The Tea House Theatre’s Rising Stars
13.8.2020 | chinese opera

The Xiqu Centre’s Tea House Theatre Experience is a pioneering model of Cantonese opera performance. Presented by the young actors and musicians of our resident Tea House Rising Stars Troupe, the excerpt production introduces audiences to a range of styles and techniques. Naomi Chung, West Kowloon’s Head of Xiqu, Performing Arts, says the idea behind the programme was two-fold: present Cantonese opera to new audiences in an accessible way, and provide a new generation of stars a regular place to perform and develop a solid foundation for their paths as performers.

Captivated by the spectacle 

Two members of the troupe, Chloe Chan and Alan Tam, both became fascinated with Cantonese opera at a young age. As a child, Chloe accompanied her grandmother to performances. “I watched anything on stage when I was small,” she recalls. “I was captivated by the costumes, the make-up, the accessories.”

Alan was just three when he became enthralled by TV performances of local legend Mandy Mui Suet-see and began his training in singing, acting and martial arts. Twenty years on, Alan is a seasoned performer and has already realised his dream of performing on stage with his childhood idol.

Determination and camaraderie 

Making a career in Cantonese opera is not an easy choice, and many young actors are put off by the poor prospects. Chloe confesses that she had never thought about becoming professional. But after her training, she was impressed by the camaraderie among the Tea House Theatre team, and the shared goal of inspiring audiences and presenting the best show possible.

Alan, on the other hand, has performed with professional troupes for several years. As a young boy, infatuated with Mandy Mui, he specialised in the male dan role (female lead). But despite winning acclaim for his skills, the niche fan base, and the changes that adolescence brought to his voice, led him to retrain and take on the role of wenwusheng (principal male) – a transition that demonstrates his extraordinary flexibility.

Learning and passing on skills 

For the young members of the troupe – most of whom are still in their twenties – Naomi Chung sets a high professional bar. They learn from their peers, from the guidance of the troupe’s artistic director, veteran actor Law Ka-ying, and from working as part of a regular, long-running programme with a demanding schedule – very different from performing in touring productions with short runs. Also, by helping to introduce new audiences to Cantonese opera, the troupe are de facto ambassadors for the traditional art form – an important responsibility for these young rising stars.