New York Metropolis

Meditations on Broadway Stage

Coming to New York the number one metropolis in the world, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had no time to see the face of this big city clearly, but first reported and registered at Juilliard School of Music in a hurry. After she had settled down, and everything from bed and board, commuting and selection of courses of study had entered a steady stage; only then did she make use of free periods and weekend holidays to start to know about New York gradually.

In her feeling, New York was just like a magnum opus. The contents included everything. Glance through it once and one felt bustling, broad and vast. Almost everything was there. After tasting New York's cream carefully, one even loved it more. During her year of study here, the places she most loved to go were Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Soho, often lingering in these places for long whiles. Watching shows at Broadway and Off Broadway was an extension of her studies at Juilliard. And the creative art of Soho with its unique styles had impacted the passion for creativity inside her heart time and again.

New York was not just a multi-ethnic modern city, it also assembled the cultures of many races. Music, dance, drama, literature, movie, architecture and art all had their room for expression. The feast of New York's multi-cultural arts made Kuo Hsiao-chuang feel most delectable. To be baptised in such an artistic and cultural environment and taking in the unique airs of New York culture deeply influenced her.

Theaters at Broadway and Off Broadway, from around Time Square to Ninth Avenue, and extending further to 53rd Street, all had been visited by Kuo Hsiao-chuang with her footprints left behind. She had watched a total of over 100 shows of various types. This not only broadened her artistic cells. Shows of which she had the deepest and most vivid impressions included: "The Little Foxes" played by Elizabeth Taylor, the song and dance musicals "Oklahoma" and "A Chorus Line", the musical "Evita" and the ballet "Sleeping Beauty", etc.

Of these, the one that moved her most was "Evita". It described the life events of a woman of marvel of Argentina. She struggled her way up from humble origins, starting as a singer and dancer, until she became the President・s wife loved by the people. Her story was full of legendary vitality. Kuo Hsiao-chuang watched it six times in a row, having a different feeling each time. Watching the female lead's performance on stage, every time her heart was churning and she kept comparing the differences between Chinese drama and Evita. After the show, she kept recalling Evita's moving journey: having to please others for a living, striving for advancement for her future, improving her accomplishments for dignity, and giving all to her country. In 1996, this story was made into a movie "Don・t Cry for Me, Argentina!", starring Madonna and making a smash hit.

At that time, Kuo Hsiao-chuang was also planning the future of Ya Yin Ensemble: Once she finished her study at Juilliard and returned to Taiwan, what subject matter should Ya Yin choose for its performances? How should it be performed? What new expressions should be used? She felt that this trip to America as a learning experience indeed formed an invisible pressure for her own future development. This pressure had piled up heavily on her mind. At this juncture, she watched Evita time and again. The leading actress's humble beginnings, gradually getting heated until the final summit. The living character leaped in her heart. Finally, she had chosen the new play for Ya Yin to stage, and that was "Liang Hung-yu".

Liang Hung-yu had very similar background as Evita. Her life was beset with hardships and sufferings. Finally she met Han Shih-chung her bosom partner, and became the wife of this great general, going into battle for the country, helping her husband repulse the enemy and receiving the praise of the common people. She was a legendary and energetic lady of her time. Having chosen the subject in America, Kuo Hsiao-chuang immediately used the first draft of "Liang Hung-yu" in her travel bag as the basis, beginning to collect materials and work on the form of performance. It could indeed be said that Broadway had a real influence on the direction of Ya Yin's development.

Another aspect of Broadway which attracted Kuo Hsiao-chuang's attention was its modernized stage equipment. After curtain rose, the whole wide stage, except for sets and props, all belonged to the actors. Not only did this open her eyes but also made her elated. In the performance of traditional Chinese opera, the stage did not completely belong to the actors. The accompanying musicians also occupied 'a piece of ground' on the stage. From the angle of the scenery of the show, the cast and the musicians were sharing the stage. This was greatly different in meaning from actors wholly owning the stage and thereby able to extend and be free completely, enlarging the acting space. The hot waves in Kuo Hsiao-chuang's heart welled up wave after wave. The passionate feelings of an actor was hard to describe in words.

