Weekend Missions: Henghua Puppet Opera

When I was younger, I always found traditional opera (Teochew or Cantonese) really scary. There was something about the loud clanging and painted faces that seemed really intimidating. However, somehow or rather, the singing has always fascinated me.

View as we listened and picnicked on the lawn.
The view while we got closer to the stage. “The Monkey’s Wedding” was playing at this point.

The Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe, the last Henghua/ Putien Puppet Troupe in Singapore, has been performing puppet opera since the 1930s. As Singapore developed into a bustling city, many other troupes dwindled, leaving this troupe one of the only troupes left in Singapore.

Hence, in conjunction with The Arts House, the Puppet Troupe became part of a programme called “Regenerating Communities” with a series of skits done in two days.

Avarielle, Joyce, Mintea, Raven, Sarah, and myself went for a picnic in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum to take in the sights.

The Lit-Up stage as the night progressed.

The owner of the troupe, Mr Yeo, inserted little essences of Hokkien and Mandarin to make it more accessible to the people watching. I only managed to arrive halfway through the second skit – A Monkey’s Wedding.

They had “Journey to the West” at 6pm, “A Monkey’s Wedding” at 7pm, and “Wu Song Defeats the Tiger” at 8pm, all of which lasting about 20 minutes with half an hour or so of Q&A.

The theatre was curated with an open concept, where members of the audience were encouraged to move around and take pictures of the goings on behind the scenes and stuff.

So while the audience can be captivated by the stories that unfurled in the brightly lit stage, the curious could also take a peek backstage and watch how each puppet master manipulated the puppets.

Wu Song, Pan Jinlian, and Wu Dalang puppets in a row as the puppet masters control them.
The scene as “Wu Song Defeats the Tiger” draws to an end.

The Q&A towards the end of it was rather interesting – as Mr Yeo is the last in line for his puppet troupe and is looking for a successor. Hence, if no one is interested to learn and continue with this troupe (it takes about 3-4 years to master puppetry roughly), that would be it for the troupe.

In this day and age, where people have many entertainment options, it’s stuff like this that reminds us of our various cultures and spark the curiosity some of us believe that we’ve lost. For me, the days where my eyes twinkled at the sight of bright lights and opera singing (despite me not knowing a word of it) seemed to return.

So yes, some traditions need to be kept.

For more information on Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe, click here.


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