Chinese Storytelling

Chinese Storytelling-->
Elements of Performance

  1. Storytellers Terms and Sayings

  2. The storytellers house

  3. The performance

  4. A storytelling engagement

  5. Stage properties

  6. The storytellers' dress

  7. Gestures and face expressions

  8. Verbal art

  9. 'Talk' and 'mouth'

  10. 'Square Mouth' and 'Round Mouth'

  11. Telling the tale

  12. Humour and digression

Elements of Performance (5)

Stage properties

The Chinese storyteller is only dependent on "his sole person and his sole mouth" yi ren yi kou. Most genres of storytelling without song and music are performed by only one person, but the musically accompanied genres, also called "storysinging", are often performed by two or three. Yangzhou pinghua belongs to the purely spoken genres, performed by one person (usually a male performer) and the requisites are few and simple. The storyteller can make do with no requisites at all, but usually the following items are used:

  • Storytelling stage shutai, i.e. a small platform with a wooden table.

  • Chair yi, i.e. the storyteller sits on a chair while performing. The chair is a little higher than normal, so that the performer can move freely and the audience see him better.

  • Tablecloth zhuowei, usually in red velvet with golden characters, hanging down in front of the table.

  • Teapot chahu, the teacup is not specially mentioned in the storytellers' list of items; but we always find a teacup on the table, while the pot is more seldom now.

  • 'Talk stopper' zhiyu, a small piece of hard wood or jade, in other parts of China called 'waking-board' xingmu; the Yangzhou term refers to the way the stone is used at the beginning of a performance: the first action of the performer is to beat the table with his 'talk stopper' to make people calm down and concentrate, stop talking. During performance the stick is tapped against the table whenever the performer wants to mark a passage or indicate a turn of events.

  • Handkerchief and fan shoupa he shanzi are used as stage requisites during performance; the closed fan may be used to symbolize a sword or spear, chopsticks, roller pin; the open fan: a tray, a wall, etc.; the handkerchief: a letter, a book, etc.

    The above items are still in current use. Traditionally the storytellers count two more items: the 'big bowl' da wan, used to gather money from the audience after the first round; already in the 1920s this item was replaced by a money basket, and later by the system of tickets. The final traditional item is only used for Yangzhou storysinging xianci, namely the "three-stringed lute" sanxian. It belongs to the inventory because the two genres are closely related, and many storytellers were masters of both arts.

    Only the 'talk stopper' is a special requisite, while the other things are items of everyday usage, such as handkerchief, fan and teacup. The handkerchief and fan are used every now and then to represent objects of the story told, but they are also used in the ordinary way: to wipe ones face or fan oneself during a hot day. In wintertime the old storytellers do not avail themselves of the fan, but some of the younger generation like to have the fan at hand no matter what the season is.

    Requisites (Dai Buzhang)
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    Next: The storytellers' dress