Mission 100 is a 12-episode documentary series recording my journey learning about the physical aspect of Jingju or Peking Opera through firsthand experience. Peking Opera is one of the most exigent Chinese performing arts out there, requiring an extensive toolbox of skills: strong vocals, great muscle memory and coordination, exceptional body control, meticulous attention to detail and a whole lot of self-discipline. I have just 100 days to nail down the basics, pick up a few head-turning moves and eventually put on a show in front of a live audience.
This is it! We've reached the end.
Today marks my 100th day exploring the wonderful but wearying theatrical art of Peking Opera, and when the sun sets, the curtains will rise for my debut as a Wusheng (male warrior) in front of a live crowd.
I can't say I've dreamed of this moment before because I wasn't always sure I'd make it this far. Walking away had always been on the table and I'd be lying if I pretended I didn't consider it a couple of times, when dark clouds hung over my head and hope was nowhere to be found.
Peking Opera is not meant for everyone and I certainly wasn't cut for it. Having started so late in the game, with no theatrical background or athletic ability, the cards were stacked against me. It surely felt like a mission impossible.
But there's something to be said about tenacity. It's what Peking Opera stands for. That and good guidance. A master-apprentice relationship is sacred and I was blessed with five selfless teachers, even though I'm forever Team Zhu Lingyu, the trainer who shaped my inner performer in his image.
Yet, against the odds and despite the self-doubt, here were are, backstage, me getting my makeup done while Zhu laoshi (teacher) watches over me like a hawk, telling me to take it easy and not overthink it.
He's noticeably opened up over our time together, much to my delight, showing me different shades of his character. Not long ago, I messed up a move and he ever-so-lightly punched my shoulder. It got me by surprise but I was happy seeing him less guarded and more willing to horse around. During my second evaluation, Zhu's encouragement helped me not spiral out of control when I was suddenly asked to perform with live music without rehearsal. And now, minutes away from the final test, he's back at it again, comforting me and offering soothing words.
My scene partner Yu Huikang, with whom I'll fight on stage in no time, also weighs in with a few suggestions to help me relax. My mentor, Liu Dake, pops up from nowhere, wearing his usual cheery smile and holding a pomelo, a symbol of luck in Chinese culture. He reiterates the first piece of advice he told me 100 days ago: enjoy it!
All of this feels surreal and familiar at once. It's the same piece I've been practicing for months, on a stage that has hosted our training sessions for weeks, with performers who have been by my side since day 1. The only exception is the crowd coming to watch our performance.
I can hear the noise getting louder outside as spectators stream into the theater. Then my name gets called to the stage. It's showtime!
The band begins playing, I take a few deep breaths from behind the curtains, Zhu's next to me. One last glance at him, and off I go.
Being on stage is an extraordinary experience. You step from the obscure wings right into the spotlight. All eyes are on you. You can't see them but you know they're looking your way. The platform is all yours and you're expected to command it. It's a huge and frightening responsibility. Your heart races so fast that you think it's going to explode.
But the moment you appear from behind the curtains and at the sound of the first claps, an inexplicable power takes over you. You become possessed with something that pushes your familiar self deep down into your core and brings out a you whom you never knew was there. Maybe it's a dormant alter ego finally waking up or your assigned thespian character coming to life. Whoever it is, whatever it is... it takes charge, feeding off an adrenaline rush that keeps you going until the last note dies out.
A hundred days of training birthed an eight-minute performance. The crowd goes wild, I'm wrecked but over the moon and Yu is grinning more than he ever had since I met him. Zhu laoshi is out of my sight but deep down, I know he's approving of me.
The night is a wild success, the result of collective and careful efforts over 100 days of painstaking training and incessant mentorship. I went from being unable to raise my leg on the barre to jumping on tables and doing cartwheels. But the biggest reward isn't gaining flexibility, but the deep knowledge of a traditional art that is not as celebrated as it should be.
The unflinching attention to detail that performers give to their work might go unnoticed by the untrained eye but it's ever-present in their postures, gestures, body movements, facial expressions, and more importantly eyes.
A big shoutout to everyone who helped me create magic on stage!
Video Cover Designer: Gao Hongmei Chief Editors: Zhang Wan, Chen Ran Line Producer: Ma Chutian Producer: Xu Jiye Executive Producer: Zhang Xiaohe Supervisor: Zhang Shilei
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