Face-changing

Authors: Go Chengdu

2014-11-13

“Face-changing” is a special technique in the performance of Sichuan Opera, involving consummate skills to change of masks in quick successions in order to show different emotions and feelings of the characters.
“Face-changing”, is known as one of the most fascinating artistic charms of Sichuan opera. One cannot talk about Sichuan opera without mentioning face-changing. Sichuan Opera is one of many local operas in China, popular in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou.
Don’t try to get the literal interpretation of the face-changing; it is a special technique in the performance of Sichuan Opera, involving consummate skills to change of masks in quick successions in order to show different emotions and feelings of the characters in the play.
The show has made its way into teahouses and restaurants in Sichuan, creating a big draw for visitors from all over the world.
Face-changing performers prepare in advance many special masks made of gauze and elastic materials, such as sheep embryo membranes and rubber. The masks are painted with different designs and put together by a special transparent thread, and then are pasted on the face before the performance begins. The special masks for “changing faces” must be made to fit the performer’s face to ensure that they are pasted as close as possible to the skin. Previously, the masks were discarded after a performance, but today they can be recycled with some minor repairs.
It is said the origin of face-changing has something to do with human behaviors against the attack of wild beasts. In the ancient times, people used to paint their faces with different patterns to scare the animal away and keep themselves safe when coming across ferocious animals. Later on, the skill was applied to the stage performance of Sichuan Opera, and the unique art of face-changing has thus come into being.
Face-changing techniques generally fall into three categories, “wiping”, “blowing” and “pulling”. These techniques are complex and even keep mysterious.
Sichuan Opera facial mask (lianpu in Chinese) refers to the various patterns on the faces of actors and actresses in operas to indicate different personalities and characters of the roles, as well as to express moral judgment and appraisal of these characters. Different colors in the masks represent different character roles. For example: blue and green: indicate a relatively ruthless, avaricious, brave and fierce character.

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