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Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company

  • Date:2021-07-12
Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company

.Chinese Name:真快樂掌中劇團
.Time of Establishment: 1967
.Location: New Taipei City, Taiwan
.Did You Know?
Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company has been performing traditional pò͘-tē-hì puppet theater for over 60 years. It was founded by Taiwan’s first female pò͘-tē-hì master, Chiang Szu-mei, and the company's performance style has differed from the usual male-led ones, bringing a feminine perspective to the art and focusing on the inner emotions and delicate characterizations of the characters. The company also works to pass down traditional puppetry to the younger generations. Through cooperations with folk theater groups and modern drama venues, Jin Kwei Lo incorporates fresh contemporary thinking and technology in creating a "comprehensive theater" approach, injecting new life into pò͘-tē-hì.

Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company was founded in 1967 by Chiang Szu-mei, part of the first generation of female performers in Taiwan's pò͘-tē-hì puppet theater industry. The company’s name, which translates to "true happiness," springs from Chiang’s hope that both the performers and the audience will be able to find joy in their shows.

Chiang Szu-mei was born in 1933 to a family well established in the theater world in Nantou. Her father, Chiang Tung-sheng, was a backstage musician for pò͘-tē-hì shows, and so the younger Chiang grew up close to the art. After years of hard work, at the age of 18, she started her own theater group, using a name her father chose—Szu Mei Lou. The group performed all over, putting on love stories, comedies, and tragedies alike. The group was primarily built around the Chiang family, with Chiang Szu-mei the lead performer, while backstage, her father played hand drums for accompaniment and her brother handled ushering duties.

When Chiang Szu-mei was 19 years old, a famous theater in Dadaocheng, Taipei, invited Szu Mei Lou to perform. Previously, only the well-known troupes of I Wan Jan Puppet Theatre and Hsiao Hsi Yuan had taken turns performing at this particular theater, and so Szu Mei Lou joining them was a major event that caused shockwaves in the pò͘-tē-hì world.

The rise of Taiwanese-language cinema in the late 1960s, though, saw a massive fall-off in the number of people going to pò͘-tē-hì shows. To make ends meet, Chiang took up a job selling medicine on the side, touring with the group for performances all over Taiwan, putting on shows for temple fairs, inside theaters, and elsewhere, hawking medicines along the way. Their performances throughout this time were well-received by audiences, and they had a constant stream of engagements.

As Taiwan was under martial law at the time, government regulations required theater groups to be officially licensed, and to maintain that license, they had to take part in a government-organized annual show. However, one year, circumstances led to Szu Mei Lou not being able to take part in that show, which led to the group having their license to perform canceled by the government.

In 1967, looking for better opportunities for her children’s future, Chiang moved her family to Xinzhuang in what is now New Taipei City, applying for licenses to perform in the then Taipei County and Taipei City under the names Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company and Hsin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company, in accordance with the government regulations of that time. Later, the troupe took on Jin Kwei Lo as its overall name.

In 1976, the Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company represented Taipei County in the 65th Annual Taiwan Regional Puppet Theater Competition, walking away with a Distinction. That year, the main award winners were Li Tianlu of I Wan Jan and Xu Wang of Hsiao Hsi Yuan, while Chiang Szu-mei won an award as a female performer, marking a positive new chapter in the story of Taiwanese puppet theater.

The company has gone on to win numerous awards, including a Class A Group Award in 1987, Distinction in the 1991 Drama Competition, the Best Performance Award in 1991, the Best Individual Stage Technique Award in a 1993 pò͘-tē-hì competition, and another Class A Group Award in 1995. More recently, their show “The Soup of Reincarnation” won the Best Performance Group of the Year award at the 2018 Golden Melody Awards for Traditional Arts and Music, as well as being shortlisted for the Taishin Arts Awards Top Ten Performing Arts Works of the Year and being selected by the Ministry of Culture to represent Taiwan at the 2018 Festival OFF Avignon and 2019 Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes, both in France.

The company’s most iconic works include "Cycle of Gongho," "The Strange Warrior in the Red and Black Scarf," "Journey to the West—Fire Cloud Cave," and "Who Caught the Big Tiger?"

Chiang Szu-mei has enjoyed a career spanning some seven decades in traditional Taiwanese glove puppetry, performing almost continually throughout. She has contributed a unique perspective and humanity to the art over these years and carved out a special space for women in what is otherwise a predominantly masculine art form. In 2018, she was honored with the New Taipei Cultural Contribution Award.

Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company is currently a family affair spanning three generations, all working to keep this exquisite form of Taiwanese puppetry alive while also learning from their Western counterparts. Their hope is to combine the traditional and the modern to create new opportunities for pò͘-tē-hì as they continue to go from strength to strength, creating ever more brilliant chapters in the ongoing history of traditional Taiwanese glove puppetry.