調,在傳統禮教的約束下,女性自然不被允許走這一行,因此早期客家採茶戲沒有女演員,多由男性反串,直到民國初年,鄭榮興的祖母(鄭美妹)及阿玉旦這第一批童齡女演員加入後,才慢慢有女演員。

日演亂彈,夜唱採茶

跟歌仔戲、布袋戲等戲劇相同,客家採茶戲也在台灣光復後經歷過一段興盛期,當時除了節慶、廟會酬神外,還有在戲院演出的內台戲,一演就是十天半個月,劇團動輒上百人、少則四、五十人,黃秀滿說,當年阿玉旦、鄭美妹等都是名角,《雪梅教子》、《孟麗君》、《小媳婦還沒有來不知道大媳婦好》……等等,都是叫好又叫座的戲碼。

後來,為了迎合當時的觀眾,採茶戲甚至還穿插歌仔戲、流行歌的演出,此即所謂的「烏摻豆」型態。

除了客家人最重視的七月義民節外,正月媽祖生、正月初九天公生、七月半、八月半、收冬做醮,都是客家演戲的日子。

野台演出形式大致上是,早上九至十一點之間有「扮仙」,下午兩點半到五點演「日戲」,晚上七點半到十點演「夜戲」。一般而言,日戲要比較中規中矩,夜戲則可以詼諧逗趣,因而有「日演亂彈,夜唱採茶」的說法。

當年採茶戲在客家庄非常受歡迎,在旗山務農的古德福記得,大伯父娶親時,請來採茶戲團作戲,原本計畫演出五天,但第二天就有人跑來罵,原因是大家都不做事跑來看戲,於是最後兩天只得取消了。

內湖客家民謠班班長鄭瑞淼小時候也是採茶戲迷,他說只要有戲班來演出,大家七早八早就回家等看戲,「還有些媽媽們,戲班到哪裡就跟到哪裡,有些甚至還包車去呢!」

台灣光復後,台灣戲曲蓬勃發展,光復前後二十年是採茶戲的全盛時期。可惜好景不常,民國五十年代,電視、電影興起,加上天災頻仍,政府提倡節約、移風易俗,要求統一大拜拜,戲曲的演出機會大減,內台也不見了,演員紛紛轉業,有些則轉向外台演出,一演就是三、四十年。

隨著演員的年老、凋零,採茶劇團不斷縮減,如今剩下十來團,鄭榮興和黃秀滿劇團算是其中戲約較多、還經常出團的,角色還都齊全,連文武場在內,還有十幾、二十人參與演出,其餘多零零落落,湊不足數。

演出「烏摻豆」

去年農曆十一月十五、十六,桃園縣楊梅鎮國寶新村福德祠翻修十五週年慶,村民盛大地舉行閹雞比賽,同時也請來黃秀滿歌劇團演兩天戲。這是黃秀滿歌劇團連續第六年到此地演出。

黃秀滿歌劇團在桃、竹、苗一帶頗負盛名,民國八十二年,該團以《趙匡胤千里送京娘》一劇,在台灣省客家戲劇比賽中,拿下全團、小生、文武場三冠王的殊榮。

黃秀滿演戲得自母親「阿玉旦」的真傳,十歲就跟著母親學演戲,十四歲就演小旦,如今已六十多歲的她,多年前已改演小生。

十一點左右,戲臺上開始扮《三仙祝壽》,約莫十幾分鐘扮完仙,黃秀滿在後台開始思索下午要演出什麼戲碼。她說,下午看戲多是老人家,偏好古路的歷史戲,比較常演出的是樊梨花、岳飛、包公案、上帝公出世等等。

