Performing Chinese opera has become our annual ritual. It is the only time of the year, we get asked by people to deliver a show. We used to do some in the summer too, yet as the funding for art has been running low, the opportunities to perform in the summer have also gotten less and less. I have participated in Maidstone Festival for four years consecutively since 2014, sharing our culture and art to local communities. 2018 is the first year there was no funding to continue such an event. This performance was from 2017, the last one we did for Maidstone…
Before we took onto the stage, lions danced their way to the stage. These are Southern lions, as oppose to the Northern lions I previously talked about. They are smaller in size, and the movements are much more agile.
Then it came our turn. This time, I took on the role of a young man, courting a young lady in her dream. This is something of Kunqu (Chinese opera) which has always amazed me. It is an art form which bypasses gender. In Chinese opera, a man can play a lady. Similarly, a woman can portray a man.
For merely 5 minutes of performance, we had to do 3 hours of preparation. Makeup alone takes about an hour, and the hair can take up to 2 hours to complete. These hair ornaments may look beautiful, but they are awfully tight, difficult to put on and uncomfortable. Yet, for art, we have to endure. This is what people before us did, and people after us will also do the same.
There are only three main colours for the makeup: white, red and black. This may look simple, but it requires careful application for the desire effect. The contrast of the make-up is strong, yet from the distance, it makes the character pop.
This hair alone would take 2 hours to put on
Of course, at backstage, it’s never just hard work. We do often steal a few moments to have fun and tack in some nice food, provided by the sponsor Kala Red Chinese Restaurant.
And we do not forget to take out our mobiles and snap a few selfies. I particularly liked this photo, as we dressed in costume which is suppose to resemble the 16th century Chinese style, yet we were playing with the smart phone of the 21st century. Such an irony!
We enjoy performing and are proud sharing our culture with other people. However, funding for cultural events has gradually disappeared, preventing us to continue delivering and sharing our culture and passion. All the upkeep for the costumes and props require money, this is the harsh reality. Every year we performed, we charged the bare minimum to cover our cost: travel and dry cleaning fee for the costume. Yet, still there is no more funding to continue the Maidstone Festival. We sincerely wish there will be other opportunities where we could share our art with people.