Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chinese Romantic Musical - Butterfly Lovers

I had this mental block recently, when I was told to redesign the scenography for our September big production in Taiwan, the second time. So I had to dig through my whole cupboard of VCDs, trying to see if I can find any show which I could gather some inspirations from. It was during my ransacking that my eyes found something of interest to me: the original cast recording of Butterfly Lovers, the Chinese romantic musical. I had bought it in Taiwan in 2004, but had not listened to it for quite a while already.

This musical premiered at the National Theatre of Taiwan in 2003, starring Winnie Shin as Zhu Yingtai, "King of Musicals" Berson Wang as Liang Shanbo and Huang Shiwei as Ma Wencai. The main storyline of the show is more or less similar to that commonly seen in Chinese operas, with more emphasis being made on Ma Wencai. In typical Chinese opera shows, Ma Wencai is only a very minor role, if not non-appearing, and is always seen as a rich, flamboyant rascal of little talent. In this show, however, Ma Wencai is seen as an educated and sentimental man who was deeply in love with Zhu Yingtai, but did not understand how love works, and finally lost Yingtai.

From the video footages in the bonus behind-the-scenes VCD, the show seemed quite good. Having said that, this show is not without any weak points. For a start, some part of the music sounded a bit out-of-place, as the composer had actually tried to incoporate western opera music, broadway musical music, Chinese folk music and old Hong Kong drama serial music into the show. Also, the settings of the show was wrong as well. The story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai was supposed to be in the Western Jin dynasty, which was after the Three Kingdoms period. In this show, however, Zhu Yingtai actually sang of Wu Zetian, the female Empress of the Tang dynasty!

This show had just been re-staged again late last year, and I'm not sure if these problems had been solved or not. Anyway, for this latest production, Winnie Shin was replaced by Hong Ruixiang (previously acted as Yin Xin), while the other 2 male leads remained unchanged. I hope they'll come to stage in Singapore soon, or at least release a DVD or VCD recording of the show. It's a big pity if such a production could not be appreciated by people living outside Taiwan!

Old Ma Wencai reminscing the past

"Rebellious" Zhu Yingtai and talented Ma Wencai

Liang Shanbo's "old Hong Kong drama serial" style of music

One of the main melodies in the show, sang as a reprise during their secret engagement scene in the later part of the show

Yingtai agreeing to marry Ma Wencai in order to preserve the honour of her family as well as the safety of Liang's family

Yingtai revealing to Shanbo her engagement to Ma Wencai

Yingtai asking Shanbo to marry someone else and forget her

Shanbo on the verge of death after being seriously wounded and humiliated by Ma Wencai


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tribute to Chen Jinlang

Even as I write this post, I have this strange feeling inside me. I'm not a fan of Chen Jinlang, but why am I writing a tribute to him?

For those who do not know him, Chen Jinlang, 45, was a famous Hokkien Getai singer in Singapore. He had started singing at a young age, and till now, had a large fanbase, consisting mainly of middle-aged aunties. In recent years, however, his lives were full of up-and-downs as he became bankrupt, and was sentenced to jail once for leaving Singapore without permission on numerous occasions. Last year, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, and lost his battle on 25th July 2006, which co-incidentally happened to be the 1st day of the 7th lunar month.

His funeral function happened to be just the the void deck of my flats, and for the past few days, the function was packed with many people, among them were loyal fans and people in the entertainment line. My parents did went to take a look at the function, and even bought his concert VCD, which was recorded a few years ago and currently on sale at the funeral function. I find it rather eerie, that he was already lying in his coffin downstairs, and outside in the living room, his singing was still lingering in the air!

Before his death, I don't really like Chen Jinlang. Not that I dislike him, but I personally do not like Getai form of entertainment. However, after listening to his songs for quite a while (my Mum has been playing his songs at home days before his death, after rumours were spreading that he might had passed away already), I found that his voice isn't really that bad. At least he sounded more soothing than the flamboyant Lin Li, who looked more like a desperate clown than a professional singer. Anyway, not only did Chen Jinlang able to sing pop songs well, he sounded equally good when he sings Hokkien opera. I happened to hear the part in his concert whereby he sang Hokkien opera, and it sounded just like what a Hokkien opera singer should sing like.

It was such an irony that I only managed to realise his potential after his death, but I am glad that at least I get to find out! Goodbye Chen Jinlang, may the Buddha's sutras lead you on to your next life...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hectic Weekend

Last weekend was a hectic one, and I haven't really gotten over it. Hence, to be real honest, I'm actually not in the mood to blog anything now. However, since some people want to read more about our performance last Saturday, I've decided to write a little...

