Kunqu actor/singers are classified into role-types, or <i>hangdang</i>, based on a combination of vocal pitch range, timbre, speech style, costume, headdress, and choreographic movement. The four major role-types or <i>hangdang</i> are: <i>sheng</i> (male), <i>dan</i> (female), <i>jing</i> (painted face, usually only male), <i>chou</i> (comic, male and female). Each role-type is further divided into subtypes according to characters in a play. Before the mid 20th century virtually all professional actors were male, and female role-types were acted by men. They were called <i>qian dan</i>, nowadays more often <i>nan dan</i>, or male <i>dan</i>. The most famous <i>qian dan</i> of the last century was the Beijing opera actor Mei Lanfang who toured Japan, Europe, and America to great acclaim in the 1930s. Actors and actresses are rigorously trained beginning from a young age to sing, act, walk, and dance, in the appropriate gender characteristics of historic Ming to Qing dynasties, plus gymnastics and weapons play. Today they train like Olympic athletes, beginning from the age of 8-12, in addition to regular academics. Today female role-types are generally undertaken by women, but there are a few actresses who cross gender lines to specialize in male role-types, for example Madame Pei Yanling who is famous for her portrayal of the warrior hero Lin Chong and our lecturer-demonstrator here Madame Yue Meiti who specializes in young male role-types. I specialize in young male roles. The <i>young male</i> role-type typically portrays a young scholar. I am a Kunqu actress who plays the role of a <i>young male</i>. Very few Kunqu actresses perform <i>young male</i> role-types. Besides myself there is Madame Shi Xiaomei. (Jiangsu Province Kunju Troupe) Kunqu has a broad range of <i>young male</i> role-types; For example: <i>great official</i>, (mature) <i>official</i>, <i>young official</i> (i.e. newly appointed), <i>young scholar</i>, <i>poor scholar</i>, <i>young warrior</i> (with pheasant tail headdress). Why does the <i>young scholar</i> role-type has so many sub-types? What does this mean? It means this role-type includes a wide variety of personalities. First I want to talk about role-types (in general). Role-type is very important for actors. When we (they) first enter the school, like those young students I see now… When they first enter our drama school, they are not assigned role-types in the first year. They all sing in the same big class, learn basic movements such as “mountain arm”, cloud hands, high kicks, back bends, and so forth. Within the first year, teachers observe. This youngster is just like a girl. She is like a <i>young noble lady</i>; this youngster is a <i>vivacious girl</i> type. A <i>young scholar</i> must be good looking, of course. He must appear well mannered. This youngster, even though he is small he is just like a <i>young scholar</i>. Under the teachers’ observation, they are assigned to different role-types after the first year. You belong this role-type, or that role-type. The <i>young scholar</i>’s bearing is different from the <i>official</i> role-type… Not entirely different. Their shared characteristic is <i>scholarliness</i>. The <i>young scholar</i> is sensitive and romantic. The <i>young scholar</i>’s demeanor and expression, are romantic and tender. His deportment is casual and elegant. Generally speaking, the <i>scholar official</i> is quite different (from the <i>young scholar</i> role-type). What about the <i>official</i>? Compared to the <i>young scholar</i> they are worldly. Because they are past the <i>young scholars</i> stage… Passed through the age of 17 or 18. (They) might be married, have a career, achieved academic status. (But) suddenly something happened to the family. For example, Wang Shipeng in the play <i>The Thorn Hairpin</i>.... He was appointed to office, but then denounced and demoted. His wife died, drowned herself. The <i>official</i> faces challenge and conflict. Therefore plays about <i>officials</i> tend to be more dramatic. Plays about <i>young scholars</i> are primarily romantic. Plays about <i>officials</i> are action centered. And the events often involve conflict… More often tragic events. Happiness passes very quickly. The emotion is heavier and sad. Therefore his role-type character is… empathetic, restrained, but resolved. “Looking homeward” is considered a <i>young official</i>’s play today. Actually I feel that it belongs to the (mature) <i>official</i> role-type play. To be typed as a <i>young official</i> he has to be very young, or his experience concerns women. “Looking homeward” is about an <i>old male</i> Su Wu. They play opposite each other. One is an unwavering loyalist… The other is a defector; he surrendered. It’s about this conflict. Let me demonstrate… When they meet Li Ling sang [Lament of longing] (a tune type). It is made up of two lines in free rhythm. Many plays feature [Lament of longing] usually when (characters) meet or part. When he saw his elder brother Su Wu he sang: “How I longed for this meeting today. To whom can I unburden this bitter injustice?” He is using the true-falsetto voice of the <i>young male</i> role-type. But surely you can tell that I am using more of my true voice. (Compared to) “Spring takes me by surprise…” (a line from <i>The Peony Pavilion</i> by Tang Xianzu) in which I use less of my true voice. This is the difference in their vocal quality. Why? Because when our teachers teach voice usage in the <i>official</i> role-type, they tell us to use as much true voice as we can. For example when we sing <i>do re mi</i> in the <i>young scholar</i> role, <i>mi</i> in the key of D (i.e. F#) is where true and falsetto voice merge. <i>re</i> (E) might have a little true voice. <i>do</i> (D) is completely true voice. The <i>official</i> role-type requires <i>do re mi</i> all to be sung in true voice. The change to mixed true-falsetto occurs on <i>sol</i> (A). There is fast and slow when
walking on stage. What is the difference in stage walk between the <i>young scholar</i> and the <i>official</i> role-types? One difference is in the size of the stride. Another difference is in the weight. The stride of the <i>young scholar</i> is smaller. The steps should also be graceful. Because gracefulness shows that he is young. Ordinarily we can tell immediately if the person is young. See? If the walking step is heavy, he has some years behind him. (In contrast) the stride of the <i>young scholar</i> looks youthful. When one foot passes the other the knee bends slightly, with a slight springiness. It looks youthful and a bit jaunty. A person looks stiff if he walks like this. When the legs are straight, he looks old and stiff. The two legs have to be elastic. We call this walk “<i>cun</i> the knees”. When you <i>cun</i>, the knees go slightly up and down. The knees are like rubber bands, and appear relaxed. The feeling is graceful and carefree. If my stage walk is like this it looks like working-out. Besides straight and strength, there is nothing else. The <i>young scholar</i>’s stride should be straight, but also refined and elegant. Therefore there has to be this bit of strength. This requires training. Training means all kinds of practicing. To finally achieve control. The <i>young scholar</i> demands this kind of graceful and springy stride, very elegant and self-confident. This is the <i>young scholar</i>. The <i>official</i> role-type requires strength and firmness. How is that expressed? He must grab the floor with every step. The bottom of his foot must grab the floor. Grab the floor, unlike the <i>young scholar</i>’s light step. The <i>official</i>’s step has firmness and strength.