雖然黃秀滿腦海裡有六十幾齣戲碼在轉,但由於這裡已連演六年,年年不得重複,再加上考慮演員人數、歲數,決定起來還真有些困難。

演員們都是老將,每齣戲、每個角色都能演,只要稍微提醒、複習一下,就能粉墨登場。演出過程中,演員們還會自己加油添醋、臨場即興,增加趣味。

野台的採茶戲中,偶而可以聽到歌仔調,甚至有用客家話和閩南語對話的演出。

黃秀滿說,早期採茶戲班為了走出客家地區、拓展演出腹地,多練就了在客家庄唱採茶,在閩南庄唱歌仔戲的本領,甚至加入舞蹈、流行歌、話劇等演出,真個是古今、中西合璧。

老人做戲,老人看

近年由於演出機會減少,戲團紛紛削價競爭,也導致採茶劇團的水準日益滑落。

黃秀滿指出,目前一棚戲的行情是三萬五千到四萬元間,演員一天的演出費至少兩千元,樂師要三、四千,戲團為了收支平衡,只得縮減演員人數,演出水準自然大打折扣。

「平均一個月演出不到十天,演員生計無法維持,」黃秀滿說,演員轉行的轉行,有些則在沒有演出時兼做喪葬場合的「孝女」賺外快。

由於大部分的劇團都沒有新血加入,客家採茶戲也就隨著演員的年歲日增而逐漸凋零。

「戲都是老人家在演、老人家在看,年輕人看不懂,也不願意學,」黃秀滿說。以她的班底為例,演員年紀多在五、六十歲上下,其中一位年紀最大的已八十一歲。

因為後繼無人,這一批演員就一路演下來,從小演戲演到老。有些人固然嗓音極好,但化起妝來,仍舊難掩老態。

歲月不饒人,採茶劇團也由當年的四、五十團,至今剩下十團左右,有些團根本組不起來,就連目前演出邀約不少的黃秀滿都說:「年紀大了,我考慮明年把團收起來、不做了!」

近年來,隨著本土運動的蓬勃,也有人想復興客家大戲。

現代採茶

民國七十六年,原名「苗栗慶美園採茶劇團」的「榮興客家採茶劇團」復團,採茶戲名伶鄭美妹之孫鄭榮興,企圖力挽狂瀾。

一九九二年,榮興採茶劇團獲頒教育部的「民族藝術薪傳獎」;一九九五年應國家劇院邀請,製作演出《婆媳風雲》;同年,台北市傳統藝術季推出客家原味小品《拋採茶》。一九九六年八月,在國家劇院演出《相親節──姻緣冇錯配》。

在野台已不復見的傳統三腳採茶戲,由於資深老藝人的傳授教導,又重現舞台。除了展現客家採茶戲的原味風貌外,不論是服裝、燈光、劇本都經過改良、創新,甚至打上字幕,讓非客家族群也能欣賞。

「改良是把它弄得更好看,」鄭榮興指出,聲腔、語言和精神結構都還是傳統的客家採茶戲。

「戲劇總是跟著社會型態改變而轉變,在傳承過去遺留下來的技藝之餘,隨著社會脈動不斷演化推進,是戲曲賴以生存的不二法則,」鄭榮興如是說。

改良後的客家大戲,在脫離三腳採茶戲的形式之後,採茶戲仍保有客家戲曲特有的唱腔,但作表方式與平劇、歌仔戲類似。鄭榮興認為,中國肢體語言表演最好的其實是京劇,其他劇種紛紛起而仿效,因而作表方式都趨於相同。

因此,在外行人看來,改良後的客家採茶戲除了語言外,似乎與京劇、歌仔戲沒有太大的差別,因而也有人稱採茶戲為「客家歌仔戲」。但懂得看門道的內行人看採茶戲,除了曲調、唱腔不同外,作表方式也還約略可以看出一些差異,鄭榮興指出,由於三腳採茶起源於「落地掃」,因此小丑、小旦的走路方式仍有別於京劇。

客家薪傳

復興客家採茶戲最重要的還是在薪火相傳,培養新人是首要工作,三年前,榮興開始招募新血。民國八十六年七月,「苗栗客家戲曲學苑」接受行政院文建會委託執行「民間藝術保存傳習計劃」,招募學生學習客家採茶戲。執行秘書范揚坤指出,招募的二十多位學生都是二十歲上下的在學生,學苑利用假日傳授他們客家採茶戲。

除此之外,鄭榮興指出,國立台灣戲曲專科學校也預計在明年成立客家戲科,未來將負擔傳承客家戲劇的重要任務。

重現採茶戲當年的風光或許不易,但只要有人願意傳承,它就有機會繼續下去......

