The Beijing International Comedy Festival kicks off with a hilarious yet serious Peking Opera piece.
The four beauties-Xishi, Wang Zhaojun, Diaochan and Yang Yuhuan-who lived during different dynasties in ancient China, have been the poster girls for the country's female aesthetics for centuries.
When they are paired with five chou (male clown) roles in Peking Opera, the story becomes hilarious and thought-provoking as is visible in the latest piece, titled Wu Chou Si Mei, which literally translates as "five clown roles and four beauties".
Performed by actresses and actors of Beijing Fenglei Peking Opera Company, a private Peking Opera company located in the capital's downtown, the latest production premiered on Thursday with five performances staged at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center through Monday.
It kicked off the Beijing International Comedy Festival, which runs through Sept 24.
"This production is the first from the company after the coronavirus outbreak. We want to showcase the beauty of Peking Opera through classic roles and their different styles. It's a comedy, which will make people laugh and think," says Song Yan, director of the piece, who is also a veteran Peking Opera actor and director of the company.
Founded in 1937, the company is renowned for promoting the 200-year-old art form in the country, doing about 600 shows a year, according to Song.
Peking Opera combines a variety of performing arts such as singing, dancing, acrobatics and martial arts.
"Comedy is difficult. We have traditional Chinese operas at the comedy festival because we want to show audience members a different side of our ancient art forms that can be fun and entertaining," says Yang Qianwu, secretary-general of the Beijing Theater Association, one of the initiators of the Beijing International Comedy Festival.
Besides Peking Opera, other traditional art forms such as Sichuan Opera and Quju (a Beijing local opera) will be presented during the festival.
Launched in 2017 by the Beijing Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the annual festival has been moved to online screening due to the pandemic. A total of 18 comedy productions, including plays, musicals and traditional operas, will be screened through streaming platforms Tencent Video and Maoyan.
"Because of the pandemic, theaters closed for about six months. Audiences are eager to get back to the theaters. But now we have to ensure the audiences' safety with a limited number of seats. So, we decided to launch online screenings to cater to more audiences," says Yang.
Other highlights of the festival include comedy play Divorce, directed and performed by Fang Xu and adapted from a novel of the same title by renowned writer Lao She (1899-1966), and Beijing Neighbors, directed by Tang Ye from Beijing People's Art Theater.
On Sept 22, a forum exploring the relationship between audiences and comedy will take place at the West Theater in Beijing, which will also be screened online. Comedy veterans and newcomers will discuss the topic at the event.