Traditional Chinese stagecraft gets modern reboot
Updated 21:09, 10-Jun-2019
By Yu Fengsheng
This year marks the 18th anniversary of Kunqu Opera's inclusion in UNESCO's First Batch of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Each May, Kunqu Opera troupes gather in Zhejiang Province in eastern China for a series of stage performances to celebrate the event, as well as carry out workshops on the future development of this traditional opera style.
The performers this year were from some of the best-known Kunqu opera troupes in China. The pieces they presented last month were adaptations from classics of Chinese literature, such as "The Monkey King" and "The West Chamber."
Wang Mingqiang, artistic director of Zhejiang Kunqu Opera Troupe, said, "Each year, starting May 18, we present a variety of Kunqu opera performances. This year we have assembled eight troupes. All the performances feature young artists."
A Kunqu Opera artist performs on the stage. /CGTN Photo

A Kunqu Opera artist performs on the stage. /CGTN Photo

An audience member said, "I like the Monkey King show. I think the actors showed off excellent performing skills." 
Another said, "The show is really good. Now people are showing more and more interest in Kunqu Opera, including children. They also have Kunqu Opera clubs in schools."
"The most encouraging thing is that since 2017, we have seen increasingly large audiences each year. Tickets were sold out almost weeks before the opening," Wang added.
It has become a tradition for the artists to use the event as an opportunity to share thoughts and experiences, and discuss the future of their beloved art form.
Zhang Yongliang, deputy director of Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe, said, "We have more than 10,000 Kunqu Opera fans in Shanghai and many of them follow our show wherever we go. We made a 3D Kunqu Opera film and it took many awards, like the Golden Crane Award for Artistic Contribution at last year's Tokyo International Film Festival. I think film will be a good medium for introducing Kunqu Opera to a wider audience."
A Kunqu Opera artist plays the Monkey King on the stage. /CGTN Photo

A Kunqu Opera artist plays the Monkey King on the stage. /CGTN Photo

The Northern Kunqu Opera Theater has also taken steps to popularize Kunqu Opera among young people. The theater has established programs with some schools in Beijing, where over 2,500 young students have attended Kunqu opera lessons at the capital city in recent years. Many of them became members of the theater after graduating.
Cai Shaohua, director from Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater, said that accessibility is a priority.
"We have live shows in our theater almost every week and we set a good ticket price. We want to build our theater as a platform where audiences can afford to watch what they love. And we also bring our show to other cities – to make Kunqu Opera performances available to everyone in the country," said Cai.
And not all the education is happening on the stage. The Zhejiang Kunqu Opera troupe showcased a textbook at the workshop with the goal of helping readers near and far learn about and appreciate this treasured Chinese art form. 
(Top image: A scene from Kunqu Opera "The West Chamber." VCG File Photo)