p.94

只有在客家地區的廟會活動時,偶爾可以看到採茶戲團演出,然而,除了語言,一般台灣人可能搞不清楚採茶戲跟歌仔戲有什麼不同?

p.95

酬神戲開演前少不得要「扮仙」,常見的是「三仙」與「八仙」,圖中扮演的是財神。

p.95

採茶戲的特色在於曲調和唱腔,作表方式雖不若平劇精緻,但也差堪比擬。

p.96

以揚琴、三弦、椰胡等樂器伴奏的客家戲,比哭調為主的歌仔戲要來得輕鬆。

p.97

老演員熟練的梳妝打扮,準備粉墨登場。然而,眼看著台上、台下都是老人,怎不令人憂心風趣詼諧的客家採茶戲是否即將消失?

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(左、右)去年底,楊梅國寶新村福德祠翻修十五週年慶,除了請採茶戲團和醒獅團演出外,還舉行閹雞比賽,奪得「一等」的閹雞重達十九斤半。

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戲臺正對著伯公廟搭建,雖說請戲的目的是酬神,不過戲臺下觀眾三三兩兩,戲臺上唱戲的人也提不起勁來。

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Opera, Anyone?Hakka Traditions in Transition

Chang Chiung-fang /photos courtesy of Hsueh Chi-kuang /tr. by David Mayer

Like so many other ethnic groups, the Hakkas have their distinctive forms of opera, but their popularity has declined in recent decades. Even in Hakka communities, many of the younger generation have never even been to see a Hakka opera performance.

Hakka opera offers a range of different types, from three-part tea-picking opera to grand opera, and while there was once a time when tea-picking opera troupes played at indoor theaters to huge crowds, today's audiences are tiny. What exactly distinguishes Hakka opera from other types, such as Peking Opera, Kunqu opera, or ge zai xi (Taiwanese opera). What are its strong points?


The chance to see a performance of Hakkanese grand opera is hard to come by these days. It isn't put on anymore except on special occasions, such as the birthday of a god or a feast day in honor of a deity. In mid-December of last year, the Rom Shing Hakka Opera Troupe put on a performance at the Earth God Temple in the village of Shanghsingli in Toufen Township, Miaoli County. The selection on that occasion was an operatic work thanking the god for a bountiful harvest.

Let the show begin

Every winter after the harvest has been completed, the people of Shanghsingli put up a temporary stage in front of the Earth God temple to thank the Earth God for his beneficence. This type of drama, known as chou shen xi (thank-the-gods drama), comes in many varieties, but it generally comprises a main show preceded by a type of propitiatory drama called ban xian xi, in which the actors play the parts of various spirits (sometimes three, and at others eight) who act as a sort of go-between the people and the gods. The propitiatory drama serves many different purposes at the same time-to thank the gods for general good fortune or for specific prayers answered, for example, or to drive away evil spirits.

It is raining today in Shanghsingli, and there is a chill dampness in the air. A few hard-core fans, all of them getting on in years, sit in front of the stage with umbrellas in hand, waiting for the show to begin. The actors backstage hurry with their makeup and costumes, so as not to keep the old folks waiting.

The performance gets underway, and the sounds of various stringed and wind instruments liven up the chilly scene. In today's performance a man named Xue Pinggui is captured by the enemy and his son leads a contingent of troops to rescue his him. On the way, the son meets up with a bandit-woman on Mount Qipan. The theater-goers look on from under their umbrellas with rapt attention, but there are less than ten of them there even counting the baby in a stroller. The performers practically outnumber the audience!

The hills are alive...

Hakkanese grand opera developed from traditional three-part tea-picking opera, which itself derives from the very well known tea-picking songs that the Hakkas have long sung in the mountains. Hakka tea-picking songs are now lilting, now crisp and sonorous, and have an elegant air to them. The late-Qing author Huang Zunxian, who advocated literary innovation, described Hakka tea-picking songs as follows: "Lads and lasses sing to each other from neighboring hillsides. The hills reverberate continually with the sound of their singing, for they can hold a single note for the longest time. It is as if there were some sort of music sprite flitting gaily about the whole day long."

