Thursday, October 22, 2009

the chinese wayang

wayang stage in 1988 (picture from national archives of singapore)

wayang stage in 2009 ( picture taken at bendemeer road area)

if you compare the wayang stage in the 80s - or for that matter, in the 60s, with the wayang stage of today, you will realise that things have remained more or less the same. they still use bakau wood for the frame and tarpaulin for the roofing and the sides. in the very early years, they could have used attap sheets for the roofing.

the horn loud-speaker - seen on the left of the stage - used about 40 years ago is still in use today. i am sure the props have also survived all those years of use. the floor of the stage is constructed using planks, just like in the good, old days. the musicians would be seated on the two sides, at the front of the stage.

if you look at the dimensions, they have neither grown nor shrunk over the years; they are still the same in size. the raised stage is still six feet or, in today's unit of measurement, about 1.80m above the ground.

however, if you look close enough, you will notice a bit of changes. in the past, they used strips of rattan to fasten and hold the poles together. today, they use some material made from plastic. in the place of a wooden ladder, they now have one with a metal frame. i do not know about the microphone but in the past it was a rectangular piece that was suspended.

when i was young, i enjoyed going to places which staged wayangs although, most of the time, i could not follow what was going on. i was there for the fringe attractions - the bright lights, the gaming stalls, the food and the excitement.

i know of three dialect groups which staged wayangs - the teochew, the hokkien and the hainanese. there was only one place where hainanese wayang was staged and that was at lincoln road. i used to go with my hainanese neighbour to the wayang site but i cannot recall what i did there. i understand there is also the cantonese opera but i never had the experience to watch one.

in the old days, permanent stages were quite common in the bigger kampongs. the permanent wayang stage would usually go hand in hand with a temple. today, there are not many of these permanent wayang stages - the one directly below is at balestier road and the bottom one is at pulau ubin - which prompted chun see to ask here (where have all the wayang stages gone to?). i am sure philip chew knows of some defunct wayang stages; i read about one in his blog, the joo chiat story.

although i had never sat through an entire performance, i have picked up certain points from watching snatches here and there. there were two performances each day, one in the afternoon and the other, at night. the day performance was usually played to a sparse audience. it was at night, with the glaring lights, that everything seemed to come alive.

i know that the 'good' soldiers wore red while the 'bad' ones wore green. from the facial expression, the tone of the voice and the make-up, you could tell the good characters from the bad. but, not all those who painted their face black were necessarily bad characters.

to show that the person was travelling on a horse, the actor would carry and wave a stick in his hand. to indicate that a character was entering a place, the actor would lift his leading leg just a little bit higher as he appeared to cross a threshold.


peter said...

U enjoy watching the show from the front, I preferred going backstage to watch how they do the make-up when I was a child. I was curious, "Did the actors and actresses look like that in real life?"

There I learnt they use long brushes to do their eye brow and powder puff to make the face white. I went home practising the newly found skills. Together with my cousins, we use our mothers' Hazeline Snow cream and my gosh it was so difficult to remove after that. We used tap water to wash off but to no avail.

yg said...

peter, did you paint your nose white? white nose represents a clown/comic character.

simPerBlog said...

And the corrupt judge, aka chiat chee kwa had eyebrows pointed downward...

yg said...

hi simPerBlog, my impression is that the chiat chee kwa wore a hoop or loose belt around the waist and he seemed to be holding on to it all the time.

nah said...

When it comes to enjoying the wayang, one watched the front, the other preferred the back, but I liked what was happening below…the stage. That was the place to seek refuge from the hot afternoon sun. There were chinese carrom tables, tikam-tikam, etc being set up for children to play. Of course, I had to pay a small fee to play for a limited time.
I would rather enjoy myself here and leave the others to appreciate the front and back of the show.

yg said...

nah, we watched front or back for free. you played below, sure got to pay, lah.

Lam Chun See said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lam Chun See said...

I also liked to "play below" - but it's usually after the wayang season becos the wayang stage in our kampong was a permanent one.

kimology said...

hazeline snow is not so bad, when my mum was out, my brother used her lipstick to redden my face and almost scrapped my skin off in a panic when she came back! it was of course useless and just made the face redder!

PChew said...

Another wayang character had his nose painted white known as 'peh pi ko' aka womaniser. Usually he was the son of a rich or powerful man.
As for the wayang stage, my family built two. One at Joo Chiat Place facing a temple. The wayang site is now an apartment and a church has replaced the temple. The other wayang stage was opposite Chew Joo Chiat's residence at No 65 Joo Chiat Road. Both had been demolished.