Thailand: Chinese Operas Adapt to COVID-19 Protocols

Nattaphon Phanphongsanon

The worsening coronavirus pandemic in Thailand has forced performers of Chinese opera, an artistic tradition here dating to the late 1700s, to adapt to new protocols.

After a five-month moratorium, the operas have returned under strict protocols.

“We have to adapt so that the show can go on. This is the only profession that I have,” said an actor who worried that Thailand’s third outbreak of COVID-19 could have a devastating impact on the opera.

Called “Ngiew,” the operas feature a mixture of singing, dancing and acrobatics to chronicle a piece of Chinese history. Immigrants brought Ngiew to Thailand in the late 18th century.

The operas have become a part of important celebrations and are staged in Chinese temples or in ethnic Chinese communities. As the popularity has declined and audiences have aged, most troupes perform only at temple festivals.

Over the years, the number of Chinese opera troupes in Thailand have dwindled to about 10.

As of this week, the shows were still going on despite a third wave of coronavirus infections, where the number of daily cases has soared in recent days.

“When performing, I have to wear a face shield all the time. It is very hot, I’m constantly sweating and the paint I apply to my face comes off. But what can I do? If we don’t do this, they won’t let us play,” the actor told BenarNews.

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