Many people can hum tea-picking melodies, and even those who can't sing it still hear it from time to time. But what exactly is tea-picking opera? There are plenty of people who don't have the slightest idea. Tea-picking opera is the general term for any type of Hakka theater, and has its roots in the tea growing region of Mount Jiulong in southern Jiangxi Province. Like other forms of popular performing arts, such as siping and luantan theater, it made the jump to Taiwan along with the earliest immigrants from the mainland.

There is no undoing the close ties between tea and the Hakkas who have long cultivated it in mountainous areas of southern China and Taiwan. The image of youthful tea pickers wending their way among the planted rows, calling out to each other from neighboring hills, will forever be associated with Hakka culture. Thanks to this activity, a repertoire of songs has been built up over the years. These tea-picking songs became the basis of stage musicals called cai cha deng or cha lan deng, which in turn gradually evolved into three-part tea-picking opera, a name which derives from the fact that no more than three performers take part.

"Strong local flavor and a lively informality are the two hallmarks of local drama." This is the view of Cheng Jung-hsing, president of the National Taiwan Junior College of Performing Arts, who notes the distinctly Hakka character of three-part tea-picking opera. It is intimately related to Hakka life in terms of its vocal music, story lines, and dialogue.

Taiwan's Hakka tea-picking opera troupes are only found in the northern counties of Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Miaoli. As the story goes, this is because a three-part tea-picking opera troupe that immigrated to Taiwan in the early days of Han Chinese settlement decided to make its home in this area, while no such troupes ever immigrated to any of the Hakka communities of southern Taiwan. They say that this explains why the Hakkas of southern Taiwan sing tea-picking songs but don't have tea-picking opera.

Taiwan's tea-picking opera has always been classified by the government as one type of mainland Chinese opera. In Taiwan, however, it has become rather difficult to distinguish between tea-picking opera and Taiwanese opera, for the two have greatly influenced each other. It is only in recent years that Hakka tea-picking opera and other Hakka opera forms have come to be seen as a category in their own right.

Three-part tea-picking opera

Hakkanese opera is called tea-picking opera for two main reasons. First, the vocal music is adapted from Hakka tea-picking songs. Second, all the story lines in traditional three-part Hakkanese opera involve tea-picking. In fact, the story lines in Taiwan are even more focused than that-in every work of three-part tea-picking opera that plays anywhere on the island, the story revolves around a particular sojourn by a man named Zhang Sanlang, who set off from home to sell his tea.

The plot unfolds in a series of about a dozen different works. In Shang Shan Cai Cha (Tea-picking in the Hills), Zhang Sanlang goes tea-picking with his wife and younger sister. On the way, they prepare some offerings with which to pay their respects to the local Earth God. In Song Lang Shi Li Ting (Proposing a Journey for the Master), the trio finish picking their tea. Seeing Zhang idling about the house with nothing to do, his wife and sister persuade him to take his tea on the road and sell it. In the remaining works, Zhang sets out to sell his tea, but his wife tugs at his umbrella, reluctant to let him go. Zhang finally forces his wife to turn back, and he sets off on his way. Arriving at a distant village, he meets a high-spirited barmaid and the two take an immediate liking to each other. Three years later, having sold all his tea and spent all his money, Zhang must return home. The barmaid bids him farewell. Zhang's wife, in the meantime, has become worried about her husband's well-being, and consults a fortune teller. Zhang returns home, and is welcomed by his younger sister. Zhang's wife wants to know where all the money went, and Zhang cleverly turns her accusations back upon her. The finale is a happy ending.

Tea-picking opera goes native

The lyrics of three-part tea-picking opera are very playful: "Hey there, girl on yonder hill! How can I resist your eyes? As the flower turns toward the sun, turn your loving heart my way!" More often than not, the subject is romance: "Hey there, guy across the gully! All day long you peek and glance. If tomorrow you're still lonely, don't blame me! You had your chance!" The frequent focus on male-female relationships has led officials on many occasions to ban three-part tea-picking opera for being too prurient, while organizers of temple events have long tended to eschew it in favor of luantan (also known as beiguan) and siping opera.