Last Saturday we performed "Bloodshed In The Imperial Palace" at Chong Pang Community Club. We had actually planned to stage this show in March, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, this performance had been postponed and delayed numerous times. This is the first show (but second run) in which I was totally in charged of designing the stage set, as well as making the required stage scenes. However, due to my other troupe commitments, I had no time to help move props into the performance venue, and nothing was setup on stage, even until Friday night, the eve of the performance. My troupe leader was angry with me for not informing anyone about my stage set designs and ideas, but the fact is nobody bother to ask me what I need for the stage, when it was already officially known that I'm in charged of designing the stage. I did not want to argue, so I suggest to go to the community club earlier so that I could do last minute rigging. Luckily some other members helped me with some of the bulky props, or else I could never finish setting up the stage, let only finish my makeup!

The show was quite a success, I would say, although I was not too happy with my performance. I had a bad headache due to the tight "water sash" which I had secured around my head. Well, I believe you have to pay a price if you want to look good on stage, and I thought that was one of my best stage portrayal so far. Too bad I did not have time to take any photograph of me in makeup and costume then!

Our show ended at around 11pm, and we were ordered to go back to Konghuay to help unpack our stuffs. On the bus, everyone was back to their nonsense again, as you can see below:

Juan forcing Art to put on a "dan" wig; Art said that she'd never do that even for $2000!

Amai doing a chocolate commercial

If you think that's all for the weekend, you're wrong! For some of us, we had to reach Konghuay by 11am the following day to rehearse for our Heritage Board performance this coming Sunday. The rehearsal was supposed to be from 11am to 1pm, but it was one of the most unsuccessful rehearsals I've ever attended, as we were interrupted multiple times because of nitty gritty things. I was very fed-up, as it was a completely waste of time. I am in charged of making the MIDI sing-along demo for this show, and it was still far from being complete. Yet, some people jsut don't seemed a bit bothered at not being able to syncronise their actions to my music.

"Mai" In Blue

My controversial portrayal in "Coutesan Yu Tang Chun"

Rehearsal for Heritage Board's programme was just one of the activities in the Konghuay for yesterday. In the afternoon, we were scheduled to have a photoshoot for our latest show "Courtesan Yu Tang Chun". This show has been revamped from the traditional Hokkien opera of the same title, and we'll be bringing this show to Taiwan to perform, our second trip since 1990. I personally do not like photoshoots because they can be very tiring, especially if taken in a big group. Sometimes, making up alone can drain me of all energy already! But then again, we try to lighten our spirits by having a little fun among ourselves.

The photoshoot took too much time, and it ate into our rehearsal time, which was supposed to start at 7.30pm. Yesterday night, we were originally scheduled to run through the whole of "Courtesan Yu Tang Chun", but we ended up only rehearsing the prologue and scene three of the show. These 2 scenes had been rewritten to incorporate some dance, and is one of the highlights to the latest rendition of this show. This is how one of the dance segments is supposed looked like:

And this is what happened during one of the "trial runs" of the same dance!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I'm Leaving!

“Do you have the intention to resign?” my boss asked me out of the blue during our morning meeting today. I was emotionless on the surface, but I was grinning widely inside me.

I don’t like my job, and had actually thought of resigning since May. However, due to various reasons, I had not expressed my intentions to my boss at all. My colleagues, however, knew that I wanted to leave. Not that I’m wishy-washy, but there were a lot of things for me to clear, and I did not want my boss to think that I’m trying to flee in time of trouble. Now that my boss had actually asked me first, it was a big relief for me.

Actually the decision to leave the company was not an easy one. If my company and management were as bad as my previous one, I could have just thrown in the resignation letter without much consideration. However, the company has been very kind and lenient to me, my boss and my colleagues had helped me greatly. It’s just that I’m not cut to be an engineer, and as a matter of fact, I could be sacked long ago if I am in another similar company now. Anyway after the meeting, my boss still took us out for lunch, a thing he always does if he comes to office and to work through the afternoon. We still talked like per normal (less worked up with me now, in fact), and he even asked why did I join and left my previous companies, and what plans do I have after leaving.

The only thing now, is when I will be able to leave officially. It could be by the end of this week, end of next week, or end of the month. But anyway I’ve given him the promise that I’ll settle all my outstanding things nicely, so that I can leave with a clear conscience and my colleagues coping well without me around.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Change of Hairstyle

It has been over a decade since I enjoy visit hair salons, because I dread looking at myself in the mirror with a horrible haircut. Last Saturday, however, I was excited about visiting one, reason being I was about to have a change of hairstyle.

Just a few days earlier, I went to have a haircut at the same salon, and the hairdresser asked me if I had considered doing a perm on my hair as well for a change. That came as a coincidence as I have been thinking of doing so of late too. I had wavy hair, which can be abit hard to manage when it gets a bit too long. I could have cut my hair short, but that's not what I like to do, for firstly I don't like short hairstyles, and secondly I'll look even much younger than my actual age. (Already there're people who thought I looked like an early-twenties) That left me with no other alternatives, and hence the thought of perming my hair came to my mind.

