Cheering on with jokes

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-02 08:27
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Hip-hop Crosstalk Club, a Beijing-headquartered company dedicated to crosstalk, marked its 14th birthday by staging a show on August 21 in Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A crosstalk company celebrates its 14th anniversary even as the performing arts industry continues to face challenges due to the pandemic, Chen Nan reports.

Hip-hop Crosstalk Club, a company in Beijing dedicated to crosstalk, or xiangsheng, marked its 14th anniversary recently, when its founder and owner Gao Xiaopan gathered current and former staff members for a show.

On Aug 21, the show was staged at a small theater in Fangzhuang, Fengtai district, one of two remaining venues of the company in the city. Old and new xiangsheng works were performed, bringing waves of laughs. At the same time, Gao was emotional.

"I had mixed feelings. I was touched but also sad. We didn't give many shows this year because of the pandemic. All of us cherished the chance to perform again, especially former members of the company," says Gao, who also performed.

"They rose to fame by presenting shows at this small theater, and now they work with bigger performing arts companies, which bring them a stable income. When I suggested the idea of performing together to celebrate our company's birthday, they said 'yes' without hesitation."

Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, countless aspects of what was once everyday life have become foreign to many people. On top of the list might be live theater. Although people working in theaters have been trying hard to connect with their audiences through social media and livestreaming, the feeling of being in a room with crowds of strangers and performing live shows in the collective space is missing.

"Many theaters didn't survive the pandemic but we did, which is lucky but not easy. For some people, theater is more than entertainment business. It is a lifelong dream to pursue. The pandemic forced them to leave, which is sad," says Gao, adding that some of his friends, who are also xiangsheng performers, had to make a living by taking up side jobs, such as food delivery and driving for ride-hailing services, due to the pandemic.

Born in Baoding, Hebei province, Gao enjoyed watching comedy movies as a child, and one of his favorite movie stars is Hong Kong-born actor-director Stephen Chow. His mother took him to a local arts training center for children, where Gao studied xiangsheng, which was the only option related to comedy there. Gao has been doing crosstalk since then. His mother did not expect him to choose it as a career, though.

In 2003, he joined the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in Beijing to study xiangsheng. However, since the old art form did not appear promising at that time, many of Gao's classmates had to abandon xiangsheng and find regular jobs to make a living.

Gao, however, insisted on pursuing his career as a crosstalk performer. To make a living, he did part-time jobs, as a salesman, wedding host and house painter.

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