Kunqu Opera


Yesterday night we went to watch a Kunqu Opera performance. The theatre was located in Suzhou, and for that reason, I was more excited to go. After reaching our destination I was surprised from the size of the audience. It was smaller than I expected.

The play was separated into three different individual stories with different plot and actors. This took me long to realise considering the language barrier that existed. And this may have been the greatest issue of the night except for a sudden turn of events by the end of the night.

A few remarkable notices from all three stories.
Since I didn’t know the stories, I couldn’t keep up the plot and therefore I cannot comment on the connection between action and meaning correctly.


One thing that captured my attention from the beginning of the performance was the unique sleeves the costumes had but more importantly their use. All of the actors played with their sleeves; as in they used their length to hide their hands and create shapes with them (An example of that could be the gesture of pleading from a female actress. This made the plea more intense, even and powerful.) or uncovered their hands to show the delicacy and be more precise (An example of this one would be when they were showing the direction or wanted to support their words with gestures that showed delicacy.).15208015_339416376417954_156357286_n

Emperor’s shoes

An element that I found extraordinarily unique and cumbersome, is the emperor’s and main ghost’s pair of shoes. They wore boots whose sole was almost 10-inches making their movement admirable because of the difficulty. The shoes added height to the actor making him superior to the others. The shoes were only worn by people of great importance. For the first one it was the male emperor and for the last one, it was the main ghost, played by a really famous performer as I figured out.



From what I picked up, the first story was about a woman falling deeply in love with a man who then leaves her saying that he doesn’t and her to start doing greater things and become an emperor. It frustrated me how they portrayed women as a highly emotional being that falls quickly in love and only cares about marriage, but men ignore women as they can control their feelings and reach for ‘greater’ things in life such as becoming an emperor and a leader.I realised that this is how people’s mindset was in ancient China.

Sound elements

The sound effects and elements were of great importance in the show. When the actors made movements, their kinesis was emphasised by the sound. This sound was a thud and its pace was increasing and decreasing according to the circumstances. For example, when they were walking the pace of the music was fast as their walking pace. But when they posed or there was tension built up and we  were waiting for the release, the thud was slower and the time in between each noise was increased.


Always holding something in their hands

All of the performers when speaking, standing or performing held something in their hands. In most cases they held fans. They used them to show where they were heading towards and add a special element. In other cases, it was a stick with fringes or without. This stick represented also movements of a horse depending on the angle it was held by.

First girl;poor – diamonds on head

The financial and socioeconomic background of the characters was not reflected in their appearance. The greatest example to prove this correct was during the first scene where the poor girl, falling in love with the emperor, was wearing diamonds on her hair.

Female role

In the first scene mostly, the female character was shown complaining and weeping when the male character was the one supporting her. Here we can see how women were portrayed as fragile and weak when men were strong and supporting. In the second story, the woman’s face was not shown, proving the importance and the power of beauty in a society like this. The reason why the second couple fell in love was nothing but external appearance.



All of the actors were wearing wigs. The wigs’ length was more than one metre in every case. What’s worth noticing about this is that even the emperor was taking deep care of his hair showing how hair length was connected with beauty and authority. Therefore, the longer the hair, the greater the person.

In ancient China, they did not cut their hair. It would disrespect their parents if they did so. Cutting your hair would be equal to cutting your hair.


Intensively staring happened at points when the actor sought for personal connection with the audience; especially after his entrance. Focus on the eyes was also achieved when during the “posing moments” (see below for more on that)  the entire group of actors remained still including their stare, the only difference being the actor with most authority moving his eyes from right to left. This increased his sense of authority, engaged the audience and completed the picture by adding a more realistic element.

Face painting

An extremely important factor in completing the character’s image was the face painting we saw on his face. Each painting represented different things and usually was unique for each of them as it was reflecting their personality traits. A clarifying example would be at first; women’s makeup. Women’s makeup was emphasising their fair complexion achieved by white paint all over the face and their captivating rather fake glare, achieved by red paint framing the eyes creating at the same time a shape that flattered their eyes making them more appealing.15211739_339416346417957_2145803114_n


Lastly, it is worth noticing how the unrealistic factor of the performance was enhanced by what I call the “posing moments”. Every once in a while the characters posed by keeping their exaggerated movements still and proving their skills to the audience. This built the tension.


