Chinese Storytelling Arts 2

September 4, 2006

More quotes:

In the storytellers’ own terms, the requirements of the performance are summed up… mouth, hand, body, step, spirit (kou shou shen bu shen).

There is a limited range of movement called ‘half open door’ (xiao kai men) that characterizes the acting style of Yangzhou storytelling. This is not only in contrast to the practice of Suzhou storytelling (Suzhou pinghua) — ‘wide open door’ (da kai men) allowing larger gustures and moving around on the stage, away from the table — but also to some other narrative traditions where acting is further restricted to small finger movements.

The other so-called props are items of everyday usage: handkerchief, fan, and teacup. The storyteller, just like the audience, will drink tea, fan himself on hot days, and wipe his face with his handkerchief. The handkerchief and fan are, however, used every now and then in a secondary function, namely to represent various objects of the story. The folded fan is used to symbolize weapons such as a knife, a sword, a gun, etc, or other untensils such as a whip, a paste-roller, chopsticks, etc., while the unfolded fan may symbolize a wall or screen. The handkerchief may represent a letter, an official document, a book, a tray, etc. …Just as the storyteller himself impersonates many different characters during a performance, he also uses these two props to symbolize many different things, but only seldom to represent what they are — the fan as a fan.

The plot development is seen as a series of ‘crises’ (guanzi) or points of suspense. The storyteller must handle the sequence of ‘crises’ in such a way that the audience is kept in a fluctuating mood of suspense and relaxation. At times the story flows in a slow and relaxed moon of so called ‘cold crises’ (leng guanzi), then suddenly moves swiftly into a ‘story of crises’ (guanzi shu) or ‘hot story’ (re shu). While some storytellers strive to tell continuously in the ‘hot’ mood, others prefer a balance between hot and cold.

A second way of creating suspense is to give some hints at an early stage of what is going to happen later, called ‘airing the crisis’ (liang guanzi) or ‘giving a clue’ (angen). …there is often a crisis that is not brought to a solution, called to ‘bargain the crisis’ (mai guanzi). The ‘bargaining’ is intended to bring the listeners back the following day to hear the outcome.

…they distinguish different kinds of ‘talking’ (bai). Every tale is a combination of dialogue, called ‘public talking’ (guanbai), and non-dialogue, i.e. all other forms of narration, called ‘private talking’ (sibai). The latter category includes narration of events, descriptions of persons and scenery, storyteller’s comments, and — perhaps somewhat astonishingly — inner monologues of the characters in the tale.

6 Responses to “Chinese Storytelling Arts 2”

  1. Neel Krishnaswami Says:

    This is incredibly neat.

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    I think it’s especially cool how much the seated, ‘half open door’ style of storytelling is similar to tabletop play, where you only half act things out.And stringing ‘crises’ together to create plot… What does that remind me of? :)I honestly don’t know why we haven’t examined other storytelling traditions in depth before. Mridangam is just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.

  3. Shreyas Says:

    I honestly don’t know why we haven’t examined other storytelling traditions in depth before.At a guess, two reasons:- History. Roleplaying games came out of mechanical activities, not storytelling activities; it took a long while to think that we were actually sort of storytelling sometimes.- Examination. It took us a while to actually start doing this at all.

  4. Neel Krishnaswami Says:

    Yeah, the style of tabletop play where you mix up first and third person narration, but don’t do much physical acting, is surprising to newcomers IME, but it’s also quite handy. I’ve been wondering lately whether we’d do better to move a little bit more towards physicality, but that’s still ill-formed thoughts.

  5. Shreyas Says:

    Jon and I talked about using a small palette of flexible props (this is also done in like kabuki and noh theatre), where like a folding fan can represent a sword or a flag or trees or a door or basically whatever you can communicate with symbol-and-gesture.There is a game in there! I just saw it.

  6. Daniel Solis Says:

    Hey hey hey, I’ve posted some thoughts on how to implement the use of props mechanically. They’re designed with another game in mind, but they may be of use to you in your project(s).


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