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Chinese Opera

Chinese Opera: The Actor's Craft

Siu Wang-Ngai
with Peter Lovrick
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Opera
    Book Description:

    Chinese opera embraces over 360 different styles of theatre that make one of the richest performance arts in the world. It combines music, speech, poetry, mime, acrobatics, stage fighting, vivid face-painting and exquisite costumes. First experiences of Chinese opera can be baffling because its vocabulary of stagecraft is familiar only to the seasoned aficionado. Chinese Opera: The Actor’s Craft makes the experience more accessible for everyone. This book uses breath-taking images of Chinese opera in performance by Hong Kong photographer Siu Wang-Ngai to illustrate and explain Chinese opera stage technique. The book explores costumes, gestures, mime, acrobatics, props and stage techniques. Each explanation is accompanied by an example of its use in an opera and is illustrated by in-performance photographs. Chinese Opera: The Actor’s Craft provides the reader with a basic grammar for understanding uniquely Chinese solutions to staging drama.

    eISBN: 978-988-8268-26-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Chapter 1 How Chinese Theatre Solves Theatrical Problems
    (pp. 1-3)

    A first visit to the Chinese opera can be mystifying, if not overwhelming. Audiences used to realistic theatre are lost. Their 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. They realize then that watching a Chinese opera requires more than just knowing the story, which they can easily get from reading a plot synopsis or following subtitles...

  5. Chapter 2 Using Stage Movement
    (pp. 5-37)

    Relying on mime, or pure stage movement, to indicate physical realities is one of the primary solutions that Chinese opera developed for theatrical problems. The 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. In fact, operas can be performed in an empty space with little more than a table and...

  6. Chapter 3 Using Props
    (pp. 39-91)

    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. The 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. The Chinese theatrical solution is not to present the horse itself but instead to evoke it through what was most associated with horseback riding, the horsewhip. Over...

  7. Chapter 4 Using Weapons and Skills for Stage Fighting
    (pp. 93-129)

    The Chinese stage becomes a battlefield in many operas. Great generals, heroes, villains and warrior maidens fight 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.

    There are different kinds of spears. The male warrior role regularly...

  8. Chapter 5 Using Costumes
    (pp. 131-169)

    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. They are also tools that the actor manipulates to express a wide range of emotions from joy to anger, from thoughtfulness to determination. The actors use two...

  9. Chapter 6 Using Special Skills
    (pp. 171-189)

    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.

    Audiences are stunned to see a character change his face in the blink of an eye. These metamorphoses show emotions like sudden terror, or display the ability of magical beings to transform. One of the earliest methods was to blow into a...

  10. A Final Word—from the Photographer and the Writer
    (pp. 191-192)

    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. This 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.

    It has been thirty years since I first started taking pictures of the Chinese opera in performance. As an ordinary member...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 193-194)
  12. Appendix I: English Guide to the Photographs
    (pp. 195-202)
  13. Appendix II: Chinese Guide to the Photographs
    (pp. 203-210)
  14. References
    (pp. 211-212)
  15. Index
    (pp. 213-216)