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Fantasy Stage World

The Origin of the Stage

Historical records reveal that the construction of special places for performances and entertainment first appeared in the Han Dynasty, when simple tents or sheds were set up in public squares for performing jiaodi Opera(a general term for music, songs, dances, martial arts and acrobatics).

In the Tang Dynasty, there were not only sheds for musical performances, but also song and dance stages.

Along with the development of the commodity economy, and urban commerce and handicrafts in the Song, jin and Yuan dynasties, there gradually appeared performing troupes of professional actors and actresses, in addition to a great number of raised platforms on which actors appeared, known as "open platforms." In the Song Dynasty, the open platform was the place where actors and performers of all kinds vied with each other to display their talents. With the appearance of brothels for barracks in the Song Dynasty, the open platform became a part of the brothel. In the Tang dynasty, the platform was surrounded by railings, a tradition which was carried forward by the Song Dynasty and handed down until modern times.

The open platform was often surrounded by the audience. The performance platform in the brothel was different: It had a backstage area, an entrance and an exit, and three sides of the stage faced the audience (a big step forward toward the modern stage. This type of stage existed for some 800 years. (Fig.7-1 )


The Development of the Stage

Many relics of ancient stages dating back to the Song, jin and Yuan dynasties have been found in Pingyang (present-day Linfen Prefecture, Shanxi Province) in recent years. All of them had wooden structures at one time. Some of them belonged t0 temples and had a brick-and- wood structure which made them more sturdy and durable than the stages belonging to urban brothels. These stages were venues for both religious rites and entertainments. (Fig.7-2)


In the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were a large number of temporary and semi-temporary stages, and great improvements were made in the construction of fixed stages, which generally fell into the categories of temple stages, private stages, palace stages and commercial theaters.

Along with the rise of various types of local opera in the Qing Dynasty, and a great increase in the number of commercial theatrical troupes, many large and elaborate stages were built, especially from the Kangxi reign period to the Qianlong reign period (1662-1796). During this period the growth of commercial centers showed an eastward trend of expansion along the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys. The Shanxi-Shaanxi Union of Merchants established guild halls all over this area, and each vital communications hub had a shrine to the deified General Guan Yu, attached to which was a stage. Traveling BangZiqiang Opera troupes were a regular feature on these stages. Meanwhile, the salt merchants 0f jiangsu and Anhui provinces began to expand their operations, with Suzhou and YangZhou as their centers. Salt merchantsattached great importance to Kunshanqiang Opera, which took the Laolang Temple in Suzhou as its headquarters. This temple was known as the "Pear Garden Bureau," and recognized as the national theatrical center by the government.

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were a large number of temporary and semi-temporary stages, and great improvements were made in the construction of fixed stages, which generally fell into the categories of temple stages, private stages, palace stages and commercial theaters.

In the Qing Dynasty many officials and wealthy merchants had their own private theatrical troupes and orchestras. Performances could be held at any time, simply by spreading a red carpet on the ground. Some officials and merchants built private stages in their residences. The Cha Tower was a private stage constructed by a high-ranking official of the Ming Dynasty by the surname of Cha. In the Qing Dynasty, it was turned into a commercial theater It was burnt down in the 45th year of the Qianlong reign period of the Qing Dynasty (1780), but soon afterwards it was rebuilt and named the Guanghe Cha Tower. In the 1950s, it was renovated into a new-style theater.(Fig.7-3)

In southeast China, many private gardens have preserved old stages. The most luxurious private stage is the three-story one in the imperial Palace. (Fig.7-4)

The dramas performed in the imperial Palace often had spectacular and supernatural subject matter. The Longevity Stage was where the main action took place, as the other two stages were too high for audiences to view comfortably. Facing the Changyin Pavilion Stage is the two-story Yueshi Tower, from where the emperor and imperial consorts watched the dramas. On the east and west sides, there are 13 smaller viewing locations for high-ranking officials.

The brothels of the Song and Yuan dynasties gradually declined in the Ming Dynasty, and were replaced by wineshops and teahouses, which were also commercial theaters. In the mid-Qing Dynasty, roofs were extended to form completely indoor theaters. (Fig.7-5)

The emergence of the indoor theater made lighting necessary for the first time. Stage illumination also enhanced the atmosphere of the theater.

New-Type Opera Theaters

In modern times, commercial theaters in cities evolved from old- type teahouses to new-type theaters in their own right The year 1908 witnessed the construction of the New Shanghai Stage. After that many new-type opera theaters were set up in other large cities, and the old- style teahouses became obsolete. The appearance of the new stage marked a revolution in the history of Chinese theater.

From the mid-20th century on, great progress was made in the construction of theaters. older theaters were renovated and rebuilt, and a large number of new theaters were constructed, such as the Beijing People's Theater, the Shanghai Yifu Stage and Beijing's Chang'an Theater All of them are equipped with the latest equipment, so that traditional operas, modern dramas, and song and dance dramas can be performed there, in addition to the showing of films.

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Unique Symbolic Scenery, Backdrops and Properties
In the traditional Chinese theater, time, space and setting are mainly represented by means of the performers' singing and movements. The change of time and place is accomplished by the actors' frequently entering and leaving the stage, and their interaction, including singing, recitation, acting and combat, which work on the imagination of the audience.
The Unique Creation of Opera Characters
Before the emergence of proper theaters, Chinese performers mainly adopted the following two methods of makeup: Masks and facial painting.

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