Translated by Soong Phui Jee
Sin Chew Daily
PETALING JAYA, Selangor: Local Teochew opera artists are facing a dilemma between promoting the cultural art and maintaining their livelihood, since they have to face fierce competitions from foreign opera troupes while the art itself is being gradually washed away.
Teochew opera has a long history in Malaysia and it used to be a performance to express gratitude to god. Thus, it could always been seen during Chinese religious festivals.
However, as time goes by, Teochew opera is gradually being washed away as people nowadays prefer improved Peking opera.
Most temples prefer Thai and Chinese opera troupes
In recent years, most temples prefer to invite troupes from China and Thailand as they offer lower charges. Also, temple managements always have a mindset that foreign opera troupes can perform better.
The immediate crisis has worried Teochew opera artists. Instead of their own livelihood problems, they are more worried about losing the precious traditional culture.
Younger generations today cannot understand Teochew dialect and thus, some opera troupes have breached the language barrier by providing subtitles.
In Penang, a Teochew opera troupe was originally a puppetry troupe. The family opera troupe was said to be loved by the locals. However, the survival of the troupe seems to be insignificant today because of the lack of performing platforms and training schools in Malaysia.
Also, they found that some young people are interested in opera but they do not truly understand its history and the essence of the cultural art.
Serious shortage of actors
Teochew opera troupe manager Wu Hui Ling said in an interview with the Sin Chew Daily that the development of Teochew opera artists has never been concerned in Malaysia. They have a very few opportunities even to perform on stage, let alone setting up a training school.
"We try our best to attract more young people join our troupe to sustain the traditional culture. However, only old cast members are left today. Of course, we have to consider about livelihood problems and therefore, we have no choice but to get some actors from Thailand and China," Wu said.
Wu also said that in addition to the shortage of actors, they also face fierce competitions and thus, they have been struggling to survive over the past two years.
Different roles, different costumes
Teocheow opera seems simple but it requires great preparations behind the scene. From makeup and dressing to performance on the stage, all of them need experience to show their expertise.
"Different roles have different costumes. Role interpretations are also limited by the roles they are playing and taboos," Wu said.
She also said that all staff members are equally important.
Promoting good deeds and morality
When being asked whether is it worth it, she said that the most important thing is, she is doing it out of interest and it can also make her parents relieved.
"In addition to interest, it also represents the culture and taste of Teochew and all opera stories reflect good deeds and moral values. It must be carried forward," she said.