The Actor's Craft
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Many years ago, a director of Chinese opera took pains to train me for a part in one of his productions. He had a habit of suddenly stopping to burst out, “Chinese opera is just wonderful!” With all his experience, he kept discovering new facets to admire. Chinese opera is indeed one of the great cultural achievements that China off ers to the world. It is also a wonderful window into China itself, combining its music, poetry, history, folk tales and philosophy...
1. How Chinese Theatre Solves Theatrical Problems
A first visit to the Chinese opera can be mystifying, if not overwhelming. Audiences used to realistic theatre are lost. Th eir usual frame of reference is gone. Instead, high-pitched falsettos, clanging gongs, stylized movement, and unrecognizable props thread through the play in an often glorious, but frequently confusing, way. Audiences new to the Chinese opera hearing the explosive cries of approval “Hao!” from seasoned opera goers wonder just what they are missing...
2. Using Stage Movement
Relying on mime, or pure stage movement, to indicate physical realities is one of the primary solutions that Chinese opera developed for theatrical problems. Th e Chinese opera blends mime into performance. It is a tool that actors use along with singing, manipulating costume, and handling props to express a reality rather than recreate it as is the practice in Western naturalist theatre. This approach means that Chinese opera does not need to develop extensive sets or use a wide range of realistic props...
3. Using Props
Chinese drama has from the beginning called for horses on the stage. Sometimes, this would be for a solitary rider on a long journey. At other times, it might be for several mounted generals on a battlefield. Th e problem in each case is how to bring the familiar reality of riding a horse into a theatre, teahouse or banquet hall. Other dramatic traditions have used hobbyhorses and various costumes to solve the problem...
4. Using Weapons and Skills for Stage Fighting
The Chinese stage becomes a battlefield in many operas. Great generals, heroes, villains and warrior maidens fi ght with a variety of weapons in carefully choreographed scenes requiring a high level of skill. One of the most common weapons used in these scenes is the spear. This weapon is light, long and flexible, ideal for combat with more than one adversary. Actors will parry, thrust and toss their spears through the air in a variety of ways that require not only manipulation of the weapon, but acrobatic skills as well...
5. Using Costumes
The male, female, painted face, and clown roles in Chinese opera all use pheasant tail skills for particular characters. The young man’s role even has a particular subcategory role type for it. These actors play heroic, and sometimes fierce, characters, who enter the stage with two long pheasant tails attached to their headdresses. These feathers can be as long as six feet. They are more, however, than just dramatic additions to the costume...
6. Using Special Skills
The Sichuan opera is famous for its tales of the fantastic. Ghosts, demons, and fairies share the stage with emperors, beauties, and heroes. It even has a special role type for female ghosts and fox spirits. The Sichuan opera makes use of special skills to tell these stories. One of the most famous of these is face changing...
A Final Word
The best Chinese opera troupes of various genres from across the country with top-grade actors and actresses visited Hong Kong between 1985 and 1993. Th is event has great historical significance and became a major part of my life’s work. Looking back at it, I believe a performance series like that will probably never happen again. I was fortunate enough to record these operas with my camera, and am pleased to share these images with the reader of this book...
Appendix 1: English Guide to the Photographs
Appendix 2: Chinese Guide to the Photographs
Page Count: 228
Illustrations: 227 colour illus.
Publication Year: 2014
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chinese Opera