"No one watches this kind of opera anymore," laments Huang Hsiu-man, an actress in her 60s who has been performing three-part tea-picking opera since she was a teenager. According to Huang, if you really want to put on a rousing performance you have to do grand opera because no one is interested in watching just three people on stage. In fact, this was clear as early as around 1920, when some in the theatrical community began to innovate by composing many new historical dramas and fusing three-part tea-picking opera with luantan and siping opera. The new "revised opera" has come to be known as Hakkanese grand opera. With that development, Taiwan's tea-picking opera took off in a new direction and differentiated itself from its mainland Chinese predecessor.

Lots of variants

Vocal music is the focal point of Chinese opera. According to Cheng Jung-hsing, "An opera without singing is not opera." The vocal music in Hakka tea-picking songs comes in many different varieties; by Cheng Jung-hsing's estimate, there are several hundred types. In tea-picking opera there are three main types. The melodies never change; only the lyrics do.

Luantan by day...

For a long time, traditional Chinese moral concepts effectively banned females from performing in the often-suggestive three-part tea-picking opera, so the female roles used to be played in most cases by male performers. That did not change in any major way until the 1940s when a group of child stars-including Cheng Jung-hsing's grandmother (Cheng Mei-mei) and Ah Yu-tan-broke the taboo. The number of female performers then began to gradually increase.

Just like puppet theater and Taiwanese opera, Hakka tea-picking opera was hugely popular for a time after Japan handed Taiwan back to Chinese rule in 1945. In addition to holidays and temple festivals, it was often performed indoors at theaters in extravaganzas that continued for up to two weeks in a row. The cast often ran to over 100 performers, and even the smaller events could boast some 40 or 50 performers. Ah Yu-tan and Cheng Mei-mei were very famous back then, and many of their performances earned critical acclaim while attracting huge audiences. Later, in order to suit the tastes of the day, tea-picking opera began to incorporate pop songs and elements of Taiwanese opera.

In addition to the annual Hakka holiday in July to commemorate the Yimin Militiamen, which ranks as the most important Hakka religious celebration of the year, Hakka theater is also performed on many other occasions, including Matsu's birthday in the first lunar month, the Jade Emperor's birthday on the ninth day of the first lunar month, and various other holidays throughout the year.

Outdoor theater generally starts at 9:00 in the morning with a two-hour propitiatory drama, which is more or less one long prayer to the gods. The "day drama" starts at 2:30 in the afternoon and runs until 5:00, and then the "evening drama" runs from 7:30 to 10:00 pm. Generally speaking, the day drama tends to be relatively formal, while the evening drama is more playful, hence the phrase, "luantan by day, tea-picking opera by night."

Just how popular was tea-picking opera in Hakka communities? Ku Te-fu, a farmer from the township of Chishan in Kaohsiung County, recounts the tale of his uncle's marriage. The uncle hired a tea-picking opera troupe to entertain the wedding guests and planned for the celebration to last five days, but people came complaining on the second day that nobody in town could get any work done because everybody was watching the performances. They had to wind up the celebration after three days in order to keep the peace!

Cheng Jui-miao, head of a Hakka folk song group in the Taipei suburb of Neihu, was a big fan of tea-picking opera as a child. He recalls that whenever a theater troupe came to town, everybody would drop whatever they were doing, come back home to watch the morning performance, go back to work, come back later for the afternoon performance, and get back to work one more time before coming back to catch the evening performance. "There were some ladies who would follow the troupe around wherever it went. Some people even chartered buses for entire groups!"

After Taiwan reverted to Chinese rule in 1945 Taiwanese opera went through a period of intense development, and tea-picking opera enjoyed a 20-year golden age. But nothing lasts forever, unfortunately. Modern technology-especially television and movies-began stealing audiences away in the 1960s, while a succession of natural disasters prompted the government to push for austerity and ask people to hold fewer temple events. Opera performances became less frequent, with indoor performances disappearing altogether. Some performers switched careers entirely, while many who had been involved in indoor performances had to start performing in the open air. Little did they know that 30 or 40 years would go by without another chance to perform indoors. Troupe members have aged and begun dying off one by one, and today there are only about a dozen tea-picking opera troupes left in Taiwan. The troupes run by Cheng Jung-hsing and Huang Hsiu-man are among the busier ones. They get hired very regularly, and are able to put enough performers on stage-sometimes as many as 20-to fill all the roles even in relatively large productions. The other troupes, however, are all very much in decline and cannot muster the number of performers needed for big shows.

