November 11: Taiwanese Opera

Hi all! Happy 11/11 aka Singles Day in Taiwan (aka a huge shopping day)!!

This is a super fun post to write, and very different than what I’ve written before. I recently was given two different opportunities to see and learn about Taiwanese Traditional Performance/Opera (also known as Xìqǔ 戲曲).

Here’s the face changer!

An Introduction to XiQu:

My Mandarin school, which is part of a large university in Taipei, brought in students and professors from the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts on October 27th. I went to the class, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it was so fun! Firstly, we were given a brief introduction to what Taiwanese traditional performance is, the different types of performances, and what it’s like to be a student training in performance. Then, the four students along with a couple of professors demonstrated all of these different skills!

We saw: a face changer (Biànliǎn 變臉), then a girl dancing with hula hoops, and a lot of acrobatic skills. It was so fun! They also painted someone’s face at the end with full face paint along with letting a few people try on costumes. My favorite was the face changer (here’s a really cool video to show what the face changers do during their performance) and the acrobats! Overall, it was a great introduction!

Here are some students from my school and some from the performing arts school!

A Performance:

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a traditional Hakka Opera (“Tea-Picking Opera”). Hakka is both a language and a group of Chinese/Taiwanese people (ancestrally linked). When I first arrived in Taiwan, I had three Taiwanese roommates who all attend the same performing arts college that had come to my school in October. We became friends (even though they don’t speak English), and we were invited to attend their senior opera performances. I attended one of them yesterday. It was largely singing and acting focused (as opposed to dance and acrobatics), and my friend was the lead in the show!

Final bows (left in red is my friend playing a young boy) and on the right is his “dad”
My three friends who were in the show, a few roommates, and a friend from school after the performance

The opera was sung/spoken completely in the Hakka language, but there were screens on the sides of the stages with Mandarin subtitles. Thank god for those, because I would have been confused at certain points otherwise. The story was about a poor little boy (played by my friend) who found a dad (not 100% sure if it was actually his dad or just some random old man that he found). The mom sent them away because she couldn’t feed the dad (who was requesting meat) and the three children. As the play goes on, the boy tries to find solutions to the families money problems. At the end, we learn that the dad is actually the Emperor (or some nobility figure, not exactly sure) and then the family became royals. The costumes were amazing, the singing was incredible (and it’s nothing like what you might think of as “opera singing”), and overall we had a great time. We were also the only foreigners there and got losts of looks, whispers, and questions about why we were there.

See you next time!

Corinn


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