Journal from China (Part 1)

by Scott Savage, cast member

[Note from the dramaturg: As mentioned previously, the cast of The Nightingale had the unique opportunity to travel to China and train with the Peking Opera. While in China, they had the opportunity to learn theatre movement, costuming, makeup and vocal techniques while also experiencing the culture, so they could better understand the world of the play. The next couple of posts will be from cast members sharing their experiences. Enjoy!]

June 13, 2013

Today I’m not nearly as tired or jet lagged as I thought I might be, or at least I wasn’t for most of the day. We got up pretty early to go to the Peking Opera training. China is interesting because everything is set in a single time-zone (centered around the city of Xi’an), so the further East you are in China, the earlier it gets light. Our room was filled with light about 4 a.m. and I thought for sure we were going to be late to the training. As it turns out, we weren’t.

We met one of leaders of the Peking Opera (JingJu Company), and he received us very warmly. We were given the chance to see some amazing demonstrations of the fixed form that the Peking Opera uses. Peking Introduction

There are five main types of Characters. Sheng, which are male leads. They can be old, young, or otherwise defined, but they have certain fixed movements and facial expressions they use. Emperor

Next are the Dan characters which are female leads with similar qualifications. The Dan characters use really intricate hand motions and movements to indicate what they’re doing; such as opening doors, feeding chickens or smelling flowers. They take tiny feminine footsteps which were part of the desirable culture of women in China anciently (thus the bound feet in the Wild Swans book). Dan

The Jing character has a painted face that we tend to think of when Chinese Theater is brought up. The paint on their face means specific things based on color and design and their role in a show. Again, the fixed precision required to do this form is remarkable. Everything means something and it must be done the right way.  Jing

The Chou character (similar to what my part as the High Lord Chamberlain will be in the play) is a clown type character. The man we saw was a remarkable acrobat. Chou Acrobat

There’s a fifth type that can be either a Chou or a Sheng. This character is the Monkey King. His role is lively, he has detailed face paint, and he can do all the things of the other two roles.Chou

Today was mostly a lot of learning and observing. I was really engaged because I was trying to pick out the Chinese and because I was among the more alert in our group. I can thrive off of less sleep because of the way I worked nights for so long. We had a really nice lunch with many foods that I’d never had before. My hand hurt from the use of chopsticks, but I got past that because of all the good things there were to try. I also was able to have my first interaction only in Chinese with a stranger. I walked to a store with Jordan and bought a coke. “你有没有可乐?” (Do you have Coke?) “有,等一下。” (Yes, wait a minute.) “谢谢!可乐多少?” (Thank you! How much?) “六元。” (Six yuan.) “好。” (Good.) That was it! The whole conversation! He didn’t look at me funny or ask what I meant. It was very liberating.

The Peking Opera Performance was cool. There was neat fighting, fantastic singing, and I found that I’m at a place in my life where I can appreciate the work and skill required. Previously in my life I’d have been fairly unmoved by such a performance. While I admit I was one of many to sleep a little during the show (I did say I was ok most of the day!) it was still really great to see them perform. I hope tomorrow we can be a little more active with what we do, particularly since we’re going to be there all day!

 

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