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Face-changing performers embrace role-changing challenges

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-06-03 09:45
Yao Yao (left) helps his pupil Ye Di with his costume during their daily practice in their neighborhood in Kunming, Yunnan province on April 29. [Photo/Xinhua]

At 6 pm on May 21, Yao Yao and his team members were dressed in traditional Sichuan opera costumes in a hot pot restaurant, ready to thrill diners with their first face-changing show since the outbreak of COVID-19.

They arrived three hours earlier to allow for adequate preparations, as the moment they had been waiting for over the past four months finally came.

Yao, who has mastered face-changing techniques whereby actors rapidly alter their makeup to stunning dramatic effect, recalled that they finished their last performance on Jan 21. He was busy preparing for all the costumes and props to be used for shows after the Spring Festival holiday, but the sudden epidemic ruined all his plans.

"We were supposed to put on 36 performances during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday season, but I kept receiving calls to inform me of cancelations," said Yao, a native of Southwest China's Yunnan province.

For nearly two months, the teammates all stayed at home to avoid the coronavirus infection and waited for work. In late March, when the epidemic began to wane, Yunnan province introduced a series of policies to support lodging and catering industries to resume work.

Ye Di, a pupil of Yao, practices face-changing in Kunming, Yunnan province on April 29, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Yao also started his new career, opening a restaurant in Kunming, the provincial capital, in order to make ends meet. "We didn't have any income from performing for months, and I had to find ways to make money since the team was assembled and managed by me," said Yao.

The name of the restaurant is "Mian", which in Chinese means "noodles" or "face", reflecting his two roles -- a face-changing performer and a noodle restaurant owner.

The restaurant is small with 10 tables crammed inside. On a table in the corner is displayed a set of livestreaming equipment. Yao is actively sharing Sichuan opera and face-changing culture to his followers nationwide on livestreaming platforms.

To get prepared for the next stage, Yao asks his apprentices to practice their operatic performances and corrects their moves every day. "Although our performances have been disrupted, the practice of face-changing can't stop, otherwise we would be at a loss on the stage," he said.

Yao Yao works on a mask at home in Kunming, Yunnan province on April 29, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Ye Di, a 20-year-old man from Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, followed Yao to learn face-changing techniques several years ago. Now he is also a cashier at the restaurant.

"I was quite surprised at first but I have gradually adapted to my new role. Yao came up with this method just to keep the team together," Ye said.

Now the restaurant has been open for more than one month with a daily income of nearly 1,000 yuan ($140). When there were few customers, Ye and his fellows would practice performing in front of the restaurant.

Once customers arrived, they would instantly change their roles to cooks and waiters.

"I already felt tired learning face-changing, but never imagined it could be even more exhausting to run a restaurant. What really tormented me most was washing dishes," said Yao.

After graduating from senior high school, Yao once worked as a security guard, a host, a singer and even engaged in growing herbs. The idea of becoming a face-changing performer, however, always lingered in his heart. So he went to Sichuan province, where face-changing originated, several times, and usually stayed for a month to watch and learn the most authentic performing techniques.

"I spent almost four years learning the rudiments of face-changing, then another 10 years studying how to make props and face masks for performances," said Yao. Since 2016 he has been occupied with performances.

Despite the epidemic, many people like Yao have only grown stronger when confronted with adversity. "We should be tough and optimistic when facing difficulties. This is a precious and age-old tradition of the Chinese people," said Yao.

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