The story of Si Tanggang to the puppet theater stage

The story of Si Tanggang to the puppet theater stage

PETALING JAYA: “Geylang si paku geylang, geylang si rama-rama, let’s go home, let’s go home together; let’s go home together; let’s go home together, let’s go home together.”

The softness of the voice of Lynn Tan, 34, singer of the Indie band Fazz, when delivering the song ‘Geylang Si Paku Geylang’, clearly captivated about 120 spectators who were in the Nero Event Space, Petaling Jaya Performing Art Center (PJPAC).

The echo of the traditional rhythm accompanied by gamelan, flute and gong beats, will surely evoke many memories of the past among the adult audience, especially those who used to sing the song during their childhood.

While the audience enjoyed Tan’s singing, three black boards appeared carrying two arm -sized dolls to the stage – one resembling an old woman in a green cloth while the other resembled a young man.

The old woman doll seemed to be walking on a white artificial rock, with her hands supported by an iron skewer behind her, waving towards the young man doll, followed by the roar of the waves.

Currently, the audience’s focus is no longer on the black board or the band, but on old female and young male puppets featuring mother and child characters named ‘Tanggang’ in the theater titled ‘Ibu’ by ‘ Iron Gang Puppet Theater ‘.

Inspired by a famous folk tale in Southeast Asia – ‘Si Tanggang’, the 90 -minute theater performance held on the evening of March 27 revolved around the story of a mother’s curse on her rebellious son who turned to stone.

According to the story, Si Tanggang sailed away from his mother and hometown to find a new life to change his poor life.

After marrying a South Korean princess, he returned to his village but was ashamed to admit the old woman who came to see him was his own biological mother.

Finally, Tanggang was sworn to stone by his mother.

The theater, which is presented in four languages- Malay, English, Teochew and South Korean dialects, features a combination of productions with indie group ‘Fazz’ and multimedia artist, Abdul Shakir Abu Samah.

For the founder of ‘Iron Gang Puppet Theater’, Goh Hooi Ling (she), 41, the ‘Mother’ project is her first attempt at combining traditional and modern elements in puppet theater performances to the audience.

He, who is also an opera singer born in Georgetown, Penang, admits, ‘Mother’ is the biggest ‘investment’ for him after 33 years in Teochew’s puppet opera which only focuses on fairy tales and emperors from China.

“I started working in Chinese puppet theater when I was seven years old. Usually we travel everywhere to perform Chinese puppet theater either during prayer ceremonies in temples, hungry ghost festivals or at the invitation of Taoist ritual associations.

“As the only family that is still active in Teochew Chinese opera and puppetry in Penang, I want to continue the legacy in upholding our nation’s heritage, further introducing this hereditary tradition to the younger generation,” he told Bernama .

According to Goh, in an effort to restore the nostalgia of the ancestral times to modern society, his party made modifications in the performance to give new life to the Chinese puppet theater which is played using iron skewers without neglecting the original tradition.

“We do not want this tradition to be buried just like that due to the passage of time. We always innovate through creativity to attract young people to appreciate the heritage of this age,” he added.

Describing the Teochew puppet theater as a ‘root’ for himself, Goh, who is the fourth generation to inherit hereditary art, admitted that his attempt to bring elements of Malaysian identity in his performances was successful when he received support from various parties, including government agencies.

He added that his party received support from the National Economic Regeneration Plan (PENJANA), the Malaysian Cultural Economic Development Agency (CENDANA) and the Penang State Government, as well as non -governmental organizations (NGOs) and individual art activists.

“It took us two and a half years before the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare in terms of research, design, script processing and puppetry to produce the best performance for the audience,” he said.

For Goh, most of the Teochew puppet theater performances staged during certain celebrations at Chinese temples are based on scripts and stories originating from China that are the heritage of their ancestors.

“Usually, the form of our performance is more or less the same as wayang kulit, the difference is wayang kulit theater uses shadows behind white cloth and two skewers are controlled from below, while our puppets are controlled from the back with three skewers.

“The audience won’t see who is controlling or playing the puppets during a theatrical performance but for the first time, we are breaking tradition by featuring the puppets on stage,” he said.

As a Malaysian, Goh, who is also the director of ‘Penang Teochew Puppet and Opera House, wants to bring elements of Malaysian identity by not only focusing on Teochew’s Chinese heritage in his performance.

“We always do shows in the form of emperors and ancestral stories from China, but I always think, what about our story here?

“How can we highlight our identity as Malaysians through this skewer puppet theater?

“After brainstorming with group members, we decided to bring local folklore that is ingrained in the soul of Malaysian society, which reflects the history, customs, values ​​and wisdom of each region, community and country.

“We try to explore and unearth the meaning behind the story, the culture as well as rearrange the relationship between the story and our puppet theater, and give it a contemporary perspective and life.

“Therefore, we chose Si Tanggang, a well -known Southeast Asian folklore that promotes the core of Eastern culture, namely family ties and child obedience, as the source material for this creative endeavor,” he said.

Although this classic folk tale was to educate children a long time ago, but it was adapted to a puppet theater performance that also invited the audience to appreciate the message behind it.

“It highlights a mother’s love for her child and its consequences as a result of rebellion, of which most childhood fairy tales and folklore also convey the same message to the younger generation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the director of the puppet theater ‘Ibu’, Ling Tang, said that for the first time, he was entrusted to lead and direct the staging of puppet theater as a result of a combination of traditional and modern groups.

“Over the years, I have been heavily involved in musical theater staging and drama production, but for the first time I directed a theater that involved puppet actors that emphasized traditional elements in addition to a combination of modern music.

“In terms of the band, the soundtrack and the ‘ backdrop ‘, I don’t face many problems, the only challenge is that we always ‘brainstorm’ to innovate in this staging and at the same time, the hereditary heritage that we want to preserve is not tampered with or modified.

“Most of us here have never been exposed to traditional elements like Chinese opera, puppet theater and playing traditional musical instruments.

“But we are thankful because we learned a lot of new things from the ‘ Iron Gang Puppet Theater ‘ group, especially Goh who was willing to guide us in stages,” he said, who has more than 30 years of experience in cinematography.

According to Tang, the production group was lucky because the making of the old woman puppet (mother character) got the touch of the famous puppet maker (puppet maker) in Taiwan, Liang Mong-Han (she).

The ‘Mother’ puppet was specially flown from Taiwan by the ‘sifu’ puppet while the ‘Tanggang’ puppet was produced by the Iron Gang group themselves using wood and clay.

“The two puppets are 40 to 50 centimeters high and weigh about one kilogram and took six months to complete,” he said, adding that the two puppets will be on display at the Penang Teochew Puppet and Opera House exhibition hall.

Meanwhile, the music director and spokesperson of the Indie Fazz music group, Raja Farouk Raja Zaini Ismail, 35, said his party was entrusted to present songs created by their group in the puppet theater performance ‘Ibu’.

“We are very proud to work with the Iron Gang group and at the same time feel a bit anxious because Chinese opera groups usually practice very high discipline in their daily rehearsals.

“However, our guess was wrong when we were very comfortable working with Goh and his band members and also given the confidence to compose the song for this show.

“We also for the first time played traditional musical instruments like gamelan and gong in the performance, which was our first experience.

“Not only is it fun to gain a lot of new experiences in the production of this staging, but also as a Malaysian family, we learn from each other’s culture and customs, mutual tolerance and respect,” he said.

source – BERNAMA / Soon Li Wei

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