Saturday, February 27, 2010

Street Opera (wayang)

This make-shift stage constructed using wooden poles and planks was at the side of the main entrance to a Tua Pek Kong Temple near where I live. On this hot and humid afternoon I stumbled upon a performance by a troupe of street artistes that must have seen better days in their youth at a time when such performances were common, taking place within temple grounds or next to them and happening because of some temple celebration or festival. Street Opera or 'wayangs' were also more common during the Hungry Ghost month every year until they were replaced by the Ge Tais featuring contemporary Chinese pop music and performances. When I do chance upon these wayangs, they would be playing to nobody most of the time. Today, there was no audience for this particular wayang until I appeared except for four old folks who were not there specially to watch the opera. When they left, I was the only audience left. Even then I could not stay long though I would have loved to have stayed not only to take photos but also to enjoy the opera and give the performers support for their art. The age group of this troupe (including the musicians) is in the fifties and sixties. Despite their age, I can see that they are skilled artistes by their movements and their singing. I do not speak the Hokkien dialect fluently enough to understand every word that was sung or spoken. However I know enough to understand that the scene I was watching was about a character (a xiao chou or clown) who had come some distance away on horseback to see a magistrate regarding an important matter. Here are the rest of my photos:

No sophisticated speaker system, an old and sturdy loud hailer will do.
The Gong and the Drum - They must be as old as he has been with the troupe.
A performer changing for the next scene.
Ready to get on stage.
The next few photos show the character riding on a horse, an action that is symbolised by the wielding of the staff with the tassles. Video will be uploaded another time.

A musician playing a typical wind instrument at the side of the stage.
Here comes the magistrate in his platform shoes and impressive beard.

The character talks to the audience telling them what he intends to do. He made a comment on the magistrate and by his facial expressions and gestures the comment was not a flattering one.

Here he pays his respects to the magistrate.
At this point I had to leave. My lifelong interest in Chinese Opera was rekindled by chance this afternoon. I have paid good money to watch Troupes from Guangzhou at the Esplanade twice. Those performances were classy and polished and they usually played to a full house. This street opera that I watched was more intimate because I was really close to the stage and the actors looked at me only. That was really something! It made my day.

Information on Chinese Opera could be found on this ThinkQuest website created by a team of students from Jurong Primary School.

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