Eclectic performances

In late December 1999, Fu-te Temple in Taoyuan County celebrated the 15th anniversary of the temple's complete renovation, and local residents held a big contest to see who could show the most obese rooster. And for the sixth year in a row, they hired Huang Hsiu-man's troupe to put on two days of theatrical performances. This troupe is quite well known in the counties of Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Miaoli, and in 1993 won top honors in three categories-best opera troupe, best young male character, and best musical accompaniment-at an island-wide Hakkanese opera contest.

Huang Hsiu-man learned her craft from her mother, the famed Ah Yu-tan, under whom she began studying at the age of ten. Huang began at age 14 to play the roles of young females. Now she's over 60 years old and has long since switched to playing the roles of young males.

At about 11:00 they begin to perform a propitiatory drama, which finishes up in less than 20 minutes, and Huang Hsiu-man starts thinking backstage about what to perform in the afternoon. Huang says mostly old folks watch the afternoon performances, which tend to go heavy on historical dramas. Although she knows 60 different works, selecting one for the afternoon is still quite difficult. This is her sixth year at this event, and she can't repeat anything that she's done here before. Furthermore, there aren't so many performers available, and they're all getting on in years. All these factors narrow down her options considerably.

The performers are seasoned veterans who can handle each role in each work. All it takes is a short little refresher and they're ready immediately for full-dress performance. They often get creative on stage and improvise on the spur of the moment, which adds to the fun.

You sometimes hear strains of Taiwanese opera mixed in with outdoor tea-picking opera, and there are even scenes where one character will speak Hakka and the other will answer in Minnan. According to Huang Hsiu-man, tea-picking opera troupes learned very early on to sing in Hakka to Hakka audiences and in Minnan to Minnan-speaking audiences in order to appeal to as many different audiences as possible. These troupes have often added dance routines, pop tunes, and non-musical stage plays to their repertoires, with truly eclectic results.

Old performers, old audiences

The decline of traditional opera has forced troupes to cut prices to stay in business, and this has naturally had a deleterious effect upon the quality of their performances. According to Huang Hsiu-man, the going price for a single performance is usually around NT$35,000 to NT$40,000. Each stage actor earns at least NT$2,000 per day, while a musician commands a daily salary of NT$3,000 to NT$4,000. The only way troupes can keep afloat is by reducing the number of performers. The quality of the shows has naturally declined.

"A performer doesn't get so many gigs-less than ten days a month on average," says Huang, "and you can't live on that kind of money." Many have abandoned their stage careers, while those who continue to perform often supplement their income by working the funerals as professional wailers. Since there are no young performers joining the troupes, Hakka tea-picking opera is gradually disappearing as the current performers age. "It's all old folks up on stage and old folks down in the audience," says Huang. "Young people can't understand it and don't care to learn." The youngest members in her troupe, for example, are all in their 50s and 60s, while the rest range on up to 81.

Because there is no new blood coming in, these people have performed steadily ever since their youth. Even for those who still have good singing voices, all the makeup in the world won't hide the signs of age. As the saying goes, "Time forgives no one." The number of tea-picking opera troupes has dropped from 40 or 50 to about a dozen today, and some of the remaining ones are as good as defunct, for they can't gather the resources to put on a proper performance. Even the busy Huang Hsiu-man says, "I'm getting pretty old. I'm thinking about closing down the troupe next year and retiring."

Modern tea-picking opera

With the movement in recent years toward a more Taiwan-centered culture, some have thought it time to breathe new life into Hakkanese grand opera. After his famous grandmother's troupe closed down, Cheng Jung-hsing revived it in 1997 under a new name-the Rom Shing Hakka Opera Troupe. In 1992 Cheng's troupe won the Ministry of Education's Award for Folk Art Preservation. In 1995, the troupe produced and performed a special work at the invitation of the National Theater. In that same year, the Taipei Municipal Government's Traditional Arts Festival invited the troupe to perform a traditional Hakka drama. And in August 1996, they appeared in yet another work at the National Theater.

