On Tuesday I went with AikBeng Chia (ABC) to some traditional Chinese Opera at MacPherson for photos. ABC has been there quite a few time already so that he knew most of the people. We shot backstage most of the time, getting some pretty unique impressions.
The Chinese opera is a rather traditional Chinese thing going way back with lots of sophistication accumulated over centuries. Here is what wikipedia has to say:
Chinese opera (Chinese: 戏曲/戲曲; Pinyin: xìqǔ) is a popular form of drama and musical theatre in China with roots going back as far as the third century CE. There are numerous regional branches of Chinese opera, of which the Beijing opera (Jingju) is one of the most notable.
Chinese opera is seldom publicly staged in the 21st century, except in formal Chinese opera houses, and during the lunar seventh month Chinese Ghost Festival in Asia as a form of entertainment to the spirits and audience. Popularity has suffered a decline during the past several decades and now audiences restricted to the older generation.
Costumes. One key component is the color code of the masks. Different colors, symbolize different things – wikipedia writes:
Masks are used in the opera; each color has a different meaning. They are used to portray a character’s role and illustrate their emotional state and general character.
- White: sinister, evil, crafty, treacherous, and suspicious. Anyone wearing a white mask is usually the villain.
Green: impulsive, violent, no self restraint or self control.
Red: brave, loyal.
Black: rough, fierce, or impartial.
Yellow: ambitious, fierce, cool-headed.
Blue: steadfast, someone who is loyal and sticks to one side no matter what.
The group that we photographed was the Hokkien Sio Kee Lin Opera Troupe in the Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple. As part of the birthday celebration of Qing Xi Xian You Bo Zhu, the temple is having a performance almost every day for 114 days in a row, way beyond just the Chinese Ghost Festival. The atmosphere, especially backstage was pretty unique. While on the “frontstage” side everything looks very polished and perfect, backstage you can see the hectic movements, the transformation of an actor into a person from a different time, as well as a mix of exhaustion and/or nervousness. You can see the writing of “thank you cards” for donors, the actors practicing their moves (check out the tiger), makeup and costumes everywhere, and actors playing with their iPads waiting for their turn.