As Lester mentioned, the colour used to paint their faces was symbolic since ancient times and its symbolism can be explained below:

White; Sneaky

Red; Brave

Last one; Ugly and Courageous

Transformation of time and space

Going on circles represented a transformation in space and time.

Stock characters- Caricature 

A stock character is a stereotypical person whom audiences readily recognise from frequent recurrences in a particular literary tradition. Stock characters are archetypal characters distinguished by their flatness. As a result, they tend to be easy targets for parody and to be criticised as clichés.



Kunqu Opera Research

  1. Write a one or two sentences summarising the history and origins of Kunqu Opera. Where in China does it originate from? What is its cultural and historical significance?


Kunqu singing techniques are said to have been developed during the Ming Dynasty by Wei Liangfu in the port of Taicang but linked to the songs of nearby Kunshan (near Suzhou, in modern Jiangsu Province).

Kunqu (崑曲; pinyin: Kūnqǔ; Wade-Giles: k’un-ch’ü), also known as Kunju (崑劇), Kun opera or Kunqu Opera, is one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese opera. It evolved from the Kunshan melody and dominated Chinese theatre from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The style originated in the Wu cultural area. It is listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001.


The significance of Kunqu Opera lies both in the cultural and historical field.


  • Music
  • The style originated in the Wu cultural area. It is listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since 2001.
  • It is a synthesis of drama, opera, ballet, poetry recital, and musical recital, which also draws on earlier forms of Chinese theatrical performances such as mime, farce, acrobatics, ballad recital, and medley, some of which go back to the third century B.C. or even earlier.


  • It evolved from the Kunshan melody and dominated Chinese theatre from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
  • There are many plays that continue to be famous today, including The Peony Pavilion and The Peach Blossom Fan, which were originally written for the Kunqu stage. In addition, many classical Chinese novels and stories, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin and Journey to the West were adapted very early into dramatic pieces.
  1. Identify the unique performance conventions required by a performer in this theatre tradition:
  2. Gesture
  3. Face
  4. Body
  5. Movement
  6. Voice
  7. List the key production elements of the tradition that are intrinsic to the performance convention being explored (such as basic costume, props, set pieces or stage layout)

The use of Chinese fan

There are specific and detailed regulations about the use of a fan in Kunqu. It applies to characters which are well-educated or romantic.For instance, scholars, daughters of rich and powerful family and officials. Sometimes immortals and crowns use specially-designed fans to help the expression of their roles.

Stage language

The language on Kunqu stage is an artificial language, which does not originate from Kunshan or Suzhou, neither does mandarin. It is based on mandarin with Kunshan elements.


As Kunqu’s name contain qu,which means song and opera in Chinese. The poetic monologue/dialogue of the play are written to fit the sequence of tunes, which is called qupai.


Dance movements have highly stylised gestures. Not whole body is engaged.


Among all forms of Chinese traditional theatre styles, Kunqu uses a minimum of props and scenery, which helps the players express through dance. The opera encourage the audience to imagine the scene themselves.


Costumes are exaggerated versions of the style of dress during Ming dynasty and make no attempt to fit in the story. What is unique in Kunqu is a kind of very long sleeves called water sleeves.

Fundamental feature

Slow pace     exquisite  delicate     soft and gentle   elegant

  1. When complete: look at the following course syllabus from the Chinese University of Hong Kong on “The Beauty of Kunqu Opera.” Identify one of the week subtopics that are of interest to you to explore and note more. For example, Week 5 looks at the complex facial makeup of the painted faces role-type; watch one or more of the videos and take notes in your journal.

Week 2: The Beauty of Kunqu Music

The music plays in the Kunqu opera plays a major role. Firstly deriving the name “Kunqu”, which means, the music of the region Kun, in the Jiangsu province. It definitely needs to be taken into consideration as an important part of the analysis for multiple reasons:

  • Music or tonalities are present in the entire play or opera.
  • The rhythm, tones, pauses in the music, and therefore in the opera, are very similar to all plays. These aspects have been standardised in the past centuries.
  • It determines and leads the audience to parts in the opera where monologues or dialogues are being said, and differ them from moments in the play, where songs are simply put in place.
  • There is no such thing as a monotone dialogue or monologue as for the character They say their specific lines, in a way that is chanted, but not sung, and follow very closely the tonality in the background music
  • The music’s melody and the lyrics or lines in the opera are intertwined, due to the nature of the Chinese language. It is important to mention, that, although the language used is not officially mandarin or a specific dialect, the tones in words still affect the meaning of such. This is the reason why, the  music vibrant sounds and moments are present, due to the nature of some vibrant word pronunciation.

