Dying Trade. Dying Career. Dying Crowd

August 14, 2008 at 11:59 am | Posted in itchy fingers | Leave a comment
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During the Lunar Seventh Month when the Gate of Hell is opened, the Living would go all out to please the Dead, in the hope that they would enjoy their short ‘holiday’ back on earth and maybe more importantly, to leave the Living alone so that everyone could live in peace and harmony…haha…For some, this would be a great chance to ask for golden numbers in order to strike it rich in lottery…

While food and offerings would be made to the Dead to satisfy their tastebuds (if tongues weren’t ordered to be cut off by the Kings from the Ten Courts of Hell) :p, the Living also had to make sure that the souls of the Dead were being taken care of. That’s when entertainment comes into play.

In recent years, Getai, or simply ‘live’ outdoor singing performance, had mushroomed and replaced the traditional Street Opera. The latter, often performed in various dialects, gradually lost its appeal as lesser people nowadays can understand them, thanks to our gahmen’s effort in promoting the use of Mandarin and abandoning dialects from the early 80s onwards. The older opera performers slowly passed on, with not many younger generation interested enough to want to pick up the trade.

I have always been interested in taking pictures of Street Operas. From the first time I laid my hand on my first camera doing school project, Street Opera had been one of my favourite subjects cos of the many colourful costumes, props, characters and stage. But with the trade dying, it’s really hard to catch them in action, even during the Seventh Month.

So I was delighted when I saw a group performing just across the field where I stayed.

Compared to the previous night of Getai, the turnout at this Hokkien
Street Opera was pathetic…

The audience were mainly elderly in their 50s and above, but there were a younger couple and also an Indian family of three! What a surprise! I dun think they could understand a word lah, but given that the weather was cool and breezy and the performance free for all, I think it should be a nice little cultural experience for them. šŸ˜€

TheĀ troupe’sĀ name was plastered all over the stage…er…how come
the people from the past had curly permed hair….hahah

The curtain dropped for a change of backdrop behind, and again the
name of the troupeĀ shouted big and clear for all to see, complete
with contact details…:p

As I didn’t have proper camera with me, I couldn’t really zoom in to the performers. Being itchy backsides, I went to the back and peeped from behind the stage. Then I made eye contacts with one of the performer and asked if I could take picture from where I was standing. To my surprise, the lady asked me to come up to the backstage to shoot! šŸ˜€ And then they were friendly and kind enough to even pose for me!

This lady ushered me to the backdrop to take her picture. “Have to be
quick!”, she said. Her turn was next…

The Emperor…er, she, or ‘he’ didn’t wear ‘his’ collar properly….:p

The Concubine..she looked more like a bride….

Another concubine..

I asked a lady what was the show about and she told me that it was about an Emperor with three concubines fighting for favours. I guessed the show must be more than that, probably what she meant was the next scene was about the concubines fighting for favours from the Emperor. But she was busy preparing herself and I didn’t want to be a nuisance. So I just kept myself entertained taking pictures from behind the scene…



This person must had indulged in a lot of the Taiwanese snack to collect
so many stickers on her makeup box

This Ah Pek looked si bay sian waiting for his turn…

From behind the curtains…

I could only understand that the Emperor was going to give someone
300 strokes on the backside….dunnu why leh….:p

I din expect a young chap to be the percussionist in this dying trade!

Boy! It was so loud I was turning deaf standing there shooting!

Young watchful eyes…will she be the hope for thisĀ troupe’sĀ future?

It was funny seeing this Ah Pek popping out in shorts walking among
the people from the past….:p This was the first time I see changing
of props and even taking off outer clothes in front of audience! The
Si Bay Sian Ah Pek looked equally si bay sian on stage…and he was
supposed to be a General doing a fighting scene leh!

Notice the lady in the midde was doing another role in the previous
fighting scene? Now she looked like a scholar…no choice, a bit short-
handed I guess…

Si Bay Sian Ah Pek looked really sian…maybe he was just demoralised
over his dying career?

The Concubine touching up her makeup behind…

Wow ‘he’ had scars…

The name of the opera was written on this board

The banner on top boost the troupe’sĀ superb singing wor…Wow! That
I dunnu…

It was my third time shooting from the backstage and everytime you see different characters. There was always activities going on the make-shift stage. According to one of the ladies, they were all paid by the hours and don’t do this full-time, after all, the demand for their performance is lower in other months. I guess like many other vanishing trades of Singapore, Street Opera would soon become a thing of the past unless we try to promote the arts and attract more young people to appreciate it. It would really be a lost if that day were to come.

Also see related post:
> Varnishing Trade ā€“ Palm Art


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