The Social View of Choice of Roles
Playing Positive Characters

In the process of Ya Yin's growth and development, society might be said to have in general affirmed her innovative spirit and achievements.

The fundamental condition of her success should be choice of subject matter and script writing.

The 11 operas already performed by Ya Yin covered a wide range of subjects, from delicate small scale works reflecting human nature, to grand operas manifesting national scales. Choice of subject was not restricted to lyric operas or traditional novels of the past. So long as it was innovative, could weed through the old to bring forth the new, it would be considered usable by Ya Yin. In this respect, Kuo Hsiao-chuang was most earnest in her deliberations. She often compared, rated and analysed among plays she had seen, works she had read or recommendations from teachers and friends. She further discussed with playwrights the relative merits and faults, and choice of what to take and what to discard. Only then was the plot formulated and the scriptwriting commenced. To write a script for Ya Yin was indeed an effort requiring hard work and fraught with difficulties.

Everybody knew Kuo Hsiao-chuang's emphasis on the script. For the storyline of "Madam Han" losing her son on the eve of the great battle, she had discussed with Meng Yao for 2 months. She insisted that this injury in terms of parental love could make the mother turn grief into power, the dramatic effect would be considerable and the actors would certainly put up a moving show. Meng Yao was finally won round and promised to write it. For the plot of "Peacock Gall Bladder", she also often talked to Wang An-chi on the telephone for 2 to 3 hours at a stretch. Once she suddenly called up Wang An-chi at 2 a.m. to discuss a ¡§brainwave¡¨ she thought of. She was always earnest and immersed in her work, as if her whole being was living in the opera. All actors who had worked with her would be moved by this zeal of hers.

In fact, besides placing great importance on subject matter and the script, she placed even greater emphasis on the character type. But this was usually overlooked by people in general. They often missed Kuo Hsiao-chuang's intentions deep in her heart. Only playwrights could sensitively detect it. For example, in discussing the image of the female lead, or what character should she have, what should be her inner thoughts, how should the plot radiate from her, even every libretto or spoken line, Kuo Hsiao-chuang would always listen to it time and again, and thought about it time and again, and raised a lot of demands.

Obviously, the various roles played by Kuo Hsiao-chuang in the operas were all positive, active, healthy, intelligent and confident characters. Take Ya Yin's inaugural work "The White Snake and Hsu Hsien" as example. See how the White Snake persisted in fidelity for love up to her death. How earthshaking and Heaven moving! Then the characters that followed: Chu Ying-tai, Liu Lan-chih and Princess Akai, they might have different identities and experiences, but their dedication and sacrifice for love, their souls of sincere perseverance were the same.

As for Liang Hung-yu, Princess Chang Ping or Hsi Shih, they all possessed strong patriotic feelings. Their sacrifices were all for the nation. But seen from another angle, they also possessed love and affections of ordinary women. What flowed from them was still a human love of the most sacred and most benevolent order. Similarly, in Tou O, in the daughter of Autumn Night Rain, their filial piety was also the superlative degree of human love. Meng Li-chun disguised as a man, full of self-confidence, optimistic and assertive, overcoming all trials and tribulations, also overflowed with a genuine and persevering love.

Seen from the shaping of these positive character types, the wish hidden deep down in Kuo Hsiao-chuang's heart was to make use of the stage characters' everlasting and unchanging love, everlasting and unchanging loyalty, friendship and filial piety, to allow the audiences who entered the theater to enjoy a show of Chinese opera, people who had gone through changes and lack of constancy and the human warmth and coldness in real life, could experience certain hopes in life through the opera's contents and the actors' expressions. Even though there were a lot of difficulties, many disasters and sorrows, justice prevailed forever in the world, and the future was still beautiful.

Since the 1970s, when Taiwan's economic growth became ever more successful, national income increased dramatically, and materialistic living tended toward extravagance. In urban societies the phenomena of luxury and dissipation emerged. Contrasted with the simple rural districts, the inequality between rich and poor was highlighted, making large numbers of rural populations flowing into the cities. In cities, overpopulation, traffic congestion and severe competition in employment led to problems such as air pollution and rising crime rates.