Additional information can be added concerning the instruments used in the orchestra:

  • Dizi: Horizontal bamboo flute.
  • Sheng: Bamboo wind organ.
  • Sanxian: three chord lute.
  • Percussion: drums, cymbals, bells, and wooden clappers,



Now I am coming back from a theatre play we watched with our entire DP1 Theatre community went to. We visited an international school in Shanghai which was putting up a play. The play was supposed to be provocative and intense bringing up issues in our society that everyone should be aware of.

Going to the international school, the atmosphere felt so welcoming. I was surprised by the fact that there were no Chinese students among the student body which was something I had grown used to.
After having a quick dinner we headed to their performance stage.

It was different. It was not the usual stage setting but that was powerful. The stage was not higher or lower than the seats, it was on the same level. And as the director explained after the play came to an end, this setup meant to give the audience the feeling of truthfulness. As you’re kneeling or moving to see what is happening in front of you, you feel the difficulty of getting the information and news. The same thing and process happen in reality when you try to get informed on world news from media, which tend to allure the truth making the process of getting the truth especially difficult if not impossible.20161122_192236

The theme of the play
 I found the theme of the play marvellous. The concept of encouraging students to familiarise themselves with the tragedy and the pure nature of civil war, rape and socialism through the art of theatre made the play enlightening. This proves that theatre is one of the most efficient ways to educate the society on issues like this. On the other hand, live theatre is restrictive since it is only accessible to a number of people each time. It is the opposite of media. Media can expand in no time informing and reaching millions at once.

The aspect of journalism was touched throughout the play. One of the main characters if not THE main one, was a journalist coming to witness the civil war. She did not get involved, just witnessed and reflect on what she saw making the connection to everyday western lifestyle.  Journalism was mentioned to show how the stories may not reflect the actual events. It also sparked questions such as; should the journalist be involved in an event or just report on it afterwards (Personal opinion: no matter how great the risk is, you’re a human above a journalist and if it’s up to you to protect and save the life of a human being you should take the risk.)

The performance of the actors was overall good. By that I am saying that some performances and actors were truly amazing but others could be intensified. The points that I liked the most were when the characters gave it their all and humiliated on stage. A great example of this is “Madam’s” outburst on how she feels like a hole, used and taken advantage upon by men. Her words were so strong and the situation in which she was in made the outburst more significant.
The best part about this play was the use of symbols on stage. From the beginning of the play those symbols were present. For example, a lamp coming from the ceiling was showing tension when the alarm went off making the panic more strong and memorable. My personal favourite was when the actors were mentioning books and reading and hundreds of flyers were being ejected on stage by fans and then right after confetti was thrown all over the stage. This visualisation of words by simple yet impressive actions left me speechless. I found it amazing how they came up with such a unique way of expressing what is being said.20161122_192259


An interesting aspect that I noticed on one of the actors and wanted to mention for such a long time was Make-up. One of the actors had makeup on his face making his expressions more visible and profound. I used makeup as well for my monologue performance as I feel like this makes your eyes more prominent and therefore expressive. Make-up is another creative factor to play with when it comes to theatre.
Greek elements
As Kate also noticed some elements of the play were ‘Greek style’. When the scene was too intense to visually interpret on stage such as rape or impossible to stage, they transferred it outside and mentioned what happened was came back through message carriers. This method was used in ancient Greek theatres when they wanted to show Gods input and influence on the happenings.

The way the stage had been set up
On the sides of the stage, there were constructions probably 2.60 meters tall. They were used in a way to create movement and to portray the stage boundaries, entrance, exit etc. I thought it was impressive to add height into a performance which was on the same level with the audience. The difference in levels made the atmosphere more complicated and complex.

