Start Your Own Bioregional Chinese Opera!

Some folks know that eventually I plan to take my adventures and experiments with the place-based movement and martial-art that my friends and I call SHIFT, and take it as a jumping-off point for highly kinetic community theater intent on expressing the stories in the mythic cartography of one’s own Land. I didn’t invent this idea. In all honesty I doubt I’ve had one original idea in my life. Author Eva Wong inspired me to have this vision, by telling a story of her childhood…

From Eva Wong’s Tales of the Taoist Immortals

When I was a child, the stories of Taoist immortals were also dramatized in opera. Before Hong Kong became a bustling city crowded with skyscrapers and shopping centers, Chinese Opera troupes performed frequently in the streets. On the day before a performance, a street, usually one near a marketplace, would be closed. Workers would build the stage, set up rows of benches, and erect little tents where the performers could rest between acts. Large scaffolds decorated with flowers and banners would be placed around the stage and the seating area, and written on the banners were the names of the prinicipal singers. Whenever a troupe visited my neighborhood, our entire household–my parents, my grandmother, myself, and the servants–would go to the performances. I still have vivid memories of those shows; they were the only occasions when I was allowed to stay up late. The operas didn’t begin until dark, and, on a summer night in Hong Kong, that usually meant nine.

In Chinese opera, the performers were not only singers, but also acrobats and martial artists. The stories of the immortals–Chang Tao-ling’s battle with the lords of evil, Chu Yuan-chang’s (the founder of the Ming Dynasty) treacherous betrayal of his friends, Kiang Tzu-ya using his magic to defeat the evil emperor–came alive as the performers sang, whirled, sparred, and somersaulted around the stage.

Written by Willem