Last evening, while we were on our way home after dinner from Waterwaypoint, we were serendipitously drawn to the sounds of drums, gongs, and cymbals. There was a large tentage put up at the open field next to the MRT station.
The Chinese opera (大戏) is in town!
This is a wonderful opportunity for the both of you to experience something that we quite rarely see in Singapore, it is a dying art, and culture. And maybe by the end of your generation, it might no longer be around.
Which is quite unfortunate, but cultures will always evolve with societal changes. Some will die off, some will thrive. Chinese opera (大戏) ins Singapore sense is very unique like many things in our little island state. We always add our own little flavour to make it unique to our own.
More than just letting you both stand there and watch, which will be pretty much meaningless, since lingua fraca on stage is Hokkien. While my command of the Hokkien is not bad, I can cuss and curse quite proficiently in it, holding a conversation in 100% Hokkien is another matter altogether. The folks on stage is, of course, running the whole script in that. You boys have much less proficiency in Hokkien, so their on-stage dialogue will make no sense to the both of you at all.
So we walk alongside it and came to the ‘backstage’, like all 大戏 I know, the backstage is highly porous, you can peep up, look at those performers do their make up, the musicians play their 二胡, and other instruments. I always makes a point for the both of you to see the ‘complete’ picture in everything, not just the show, but what it takes to make the show happens, the mechanics of things, so that the both of you can appreciate the trouble and effort to make something happen. So we were kind of watching up, at the performers putting up their costumes, make up and this fine elderly man smiled warmly at the both of you and waved.
The both of you of course wave back.
And he invited us, up, to the backstage.
How can we say no?
So with the aid of a plastic red chair, the both of you, and you parents climbed up and get a glimpse of this beautiful, dying culture, from the back.
Things from the back
There were piles and piles of Chinese opera costumes and make up strewn all over, and a quite buzz of activity as the performers rushed from the left to the right side of the stage. Some were putting on make up, costumes. It looked like an organized chaos. It is but it’s more than that, you see a well oiled team working together, everyone knows everyone and despite of that tight knit culture, we didn’t feel like strangers intruding at all. That fine elderly gentleman who invited us up, even encourage us, over the din of the music, to try their costume. We didn’t, too shy lah.
One of the kind uncles, who had a serious fierce looking make up on, silently passed some snacks to the both of you. He didn’t say anything, he probably still have his microphone turned on, so if he were to say anything, it’ll probably be picked up and broadcast out to the audience!
I spoken with the gentleman and he told me in they will be here till end of the week. While he did acknowledge that it is a dying art, there is no sense of loss or regret. He is so positive and full of life. His warmth and openness allows us to embed ourselves into his world. Obviously an extrovert!
We obviously couldn’t stay long and bid our farewell.
Back to the front row
I bought the both of you to the front again to see the performance, and explained to the both of you, this is what ‘passion’ is about. They obviously don’t do it for the money, how many gigs must they do to earn a living? These folks are elderly, with no new blood joining them, these fine artisans will have no one to pass their skills to. I asked you, Ian will you want to do something like this? The answer is an obvious ‘no’.
The whole performance wouldn’t have made much sense, it’ll probably bore you, but after that backstage peep, the both of you wanted to stay on, and perhaps watch out for that nice uncle to come on stage and perhaps cheer him on.
Now that the both of you has gotten that sneak peek, the content onstage has taken a little more depth and context. It is no longer ‘just another show’, as you both have somehow become ‘part’ of the show. You see from the back to the front, how these things are done. Its not easy, and these folks, doing it, has more life, driven by a sense of purpose to make this dying art as live as it can possibly, until their very last breath.