The concept of the modern theater was to give back the stage to the performers, and to separately set up orchestral pits below the stage. The music conductor and orchestra performed in the orchestral pit, allowing scene and sound to each have its independent space for expression, and at the same time able to perform together in harmonious unity. With her meticulous observation, she realized the real efficiency brought about by quick changing sets and the stage that could rise and fall and rotate. It made the scenery more variable, more delicate, and, from the audience's point of view, enhanced the visual attraction. For instance, a large prop like helicopter could land on the stage. This truly caused visual stunning. Coupled with the operation of computerized sound effect, the artistic and technological aspects of the modern theater had made a perfect match. One could enjoy the beauty of the mind, and also enjoy audio-visually the impact and pleasure created by technology, maximizing the audio-visual entertainment.

Besides Broadway・s stage, Radio City was also a famous performing venue in New York, and Kuo Hsiao-chuang visited it time and again in the same way. Here it was very roomy with large crowds. Since one could watch a stage performance and a movie show at the same time, if you watched both, it would take about 4 hours. What made her feel special was on entering the door, there were lights with moods, soft and low. Going down along the spiral stairway, you would see tall black nude statues. Along the corridor were placed randomly soft big sofas for people to rest, with large television sets to watch: very comfortable. Inside the theater, there was a very eye catching gigantic stage with wide screen, thick pile carpet, velvet armchair seats, and facilities that made people feel most enjoyable. The usual stage shows were bare leg dances that pandered to the masses. A host of pretty girls looking most attractive and sexy, set off by the lighting, the sets, the costumes and the music. She had always cherished a good impression of the grand scale spectacular song and dance show "America Centennial", especially when scores of dancing girls ran out from the wings on both sides of the stage, looking so grand in scale and setting off the whole scenery and atmosphere most bustling.

After the conclusion of the stage show, a movie show then followed. The well chosen classics drew many movie fans. With tickets at low prices, a large venue and excellent facilities, Radio City had long been a tourist resort in New York.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was Kuo Hsiao-chuang's favorite place. It was indeed a giant treasury of art, with a claim to over 3 million exhibits. The entire museum occupied a total of 4 blocks. A large house with a vast collection, visitors found it most enjoyable and too many things for the eyes to take in. She made special trips here for several Sundays, getting to know works of great masters like Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir, learning about the beauty of modern art in the forms of 20th century sculptures, paintings, embroidery and folk handicraft, etc. What was most unforgettable for her was the fact that parents brought children, sometimes even pushing prams with babies, to walk around the Museum and viewing leisurely. What at heart warming scene! Even though the children were not yet able to appreciate these rare collections, being immersed in culture from childhood was sure to be greatly beneficial to their healthy development mentally and physically. Besides its economic wealth, democratic political system and social freedom, cultural popularity was also an important factor for the USA to be able to become a world super power.

Manhattan was the heart of New York, where the cream of culture, business and living converged, and a must-see for tourists and shoppers. Kuo Hsiao-chuang also went shopping here very often, because everything was available here. Especially on 5th Avenue: shops of the highest class brands abounded, and skyscrapers displayed elegant architecture. Walking leisurely along it, she admired the beautiful architecture as well as the window dressing design of the department stores. Usually when she attended lessons, watched plays, took notes and did her homework, a whole series of studying, her heart was under heavy pressure, always feeling a weight stuffing her chest fully, she even felt a quickening of breath. Only when relaxing on 5th Avenue, watching the guys and dolls coming and going, neat, smart, fashionably dressed, as if the pretty people of the whole world were showing up here, making Kuo Hsiao-chuang feel most pleased, with a sense of sweetness welling up in her heart. The Tiffany・s jewellery shop, Gucci boutique, Steuben crystals, and the huge Sak・s department store lining the street, every posh shop was a feast for the eyes. Sometimes she went inside a shop inspecting the goods, spending hours on end. Sometimes she remained relaxed and just walked around inside taking a look, checking whether new articles were on sale. Even so she still had to spend one or two hours, because the shops were huge and goods were many. Every sort and every item was always refined and elegant, making one unwilling to put it down.