Overall the play left me a pleasant note considering the effort of the students in creating this play in less than two months. The only unpleasant note was that during the symposium when I asked a question not only the actors and director couldn’t answer it but also the director asked Kate to answer. In the end, I did not get an answer. (Question: What would be the ideal audience which needs to be “educated” by the play more than anyone else.)




The lighting component of the performance made a significant impact on the audience’s emotions. They connected lighting to tension. As mentioned above the role of the lamp was important to increasing the strength and tension of the circumstances.  The same was achieved by the puppetry looking scene. In this scene, the actors were standing behind a curtain. The flashlight was facing them. Only their shadow was visible. So, this scene focused on their physical movement which was exaggerated and intensified throughout the scene, making the atmosphere harsh. This scene was storytelling about rumoured scenes of tragedy within the circumstances of war. Lastly, the tone of light was warm with yellow and orange undertones.

  1. YELLOW – wisdom, knowledge, relaxation, joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard
  2. ORANGE – humour, energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant


As mentioned in this website the choice of colours was supposed to convey feelings such as optimism and illness, jealousy and hope, betrayal and dishonesty in an environment filled with energy and warmth.


The same message was supported by the choice of clothing as well. The worker’s clothes were orange, brown, yellow and pink showing their reality in Illyria. But, nevertheless, the clothing was simple and even though not distressed it gave away how poor and traumatised the women were.


Images on the white floor appeared as the main character, Madam, came in contact with a shoemaker. The images looked as if a rug was on the floor contributing to the atmosphere. They wanted to make clear how hard it is to create a shoe (<what we receive ready without doubting where it came from and acknowledging the effort put into it) and the complexity of the process while giving elements of a messy and filled with elements environment.


Another detail that caught my eye and impressed me with the creativity and simplicity of it was the paper birds. The paper birds were in reality pieces of paper that already were on stage (fliers -books). They used this element to give the essence of freedom which is what white birds represent as in the end, they became free both physically and mentally.20161122_192221

Chest box

Chest boxes were placed on 3 sides of the scene. Their use was to supply the actors with staging pieces as the play was progressing. The chest boxes hid their content and because of their old style they contributed in giving the stage a sense of old and traditional. Lastly, they were accessible at all times making the flow even and the change of setting quicker

Characters that stood out to me the most

The characters that stood out to me the most were the ones who embraced their role completely and devoted to it. The first one is the official who appeared as superior in the beginning acting confidently, aggressively and walking straight and flawlessly and then showed her inferiority to Madam by expressing her dislike and aggression towards her. She even got to a point where she almost killed her.
The second character was Madam. Even though at some points I felt she was not fully in character there were others where I felt her pain and despair. Her acting was so strong that made it relatable.

What is it to contrast the two worlds?

Throughout the entire play one thing was obvious. And that was the contrast between the world of the poor citizens leaving under poverty and the privileged leaders and the people related to them enjoying luxurious goods which are unreasonably expensive in favour of the nation’s citizens. Whenever luxury was mentioned it was to portray this exact situation. Especially when Madam was demanding to get her designer shoes; everyone else was there to serve her and assist her. The ratio between her (the privileged one) and the “servants” (many poor citizens) shows the real-world situation in times of civil war; a few living in favour of many.

2nd person narration

  • Element of breaking the 4th wall (Viewpoints after Brecht)


A really important element of staging in the performance was the way the thrust stage. Thrust stage is when the audience is on three sides of the stage. This makes the audience more involved and requires the director and cast to take a different approach on the performance since now the audience is in 2 more sides and they have to include them as well.


This performance inspired me and encouraged me to experiment more with staging elements in my performance. By seeing how meaning was expressed from symbolic objects and actions, I felt pushed to include symbolic pieces as well.



Onstage Performance


Trying to experiment on stage while also getting accustomed to the feeling of performing on stage I realised I didn’t research enough. And this turned into a hesitation about me acting. When I walked into the theater I was thinking of ways to actually be braver, take risks and challenge myself, but after a few minutes, all of this was shuttered.

Ok, I guess it wasn’t that bad, but I feel like I disappointed myself.

On the positive side, after performing to my classmates I got their feedback and now I know what I need to work on.

