Due to my minor celebrity among the Canadian Chinese community because of my occasional appearances on the Toronto Omni-2 TV's Mandarin News program as a political commentator, I was approached about the possibility of my co-hosting the Toronto "2007 Chinese New Year Show." This gala show is modelled on the enormously popular TV variety show broadcast every year on the eve of the lunar new year in Mainland China to an audience of close to 1 billion. The "2007 Chinese New Year Show" was originally scheduled to be put on at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto. With some trepidation, I agreed to do it. It appealed to my vanity to see if I could pull off an ersatz Dashan and also because the Hummingbird Centre is the new name for the O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts which has a family connection for me. It was re-named "The Hummingbird Centre" in 1996 in recognition of a major gift from a Canadian software company. But the O'Keefe Centre was originally built in 1960 as a project of my relative, E.P. Taylor, who had committed the funds for it in 1954 (I have posted more details about E.P. Taylor at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcfd6fxz_143hj2ksn). So appearing on stage at the Hummingbird Centre aspect appealed to me because of this past connection. But in the end the show was moved to the Toronto Centre for the Arts in 5040 Yonge Street. That is the former North York Centre for the Arts. But it seats 1,727 and the show did sell out.
Later, after had I committed to do the show, I was asked to also perform a Chinese comedy dialogue (xiangsheng) as an addition to the program. About a week before, the scripts with my lines were e-mailed to me by Jin Dong. Jin is a well-known personality from Mainland Chinese TV now working in Chinese language TV and radio in Toronto. After looking over the scripts, I started to seriously worry about whether I could really carry all this off and decided to seek advice from the real Dashan, Mark Rowswell, by e-mailing him all the scripts. Mark's replies and reassuring advice considerably set my heart at ease, but Mark also suggested that to be one of the hosts as well as doing a crosstalk all in one show was a lot to ask. It turned out he was quite right about that. I found it hard to memorize the Chinese lines, especially the Crosstalk. Fortunately Jin Dong is really a very generous and kind man who worked hard with me on the Friday and Saturday. My success in performance owes much to his patience.
Basically all I has to do was to walk into the spotlight on stage wearing a Chinese style silk jacket and say a few simple sentences along the lines of "A new year, new events, new beginnings!" (新年新事起点新!) and "In the Pig Year may your every wish be fulfilled!" (猪年万事都如意!). The Crosstalk was about how maybe we should be nicer to pigs in their year, cut out pork and change disparaging sayings about pigs to more positive ones. Much of it involved making plays on words about the Pig character in the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. Essentially while a Chinese press article published afterwards (see http://torcn.com/cache/43863.html) characterized me as a "2nd Dashan" my performance did not require much talent. Mark Rowswell is genuinely talented. To be frank about it: me, not so much. But the crowd gasped and laughed at my every word because white people speaking good Chinese is to them an affirmation of China's civilization and this means a lot. Well I am happy and honoured to perform this function as I have so much admiration for Chinese culture myself.
Jason Kenney, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Citizenship attended the show along with a number of other federal members of Parliament, members of the Provincial legislature, municipal mayors, PRC Consul-General in Toronto, etc. I know Mr. Kenney well and had testified before the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on International Human Rights and Development that he chairs last fall. He seemed surprised (maybe even mildly stunned), but I think, pleased to see me there and to have me introduce him on-stage. But most of all my daughter Lucy loved the show--- the dragons. the brilliant performance by Li Teng who is principal violist of the Toronto Symphony, the Chinese flute solo, the Cantonese opera selection. But she also seemed truly pleased to see the audience reaction to her Dad performing on stage. So, my 12 year-old daughter was evidently genuinely impressed by something her old Dad did! As I am sure most fathers of pre-teen girls would agree, this rare moment made it all worthwhile for me. I think I will draw my performing career to a close now.
Photos of the show can be found (in the folder "Spring Fest Show 2007") at http://photos.yahoo.com/cburton001