All about Bamboo Theatre

West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre is not only a stage for audience, but also practitioners ??be they working staff, musicians, wardrobe assistants, main casts, or even bamboo masters.

Before the West Kowloon Cultural District’s first cultural program, we are privileged to have a roundtable among top Cantonese Opera artist Yuen Siu-fai and scholar Dr Dorothy Ng Fung-ping along with our Executive Director of Performing Arts Louis Yu Kwok-lit, talking about the history of Bamboo Theatre and the future of Cantonese Opera.

D: Dr Dorothy Ng Fung-ping, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education of the University of Hong Kong
Y: Yuen Siu-fai, Vice Chairman of the Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong
L: Louis Yu Kwok-lit, Executive Director, Performing Arts of WKCDA

Graham at APA
Graham at APA
Graham at APA

L: First I would like to welcome my two seniors to join our chat. Brother Siu-fai, you have been in this industry for 50 years, can you tell us something about Bamboo Theatre in Hong Kong in those days?

Y: Bamboo Theatre is always for God-worshipping and family gathering. It was particularly common around the coastal area in China because back in those days there were no radio or radar, and fishermen went away for fishing for as long as a few months. That is why they would donate money for religious cause because their way of living could be dangerous.

L: That is right. Bamboo Theatre is originated from the Southern part of China. Its main character is flexibility because the stage can be tailored made according to the surroundings, the size is adjustable, and the location can be either built at the hillside or seaside.

Y: Bamboo Theatre owned by the big family those days could be so big that we, the modern people, could hardly imagine.

L: That must be like what was described in “Dream of the Red Chamber”

Y: So Bamboo Theatre, or God worshipping play, is in fact street performance. If you have a two-lane street, you can block one lane and build a Bamboo Theatre there.

L: The smallest Bamboo Theatre I have ever seen is near the Ping Shek Estate in Choi Hung Estate.

Y: Perhaps the smallest one is the park near Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley.

Bamboo Theatre in Red Chamber? Or Shakespeare?

Y: Many people may know a separate seating between what is known as the Male Bamboo Theatre and the Female Bamboo Theatre, in the same way as the male bamboo performers with the female bamboo performers. But you may not know sometimes audience was to be divided by two sexes and separated by a corridor. There was also an upper house for VIP and standing seats which made the theatre a very crowded place.

L: Just like the Shakespearean time.

Y: So that is where the east and west converges in the performing ideology, and this Bamboo Theatre concept is still popular in Chiu Chow.

D: I remember a very famous group “Chor Fung Ming” once played at the Banyan tree, Yaumatei.

Y: There was also worshipping play at King George V Park, which is very near to where we stage this time. Our Bamboo Theatre can house 800 people. Given Hong Kong has not had a large Bamboo Theatre in the city for such a long time, we expect it could draw not just people who would seldom enjoy Cantonese Opera, but also tourists and loyal fans. We picked the future site of Xiqu Centre for the Bamboo Theatre not just because it will be part of the West Kowloon Cultural District but also we like to promote this Chinese tradition, which has a special place here in the past, present and future.

D: Bamboo Theatre can be a nice cultural experience because it forms the core of several surrounding activities such as float, lion and dragon dance, and flour character. It is not just a good occasion for neighbours but also a confirmation of cultural identity and a learning exercise.

L: Adding to that, it is also where the Hong Kong culture and social tradition meet. Bamboo Theatre is a sign of openness. When we plan the Bamboo Theatre this time, we try to emulate what was in the past and what sort of snack food people sold in those days.

Lively performance!

D: That is right. I once went to see “The Princes in Distress” with a group of foreign friends and I remember the cast suddenly had added on a series of English conversations.

L: I believe this is a major character of Cantonese Opera in Hong Kong ??interactive and relaxing.

D: Yes my friends found it interesting too, although we know this only happened in Bamboo Theatre, not the usual theatre. But you know they are good at entertaining people and entertaining Goddess and it is just one of their special strengths.

Y: I remember when I first joined this industry, it was blooming. There were opera shows every day and new shows every week.

L: Because Cantonese Opera was a major form of entertainment, just like movies and pop songs today.

Y: I remember the most expensive tickets was HK$8.9. It was an odd number because of tax. I tried Cantonese opera movie later, which only costed HK$40 cents.


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