Video platform and crosstalk troupe cooperate in era of new deal
Guo Degang (second right) and his disciples from Deyunshe livestream on Douyin with their fans. [Photo provided to China Daily]
A cliffhanger that had held all crosstalk fans across China in thrall for almost half a year was settled on Dec 18. The suspense ended with the launch of a cooperation deal on the "Dragon Division Enrollment" plan between short-video and livestreaming platform Douyin and the crosstalk troupe Deyunshe.
Guo Degang, founder of the troupe, says the enrollment will be his last large-scale apprenticeship. He hopes to use the Douyin platform to scout for talent who truly love crosstalk and the performing arts, and help the traditional folk art to be passed down through generations.
The enrollment is expected to last for half a year, and Deyunshe will make Douyin its exclusive livestreaming platform for the enrollment. Shi Qiong, marketing representative at Douyin, expressed the hope that through their platform, audiences who love crosstalk can participate in the enrollment, and also help artists in the troupe raise their profiles.
An apprenticeship tradition, initiated by the very creation of the troupe, saw that enrollments should follow in eight divisions chronologically－"Cloud, Crane, Nine, Sky, Dragon, Soar, Four, Sea"－each word representing a different generation of apprentices.
It is the first time Deyunshe will complete enrollment live on the internet. "We have finally come to the Dragon Division today," Guo says. "The very word dragon tells you the time when you are enrolled. In previous years, the admissions notice was first published online, and resumes were screened through email. But many talented people missed out. Our new enrollment on Douyin enables us to have the best recruitment for as many as possible."
Live broadcast and short video make up the new enrollment standards, but Guo says two fundamental requirements remain unaltered－a passion for crosstalk, and a talent for the art.
To fully tap this talent pool, Guo will bring more than 100 crosstalk artists to participate live in recruitment across the country. Guo emphasizes he will personally teach and lead the future apprentices. Luan Yunping, fourth generation artists in the troupe, will also assist in recruitment.
"After an apprentice is admitted, we will nip in the bud any inflated ego before he can proceed to our first-stage tutoring," says Yu Qian, a veteran artist at Deyunshe. "This is particularly important for students who have already accumulated a fan base on social media. But he can take it to his advantage too, as an accumulation of fame may help him step up on the stage."
Deyunshe has been playing an inescapable role in reinvigorating the ancient art of crosstalk through innovation, and Guo says the key to its cultural inheritance is with the young generation.
As its founder, he emerged as a rebel in the crosstalk scene. In his artworks his dare to challenge the traditional mainstream approach sparked doubt and criticism, but it is this bold and innovative courage that makes crosstalk, a once declining art, shine with brand-new vitality. Guo and his Deyunshe have enjoyed a nationwide popularity for nearly two decades.
"Crosstalk itself is one of the most advanced arts in the world," Guo says. "Everyone thinks it is traditional, but it is not. When we first recruited students using email, some doubted the move. Do we have to resort to stamps and seals to comply with traditional art? You are not maintaining tradition; it is mental retardation. Crosstalk requires keeping up with the times. We advocate traditional expression skills, but all concepts must be current."
"The creation of crosstalk stories has an attractive metaphysical attire. It's possible to write three hundred pieces a day if you don't care about the quality, but for a piece that captivates an audience's attention it is a long way to go. We now tell the actors that they must be able to create and write. It is tricky in that many scriptwriters offered their help to write crosstalk, but virtually no one succeeded. It is the premise that one must excel in talking crosstalk before he can create some good crosstalk."
As of December, Guo Degang related short videos on Douyin have been played 21.14 billion times, and Deyunshe 58.35 billion times.
Yu accentuates positively on the trend of spontaneous imitation videos of Deyunshe crosstalk stories posted regularly on Douyin. "Anything with crosstalk, be it via print media or other channels, it's a good thing. We have not bailed out the art out of its slump, and it is particularly important to expand its popularization," Yu says.
The exclusive enrollment on Douyin this time is in Guo's view another forward-looking and innovative decision for Deyunshe. Short video and live broadcast platforms have gradually become the new hotbed of popular culture. Users post a variety of ingenious and whimsical works, and comedies can also get creative materials and inspiration from them.
"Sometimes new media does collide with crosstalk, and we try to adapt. We have created short, fast and mesmerizing puns on Douyin," says Meng Hetang, a crosstalk artist of the troupe.
Guo believes any sophisticated comedian wouldn't be licked by the little difficulty in adaption. He says these considerations are the most basic. "We talk about crosstalk, we study people, and we see people through."
As Deyunshe has shaken up with a younger male cast in recent years, among whom are some of the most chased after by a loyal fan base－the "Deyun girls". For some critics, Guo has changed his role from an atypical comedian maverick to "master of mass production of idols".
"Everyone thinks differently. Some are disgusted at the mere mentioning of idols, and some are excited when they talk about them. The key is how you look at them. I told some of our young, good-looking actors that it's not your fault to be beautiful. It is only with a grand blessing that you have so much popularity, and you have to live with it. But you will have to live with the fact your fame will die out some day. You will live knowing that you did your best," he says.
In his view, in the face of young audiences, what can sustain deyunshe's development lies in how the cast excel in the art of crosstalk. With the emergence of the new media, he knows where the wind is blowing, and he knows where he should go. "People cannot go against the times," he says.
The enrollment will further enrich the diverse content on Douyin. Marketing representative Shi says it will help expand the boundaries between different video content and consolidate Douyin's existing star lineup. As of now, more than 3,000 celebrities have settled on Douyin and interacted with fans through various forms of content such as short videos and live broadcasts.