Closely following these, problems of public order, of juveniles, and of pornography came one after the other. These social diseases all arose because material prosperity had come too fast, while cultural building, morals and ethics, social order, etc. had lagged far far behind. Hence a whole series of disorder and crimes kept impacting on people's minds, making the public worried and panicky. With her artist's sensitive feelings and concern, Kuo Hsiao-chuang was deeply upset by the social unrest, always hoping that she could make a contribution to this society beset with mishaps.

Once, the media of the Press and television consistently reported the news of students stabbing their teachers. At the same time, there was a news item about a son beating up his mother. On hearing these, she was greatly agitated. She kept calling up her friends, lamenting that this lovable society was now gravely ill! Students beating teachers. To have no respect for teachers to such an extent was the shame of the educated! A son beating his mother. To have no respect and filial piety for parents to the extent of beating and wounding them. That was a beastly act! Kuo Hsiao-chuang was full of righteous anger, condemning such black sheep with no justice, no filial piety, no loyalty and no honesty. Obviously she had an ardent love for the community, and had great expectations for social justice and family morals.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang had the air of one who bewailed the times and pitied the people. This might be because in her acting in Chinese opera for over 20 years, all the parts she played were the symbols of loyalty, filial piety, morality and righteousness. So once society loses its proper order, she would inevitably feel enraged and aggrieved and ceaselessly lamenting.

In the course of Ya Yin's productions, many times had people wished to see Kuo Hsiao-chuang change her character type, such as playing a prostitute or a woman of easy virtues, trying different roles to break through that virtuous positive role. She had also seriously considered this issue, but had vetoed it resolutely. She was determined to continue keeping up her positive image. She had no wish to easily give up the slender hopes for goodness, justice, unselfishness and truth in the world after going through suffering.

As Stanislavsky said in his "On Actors' Character Types", there was in fact only one type of role, i.e. the character role. One must have character before one could have life. This was the ideal of actors.

Kuo Hsiao-chuang verified the truth of this statement in her own experience. Having played a lady and then played a harlot, that did not mean broadening one's roles. The important thing was no matter what role one played, one should give that role a lively character, only thus would the role have life. Every part in every play she performed at Ya Yin was living, fresh and energetic. One should in particular commend her for enlivening these 11 roles of Ya Yin's almost with her own life.

When choosing a role, Kuo Hsiao-chuang had her own convictions. That was perfectly understandable. This was partly because of her social views. Concerned with the social diseases, she had all the more expected drama to perform its function of educating the mind. Partly it was because of her views of life. In her real daily life, she was a woman who fulfilled her filial duties and valued friendship. All this caused her to choose positive roles and form a healthy image. At the same time, she also tried her utmost to fight for sex equality rights and dignity for womankind in general bound by traditional ethical codes.

The family education she had received from childhood was strict but also democratic. This formulated her special trait of respect for decorum and parents as well as self-respect. So from childhood she was sensible and kept her place. She was obedient and considerate to her parents. When her parents went to see a doctor, she would drive them in her car. From making an appointment to collecting the medicine, she ran around to and fro. Her care for her siblings was also "meticulous". Family members were all full of affection and respect for Kuo Hsiao-chuang. As for friends, her sincerity and considerateness was testified to by one and by all. Especially when friends chatted together, the subjects were always about drama, movies, television, literature, art, popular information and social movements, etc. Sometimes she would listen quietly. Sometimes she would talk eloquently. But rarely would they touch on subject matters of private life, or gossips. This reflected her vigor in living, decorum and staying-out-of-trouble character. This was also Kuo Hsiao-chuang's special trait.

Her view of society and her attitude to life made her choose her roles even more strictly, and enriched the life of her roles more substantially. She would try her best to use positive roles to fight against pressures of fate. This tenacity and her powers full of patience, optimism and confidence exerted an influence that was heart warming.

People who lived in suffering could never accept fatalism. Because fate was controlled in one's own hands. Wise and self-confident people could change fate. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's chosen roles were given these same principles. This was the wish she wanted to impart in playing her various roles.