Artist Brings Traditional Spectacle to Younger Audience

Author:Chen Nan April 26, 2020
Artist Brings Traditional Spectacle to Younger Audience
Wang Peiyu, a Peking Opera artist, hosts a popular online show which highlights the traditional performing art for young viewers. [For  China Daily]

 

"There are two kinds of people in the world-people who love Peking Opera and people who don't know they love Peking Opera yet," said Wang Peiyu in the opening section of her latest 12-episode online show, the Wang Peiyu Peking Opera Show, which premiered on March 27 on streaming service iQiyi.

"My job is to let the latter know about Peking Opera and then let them fall in love with it."

The weekly talk show, the first of its kind, sees Wang, who is one of the best-selling Peking Opera artists in China, elaborate on the traditional art form as well as display its appeal and relay its history.

With a combination of various art forms, including singing, dancing, acrobatics and martial arts, Peking Opera, or jingju, has a history stretching back more than 200 years. In 2010 UNESCO declared it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Like many traditional art forms, it is challenged by contemporary entertainment and is losing its audience, especially among the younger generation.

Wang is trying to reverse the trend. She has about 1.6 million followers on micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo and has built up a large fan base among young people with her solid techniques and charisma.

Each episode, about 30 minutes long, sees Wang introduce her unique knowledge about Peking Opera with a particular theme, such as the making of a Peking Opera star, the process of preparing for a performance, and anecdotes about the age-old art.

She uses simple, direct and humorous language to appeal to the audience, and ends each episode with a dazzling performance.

One fan commented on Wang's Sina Weibo account: "Peking Opera is an art form, which is beyond my imagination. All I knew about it was the painted faces, jaw-dropping acrobatics and the lyrics, which I could barely understand, but thanks to Wang's show, I now know more about the art form and I look forward to watching a live performance."

Another fan wrote: "It takes a bit of patience to walk into the world of Peking Opera. The show provides a simple starting point for all of us, whether you know Peking Opera or not."

The 40-year-old Wang, a renowned female performer who specializes in playing laosheng (old male) roles onstage, has been credited with popularizing Peking Opera among younger people, she began her specialist training when she was a middle school student.

She adheres to the tradition of the performing style of Peking Opera master Yu Shuyan, whose style is called yupai or the Yu School.

Artist Brings Traditional Spectacle to Younger Audience
The female performer specializes in playing laosheng (old male) roles onstage. [For China Daily]

 

The award-winning artist has been working with Shanghai Jingju Theatre Company since 2001.

"Peking Opera is the essence of Chinese culture. It should be fun. We just need to offer people a way to learn about it," says Wang, adding that she has been thinking about producing a show about Peking Opera since 2018.

"What matters is how we present Peking Opera to the audience, especially the younger viewers.

"I have been thinking a lot about what kinds of stories we should tell and knowledge we should impart in the show. They should be professional, easy-to-understand and interesting."

Wang, also one of the planners of the show, sees youth as a vital, moving force to rejuvenate the old art.

"Having the young generation fall in love with Peking Opera is what I always want," she says. "Their participation will keep the old art form alive."

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the show was recorded in a tea house without a live audience, which was a fresh experience for Wang since she usually plays to a full house.

To prepare for the show, Wang read books, combed through historical materials and consulted experts. To attract more young people, she also tried to pick up lots of words that are popular among the young, such as "freestyle" and zihei (self-mocking).

The show went online, coinciding with the broadcasting of the new TV show, Winter Begonia, which is about a Peking Opera artist set during World War II. The 48-episode series has gained increasing popularity on Chinese social media.

"The scenes about Peking Opera, from costumes to real performances onstage, impressed me. I am glad that more and more young people have become interested in the old art thanks to the TV drama," says Wang, who also combined elements of the TV drama into her show to explain and demonstrate detailed information about Peking Opera.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Wang has had to postpone her performances, which focus on displaying the tradition of Peking Opera master Yu's classic works.

 

(Source: China Daily)

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