A few minutes ago I started doing research and started thinking of new, alternative ways to portray what I want. I thought of material I could use to show the internal pain and desperation of my character.

I hope I find my way and create what I have in my head.


Experimenting with different music was again the main focus of our class.

But it wasn’t the only thing in today’s theatre experience. Today I realised I should take more risks. As I am preparing my monologues in different styles, I asked Kate for some insight and advice. But, throughout our conversation what stuck with me the most was this:

“I don’t take enough risks and therefore this is what is keeping me back in this creative process”

And when I am saying keeping back I include the enjoyment. Because to enjoy this process you have to let loose, experiment and at the same time take risks. Only risks, actions out of your comfort zone lead to new, innovative ideas and concepts. That’s how everything starts; by people experimenting and taking chances without a clear outcome but with hopes for the best.

And at the same time, I need to respect myself. Respect and support my decisions with no doubt of failure or unpleasant outcome.

I feel optimistic and I am hoping for greater things. Because, once you change your mentality you can change the world.


Overwhelmed by theatre

I realised I can create. 

I can create whatever I want. And that’s where the beauty of theatre lies. If you express your creativity without any boundaries or restrictions then the product itself will be unique and original, enjoyable and memorable. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Don’t fool your mind with non-existent restrictions keeping you away from creating or even enjoying the process.

To be more exact, during today’s lesson my imagination run wild and I found new, innovative and unique ways to transform my monologue. I came across new ideas and plans, I felt the excitement of creating and the joy of performing and unleashing your emotions.

Final verdict? I love theatre.
It gives you the power to experiment and discover, explore new possibilities and create conventions. It is such a powerful form of art.

Planning ahead

We don’t dig deep enough. We just stay on the surface and experiment slightly. Instead, we should be delving into our performances and being completely devoted to it. We should start to experiment with by trying out different conventions and seeing what we actually want. We should be discovering and engaging fully with it.

Today I felt stressed at first. But to my benefit, this soon turned into motivation. When hearing the deadlines, assignments and responsibilities we have to come across with by Christmas break I felt suffocated and stressed. Afterwards, though I started getting inspired and more eager to work on theatre.


The areas I need to work on are:

  • Journal
    • Make it more fun, include more visual pieces, maybe work on a physical copy
  • Monologue
    1. Try and evolve the realistic performance by including new elements and changing some of the previous conventions
      (eg. candles, broomstick etc)
    2. Find the theatre styles to adopt my monologue into
      (Poor theatre, Puppetry & Theatre of cruelty)
    3. Rehearse and experiment with those styles
    4. Film videos and start working on the portfolio
  • Overall Progress
    • I need to know where I’m standing and what I should be working towards overall


Exploration and finding meaning

Starting from a general overview of our timetable, our theatre class started. 
Exploring movements and atmosphere, as well as their effect on the meaning of a performance, was today’s main area of focus.
We focused on seeing the connection between to actors when they focus on different points. For example, I started by actors neutral while Malene was shaping my body and then it evolved in me focusing on her hand and finally in creating eye contact. The difference between those three stages seemed obvious to me. The level of interaction between us affected the meaning. At first, it started as something unnatural and then it became more and more meaningful implying an emotional connection between us.

We also experimented with both of us being focused on each other’s right hand. We had to follow the movements of the hand and move our hand creating different shapes with our bodies. A big impact on the atmosphere was made by the underlying music and lighting. The lighting was made by a spotlight cutting out anything else on the screen and maximising the focus on us. As far as the song is concerned, it is the following which in my opinion brought out emotion and vulnerability.

The interesting thing was that once we discussed the outcome with the class everyone had different interpretations of what was happening. Some thought there was obvious tension between us but others felt that the attention was mostly on the hand which resulted in ignoring the other person. And I feel like this represents exactly what happens during a theatre play. All of the audience witnesses the same performance but each and every one of them understands the actions and the atmosphere differently creating narrative in individual, unique ways.

Apart from today’s class actions I am currently working on changing the setting of my monologue. As my monologue went as good as in the rehearsals, the overall result was not pleasing so I decided to change the staging. I decided to add elements and make every aspect of the performance more realistic. Afterall, this is the aim of the task; to experience this theatre style and adapt our monologue to it.