Thailand: Chinese Operas Adapt to COVID-19 Protocols

Nattaphon Phanphongsanon
2021.04.29
Bangkok
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Opera-troupe members live together as a family, with adults passing down the tradition to their children, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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Performers take turns caring for each other’s children, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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A mother prepares a bottle for a baby before her next performance, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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A boy applies makeup as he prepares for a performance in Bangkok, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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Performers have only a few minutes to change costumes, Jan. 24, 2021 [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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Face shields in place, this pair makes a final check of their costumes, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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Backstage becomes chaotic as performers get ready for the show, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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Masks are included in an effort to attract bigger audiences, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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Chinese opera actors perform on the stage in Bangkok, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

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A masked performer spits fire to entertain the audience, Jan. 24, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

The worsening coronavirus pandemic in Thailand has forced performers of Chinese opera, an artistic tradition here dating to the late 1700s, to adapt to new protocols.

After a five-month moratorium, the operas have returned under strict protocols.

“We have to adapt so that the show can go on. This is the only profession that I have,” said an actor who worried that Thailand’s third outbreak of COVID-19 could have a devastating impact on the opera.

Called “Ngiew,” the operas feature a mixture of singing, dancing and acrobatics to chronicle a piece of Chinese history. Immigrants brought Ngiew to Thailand in the late 18th century.

The operas have become a part of important celebrations and are staged in Chinese temples or in ethnic Chinese communities. As the popularity has declined and audiences have aged, most troupes perform only at temple festivals.

Over the years, the number of Chinese opera troupes in Thailand have dwindled to about 10.

As of this week, the shows were still going on despite a third wave of coronavirus infections, where the number of daily cases has soared in recent days.

“When performing, I have to wear a face shield all the time. It is very hot, I’m constantly sweating and the paint I apply to my face comes off. But what can I do? If we don’t do this, they won’t let us play,” the actor told BenarNews.

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