The most exciting thing in New York for Kuo Hsiao-chuang was the sharp sense for information on the latest vogue. From 5th Avenue, from Macy・s the world・s largest department store, from fashion shows organized by the various brands, from reports in fashion magazines, she took in the new information on fashion. She also took pains to analyze special characteristics and styles of fashionable trends in dressing. This aroused great interest in her. Whenever she stood still in front of the shop window of a posh brand, she would study the dress and accessories on each mannequin in great detail, admiring and sampling meticulously, taking note from style design, color combinations to overall feeling. She memorized the essential points by heart, and wrote down her opinions. This had great influence on her style of dressing in future, and on Ya Yin's shows in future and color design of costumes.

A person had to be dressed up with clothing. This was a very sound saying. Kuo Hsiao-chuang deeply realized the truth of this axiom in New York. Neat and proper attire was not just a social etiquette, meticulously designed clothing could also give one spirit, self-confidence, taste and personal style. Kuo Hsiao-chuang learned through performing arts the art of dressing, and ?had more expertise in it. Over the years, she had developed skill from practice and adopted an original approach, placing emphasis on color combinations and establishing taste. She had built up her own style.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang had also expanded the concept of "a person had to be dressed up with clothing" to Ya Yin's stage performance. Traditionally, Chinese opera costumes long had fixed patterns, formats and drawings. Howerver, Kuo Hsiao-chung thought the audience had basic know-how of the time period and the parts・ identities, as represented by the parts・ costumes. Besides, the audience also wanted beauty in the parts・ costumes. Not only had the costumes to be new, colors had to be bright, cutting had to be fit, to give people a visual impression of bright and fresh beauty. This was very important, in everyday life as well as on stage. So Kuo Hsiao-chuang took her living and feelings in New York and expressed it in Ya Yin's performing costume, making revolutionary changes, strengthening brightness of colors and fitness of cutting. New costumes were made for each opera, giving the audience a sense of something new just watching from the auditorium.

Afternoon tea in New York was Kuo Hsiao-chuang's favorite. She could relax with a few good friends, chatting softly and telling about each other's feelings amid the aroma of coffee and sweet music. Sometimes she would close her eyes in meditation, enjoying the tranquility. She loved the afternoon tea of the Plaza Hotel lobby most of all. Lastly because of the grandiose decoration and soft lighting, and partly because of the two old musicians in tails playing a duet of violin and piano. One after another famous number flowed out, floating softly on people・s minds, like the light touch of a passing breeze: comfortable, pleasant and sweet. An intoxicating atmosphere indeed. Years later, she still missed the two old musicians of that metropolis.

New York was indeed memorable. Riding the carriage along tree lined walks in Central Park, dining at the Rainbow Room of the Rockefeller Center, walking around art galleries and antique shops of Montague Avenue, having a grand vista from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, lost in the boundless sea of books in the New York Library, listening to blacks singing jazz in cafes late in the night, seeing the snow of New York in the cold winter, seeing tall and brightly lit Christmas trees at Christmas.... In her heart, a year in New York might be a short time, but the inspiration and influence for her was long lasting and unforgettable forever.

At first, when she set out to America for studies, her parents and she herself were worried that she might not get used to American living, especially when she had from childhood lived in a group in drama school, having to live and study alone in a foreign country was really worrying. Kuo Hsiao-chuang had arrived with such trepidations at heart. Having arrived in America, at San Francisco and New York, she had made unexpected discoveries: the rich and diversified living information of the United States was specifically designed for aliens and travelers from overseas. Once you knew how to use it, it would solve many inconveniences for you. Therefore, when Kuo Hsiao-chuang was living alone in New York, she nevertheless was having a good time, fully enjoying the pleasure of independence. This "New York experience" also had a positive effect on the independent operation and highly autonomous nature of Ya Yin Ensemble in the future.