Whispers from the Wings

Chinese opera

September 19, 2012

Well it's my second blog, but it's been four weeks since we started. The workshop section of rehearsals is now over, and we now begin rehearsing both plays at the same time.

Our first two weeks were spent on Orphan of Zhao. What a play. In order to understand its origins, we delve headfirst into Chinese cultural history and particularly Chinese (or Peking) Opera.

The play is basically a traditional Peking Opera known all throughout China, and to the Chinese probably as well known as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and King Lear all rolled into one.

As part of our research Professor Ruru Lee came in with her husband David and gave us a fantastic day long workshop on Chinese Opera. We watched videos and furiously wrote down copious notes as Ruru (a former Peking Opera performer herself) revealed as much of the history and traditions as a day would allow.

We spent a couple hours raising our arms in traditional poses, walking around the room traditional ways, doing our best 'Lotus Pose', 'Cloud Arms,' and 'Hammer Fists.'

What was painfully obvious to us all throughout the week was that the history and traditions of Chinese Opera are so extensive, involving so many specific movements and ways of performing, that to put on our play traditionally would involve a vocabulary that would be understood by a Chinese audience, but not by an English one. When you translate a play with as much history as this into English, how do you present it to a Western audience? Especially when so much of the play relies on a vocabulary that is reserved specifically for Chinese Opera?

As far as the translation is concerned, the play has been brought to life in our ears by the incredible James Fenton. (He read from his book of poetry Yellow Tulips for us one afternoon…. we all rushed out to buy it… incredible).

In fact it's not so much a translation as it is 'the Chinese story, re written in English… in James' way!' How does it fare? We read the play from beginning to end three times within the two weeks… we were all in tears by the end, every single time.

by Youssef Kerkour  |  No comments yet


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