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TitleLiving Taiwanese Opera: Improvisation, Performance of Gender, and Selection of Tradition
thesisID60
Year2010
AuthorHsu, Katerine
UniversityU.C. Berkeley
DisciplineMusic
Number of pages149
AbstractThis dissertation investigates the culture and cultural production of itinerant, professional
Taiwanese opera performers in Taipei’s temple circuit. I argue that the community of actors and
musicians and their occupational and lifestyle practices constitute a subculture that is central to
both maintaining and transforming Taiwanese opera. Drawing on ethnographic research, I
characterize the opera subculture’s idiosyncratic and fluid features, examine the major ways in
which they are manifested—namely in improvisation, performance of gender, and selection of
tradition—and discuss the cultural work they perform.
Full-time, for-profit troupes—the focus of my research—primarily work for temple
patrons in privately contracted performances and occasionally in government-sponsored events.
Performances in the former venue are improvised or, as the performers describe it, “alive,”
whereas the latter type privileges written practices and marginalizes oral conventions. I assert
that improvisation, a distinctive and crucial attribute in the temple-contracted context, is an
imperative performance skill for producing unscripted stories and a professional strategy for
adapting to new circumstances. My analyses of improvisation as a performance skill highlight
actor-musician interactions in song performance that shows spontaneous musical processes in
opera production. Improvisation, or the ability to be flexible, is a professional strategy with
which performers operate enabling them to maintain the appeal of a traditional art in a rapidly
changing cosmopolitan society. In particular, I argue that the socioeconomic situation in recent
decades and the developing hybrid opera style in the temple context opened a space for an
alternative model of gender performance, one that expresses female masculinity. Moreover,
improvisation as a professional strategy enables performers to adapt to the demands of recently
developed government-sponsored events and participate in a hegemonically-constructed process
for selecting a dominant version of the Taiwanese opera tradition. Through three case studies, I
posit that the performers’ flexible approach in this process constructs multiple versions of the
opera tradition, thereby disrupting authoritative attempts at claiming a singular mode of
production.
Through these analyses, I suggest that Taiwanese opera is a living tradition with
continually shifting conventions and cultural meanings. The performers rapidly adjust to
different and new ways of performance in order to capitalize on opportunities, ensure the cultural
relevancy of their creative production, and secure their livelihood.

Keywords (en)Taiwan;opera;theater;music;culture;business;troupe;language;improvisation;role;network;sound;nationa;government;state;tradition;performance;production;script
LanguageEnglish
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