Elements of Performance (1)
The Yangzhou storytellers are traditions-bearers in the full sense of this word. Their art of performance embodies not only verbal repertoires of enormous length, learned by way of mouth from master to disciple through generations, but also the body-language accompanying the words. The movements are rigorously studied together with the words and seem to be a crucial component supporting the mnemonic skill. What is more, the storytellers are transmitters of a world of rules, rituals and habits - a way of life - belonging to the profession. These circumstances of performance and professional life are given expression in a rich vocabulary, used among the storytellers in their dealings with each other and with their disciples, the storytellers' terms. Some of the expressions are well known among the townspeople, while other terms constitute a dialectal argot which is generally not shared with the ordinary citizens of the town. Through this vocabulary we may get a picture of intrinsic phenomena of the performing situation, as well as extrinsic phenomena belonging to their milieu.
The storytellers' terms bearing on the extrinsic performance situation, such as place of performance, rules of etiquette, job arrangements and payment, etc., reflect the conditions and habits of the profession during the early childhood and youth of the present senior masters. Some of the expressions are still valid in the original sense, while others are obsolete or must be taken in a derived, often humorous sense, because the designated phenomena have been abandoned in modern life. It should, however, be emphasized that the terms are still in living memory and the better part are used bona fide by today's performers.
From a global perspective it seems most astonishing that Chinese storytelling has preserved its traditions to such a high degree all through this century of revolutions and modernization.
Next : The storytellers' house-'the place'