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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2023

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About Masters’ Lectures

The purpose of this book is to help researchers, students, and theatregoers get a sense of how actor knowledge is structured and expressed in Chinese traditional theatre (xiqu 戲曲), specifically in the form of kunqu 崑曲. To this end, it offers some of the necessary tools to interpret what goes on when actors are onstage, placing performance practice within its network of transmission, vocabulary of technique, repertoire structure, and institutional context. Outside of China and Chinese theatre studies, few theatre practitioners have a clear sense of how actor training or repertoire transmission in China actually function, or their terms of reference. Yet theatre accounts such as these are important not only to help enthusiasts and researchers come to grips with xiqu on its own terms but also to assist those who would like to work respectfully on intercultural projects involving xiqu. This introduction can only briskly sketch some information about kunqu that should make the lectures more intelligible to the reader newly coming to Chinese theatre. If we succeed in our aims, the book itself may serve as the introduction to kunqu.

Knowledge about xiqu exists largely in an embodied form. The accessibility of artist expertise has been circumscribed by its tradition of oral transmission. Historically, hard-won knowledge of this kind has not been lightly shared; many aspects of theatre artistry have been regarded as sensitive, even proprietary. Transmission is sometimes treated as delicately as material inheritance. Fortunately for the aficionado, amateur performer, and researcher, xiqu actor accounts of their performance practice began to be published in periodicals in the Republican era (1912–1949) and in books after 1949. Audiovisual lectures were also sporadically recorded, but it is only in recent years that large-scale and more systematic projects to document xiqu theatre practice have appeared. The largest such enterprise to date for kunqu is Masters’ Lectures on One Hundred Kunqu Scenes (Kunqu baizhong, dashi shuoxi 崑曲百種, 大師說戲) (Yip Siu Hing and Masters’ Studio 2014). The present book consists of annotated translations of 12 of its lectures, not even one eighth of the original Chinese project's scope.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

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