Traditional three-part tea-picking opera, which had totally disappeared from outdoor stages, is now making a bit of a comeback thanks to the educational efforts of many stage veterans. Besides demonstrating the original look and feel of the fundamental elements of Hakka three-part tea-picking opera, the effort has included an overhaul of the costumes, lighting, and scripts. They have even started putting up screens for running captions so that non-Hakka audiences can following the dialogue. "We added some innovations to make it more interesting," says Cheng Jung-hsing, while emphasizing that the vocal style, language, and overall spirit of the works are all the same as ever. "Stage drama always changes in step with society," says Cheng. "While the fundamentals are passed down from one generation to the next, the art evolves in response to changes in society. That's how drama survives. It couldn't be otherwise."

Although it has dispensed with some of the forms of traditional three-part tea-picking opera, Hakkanese grand opera still retains the unique vocal style that marks it as Hakka opera. The acting techniques, however, have come to resemble those of Peking Opera or Taiwanese opera. In the opinion of Cheng Jung-hsing, among all the different types of Chinese opera, Peking Opera has the best stage acting techniques. All the others are just imitations of Peking Opera, so the acting is quite similar. For the average non-theater buff, apart from the fact that the language is Hakka, the new type of tea-picking opera doesn't appear to be much different from Peking Opera or Taiwanese opera. In fact, there are people who describe tea-picking opera as "Taiwanese opera performed in Hakka." But the true connoisseur can pick out subtle differences in melodies, vocal style, and acting techniques. Cheng Jung-hsing, for example, points out that the young jesters and young female characters in tea-picking opera walk differently than they do in Peking Opera, because tea-picking opera drew most heavily in its early days on a different type of opera called luo di sao.

Passing on Hakka culture

If tea-picking opera is to be revived, the most important task is to train a new generation of performers, which is why Cheng Jung Hsing's troupe began recruiting new blood three years ago. In July 1997, the Executive Yuan's Council for Cultural Affairs hired the Miaoli Academy of Hakka Theater to take part in the council's Folk Arts Preservation and Training Program. The troupe's role in the program is to train young performers of tea-picking opera. According to executive secretary Fan Yang-kun, all of the 20 or more students enrolled are about 20 years old. They're still students, and thus only have time to study tea-picking opera during vacations.

In addition, Cheng Jung-hsing also states that the National Taiwan Junior College of Performing Arts is planning to establish a Hakka drama department this year, which will certainly play an important role in cultivating a new generation of performers. It may not be easy to bring back the tea-picking opera of yesteryear, but as long as there are people willing to take up the torch, there is a good chance that the art will continue to live on.

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Tea-picking opera is only performed these days at an occasional temple function. Apart from the language, probably most people in Taiwan can't tell the difference between tea-picking opera and the ubiquitous Taiwanese opera.

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When people organize stage performances to honor the gods, the first item on the agenda is always a "propitiatory drama" in which the actors play the parts of various spirits (sometimes three, and at others eight) who act as a sort of go-between the people and the gods. The performer here is playing the part of the god of wealth.

Although the melodies, vocal style, and acting techniques in tea-picking opera are not quite as refined as those in Peking Opera, tea-picking opera has evolved to a similar level of artistic achievement within its own parameters.

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With tea-picking opera, the musical accompaniment is lighter and cheerier than the dirges generally heard in Taiwanese opera.

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Veteran performers have every move down pat as they prepare costumes and makeup. But both on stage and down in the audience, you find only old folks. One cannot help but worry whether the humorous antics of tea-picking opera will soon become a thing of the past.

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(facing page) Late last year, Fu-te Temple in Taoyuan County celebrated the 15th anniversary of the temple's complete renovation. They hired a tea-picking opera troupe and lion dancers to mark the occasion. (above) In addition to the stage performances, the event also included a contest to see who could show the most obese rooster. The winning rooster weighed in at close to 12 kilos!

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A temporary outdoor stage has been set up immediately opposite an Earth God temple. The purpose of hiring a drama troupe is to thank the gods for their benevolence and supplicate them for their continued good graces, but the audience is sparse, and the performers look rather uninspired.

Tea-picking opera is only performed these days at an occasional temple function. Apart from the language, probably most people in Taiwan can't tell the difference between tea-picking opera and the ubiquitous Taiwanese opera.

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