The Function of Formulaic Diction in Taiwanese Opera:
Exemplified with the Improvised Performance in Taiwanese Opera
This article will exemplify the functions of formulaic diction in oral literature by the example of the use of standardised script in the improvised performance of Taiwanese Opera. By looking at the ways the ways in which the actors established formulaic diction in their performance, this article
investigates and demonstrates the tradition of adapting formulatic diction in oral improvised theatres.
‘Improvised Act’ (Huo Xi in Chinese, meaning “living performances”) can also be called ‘summarised script’ (Tigang Xi ), ‘scenario script’ (Mubiao Xi ) or ‘improvised act’ (Huoci Xi ) , etc.. Whichever name it is called, the form of improvised performance is still largely adopted by professional Taiwanese Opera troupes. The actors improvise dialogues and flesh out actions according to a scenario that merely summarise the situations narrated to them orally. Because
the actors improvise without a fixed script, their performance is facilitated by memorising fixed formulaic diction the ways medieval troubadours replied on standardised formula in order to memorise the plot.
This article demonstrates the historical methods in which the actors of Taiwanese Operas have established their own formulaic diction: the numbers of stock characters the actors need to master, mastery of the routine lyrics for specific tunes and melodies, and the flexibility to adapt formula into differentscenarios. The adaption of formula need to factor in the intricacy of rhyming and metrical variation in lyrics, the relavency between lyrics and tunes as improvised act, in nature, is an operatic performance.
When she has fully incorperated various formulae into her own ‘vocabulary repertory’, an improvised actor can freely adapt them into different scenarios and summarised plot narrated to her orally. However creative and flexible this kind of improvised performance can be, the improvised performance is gradually on the wane as the new generation of Taiwanese Opera Troupes have now relied on fixed and printed scripts and the new generation of actors are now formally educated in schools. Along with the change of this move from the oral to the literary and printed tradition and the
change of the viewing conventions in the contemporary society, the oral form of performance may only be preserved in written records and the improvised performance will be lost soon.
Keywords: improvised act, summarised script, formulaic diction,
oral tradition, formulated acting technique