To cut the story short, the style I was introduced to is called "twist perm". I know nothing about such styles, so I asked my hairdresser for a sample picture which I can relate to, but they do not have. He then pointed out to another hairdresser in the salon and said that he was spotting that kind of perm. I thought it looked cool, so I felt much at ease with the perm. What the hairstylist did was to twist my hair into spikes, wrapped them up in aluminium foil and then pour perming gel into them to set them into shape. It was a very long and process which took over 2 hours, and the initial stage of hair-twisting was a bit uncomfortable; sometimes I was worried that the hairdresser would pull out my hair instead of setting them in place!

After a long, long wait, the perm was finally done and I was excited at how my hair would look like. The results wasn't quite like what I had expected, and I thought my hair looked more like pork floss! It looked nothing like the other hairdresser in the shop, but I thought it still looked acceptable. Perhaps when my hair starts to grow a bit longer, it would look nicer.

That evening, when I arrived at Konghuay, my hairstyle became a centre of attraction instantly. Some commented that they didn't know I was so "in", whereas some said that my hair looked too dry and frizzy. To be honest, I don't even know if my hair is damaged or not; I don't even know if this is the characteristic of this style of perm. But anyway, I can only live with it for the time being, till my hair either becomes longer, and then I'll decide whether I'll keep the hairstyle or to snip them all away. But now I have another thing to crack my head about: how am I going to style my hair so that I do not raise eyebrows in office!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Chinese Temple Performance

It’s the 14th day of the 6th lunar month, and like the previous three years, we were scheduled to perform in front of a Chinese temple in Jalan Bahar in conjunction with the birthday celebration of the temple’s main God. Unlike last year where we had to act as the eight immortals, this year we were only doing minor acts to link up the different performances that were to be presented at the temple’s altar together with our Konghuay's own dance troupe. This is their debut appearance in this temple's annual celebration.

The weather wasn’t too good as it was drizzling slightly when we arrived by chartered bus. Well it was kind of good for us from another angle, as it meant that we do not have to follow the rest in the procession around the neighbourhood. I’ve done that before, and it wasn’t a good experience, especially under the hot sun and we were all in thick costumes and makeup. Anyway, another advantage of not following the crowd is that we could make use of that period of time to have our final rehearsal on the actual performance ground. Rehearsing back in our headquarters is never the same as rehearsing in front of the altar because the dimension and direction sense of both venues are completely different!

Not long after we finished our rehearsals, the procession crowd returned. This was followed by a religious ritual of welcoming the Gods back into the temple. The various Gods of the temple (represented by their various statues), who had paraded around the neighbourhood in holy lifts during the procession, were to be carried back in the same manner into the temple. During the process of doing so, the lifts would rock a lot. According to Taoist beliefs, this is actually the works of the Gods, and not deliberate acts done by the lift bearers. I was quite used to seeing this as I was practically involved (in a way or another) in the performances for the past 3 years. This year, however, the situation is slightly different: the lifts were rocking rather violently, and from what I could see, some of the lift bearers were actually being possessed. This was the first time Amai took part in such shows and she was shocked by what she had seen. Even Juan (XJ), who had been performing in front of the altar for all previous years, was scared stiff when the lift bearers for one of the holy lifts actually fell to the ground near her. Fortunately everything went on smoothly and nobody was hurt.

After the rituals came to an end, the actual performance kicked off. I was in charged of giving cues to the sound engineers on the music playback and microphone control. It was quite a mess for me, as I have to co-ordinate eight microphones and 5 CDs, and there were only 2 CD racks. Luckily there was no hiccup during the show, except some of our members had slipped a bit during the performance as the floor was full of water and flower petals that were thrown during the praying session after the ritual to welcome back the God. One thing I wasn't happy about, was that halfway through the performance, the emcee of the temple actually made an announcement of a Getai being held at the open field a stone's throw away from the temple. And it wasn't just once, but twice, and they did the same thing last year too, to ask the vehicle owner of a certain car to shift. How rude and disrepectful to their Gods can they be!

We left the temple at around eight o’clock and headed back to our headquarters. Tonight’s performance might have been a very minor one, but it was hectic nevertheless as we had to stand for a long time in a stuffy and crowded environment. However hectic, we were still full of nonsense after we got back to our “home”, as you can see from these clips below!

Juan (XJ) still fluttering around when everyone had started removing their makeup.

Amai complaining about using real hair as compared to wigs in performances.

Amai and Juan making fun of Art (WMY) about her spiky hair; parody of Zhuang Jinmei's "Love Triangle" melody.

Juan still fluttering around with her wig half-falling off.

Being a Chinese Opera Actor

Being a Chinese opera actor is not easy. Not only do you have to remember your lines, songs and stage movements, you also have to keep your emotions in check. Take a look at this NG scene from our rehearsals, one moment we were laughing away at some blunders made by other actors, and the next moment, we were all serious and into our roles again!