Chinese Theatre Circle

Article Works Merits Video www
additional name:
Chinese Theatre Circle
Performing Arts (Canton opera)
Asia, Southeast
created on:
May 21, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since October 5, 2007. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
information provided by:
Other languages:


Canton Opera in Singapore

The Chinese Theatre Circle (CTC) was founded in 1981 with the aim of preserving and developing the Canton opera. The company is one of the oldest active ensembles in Singapore and, as cultural ambassador of its land, has shown its artistry in more than 2000 performances all over the world. The artistic director and main performer of the ensemble is Joanna Quee Heng.
More than half of Singapore’s residents have their roots in China, and caring for the Chinese heritage is an important part of the city’s cultural life, one of whose eminent art-forms is Chinese opera.

Chinese opera is known in western lands more in the form of Beijing opera from the capital than in that of the popular variant, the Canton opera. Unlike the Beijing opera, the latter appeals to its public by being more folksy and including popular songs and dances.

Chinese opera, including the Canton variant, dates back to about the 7th century AD and grew out of abundant folktales. In those days there were no composers in the present-day sense of the word but rather general musicians and singers. In Chinese opera much attention is paid to the placing of the stage, especially in villages. The opening to viewers is always towards the north with a view of the temple gateway. Like planets rising and setting, actors come onto the stage from the left and leave it on the right.

At the heart of each performance are the so-called role-players, whose interpretations and abilities mainly determine a performance’s degree of success. There is a repertoire of about 30 kinds of role, which are typified by colourful make-up, costume, gestures and kinds of voice. The roles are categorised as Yin or Yang or as female or male.

To make a role clear to viewers, the actor pays attention to every gesture, word and cadence. Every detail of make-up and costume, mimicry and mime, staging and requisites, dancing and acrobatics, song-texts and voice modulation has its own set meaning, emphasised to some extent by exaggeration. Knowing these stage conventions, viewers are easily able to identify roles.

Founded in 1981, and dedicated to caring for, presenting and developing Canton opera, the Chinese Theatre Circle has brought its artistry in more than 2000 performances to 17 lands, including Egypt, Germany, Malaysia and the USA, and has appeared at famous festivals like the Edinburgh Festival, the International Children’s Festival, Montage ’89 in the USA, the Tokyo International Theatre Festival, the Guangdong International Cantonese Opera Festival and EXPO 2000 in Hannover.

One of the high points in its history was an invitation in 1993 to China – an honour which had not till then been extended to any other Chinese opera ensemble. The presentation of A Costly Impulse was recorded by Beijing television and transmitted in 1995 and 1996, each time to about 700 000 000 viewers.

Besides giving performances, the Chinese Theatre Circle is active in training and furthering new talent, organising workshops in schools, universities and cultural centres and familiarising its viewers with aspects of Chinese culture by organising series of events like the Chinese Opera Teahouse.

Events at the HKW:
Saturday 13th – Sunday14th November, 1993
A Costly Impulse
Canton Opera

A Chinese Opera-Workshop with extracts from the following Canton operas: Duel At The Border, Picking The Jade Bracelet, The Patriotic Princess and Madame White Snake.

Organiser: The House of World Cultures
Author: Beate Mielemeier


Madame White Snake

Production / Performance,

Chinese Opera Teahouse

Production / Performance,
(and set forth in following years)

Arts in Education

Production / Performance,
(and set forth in following years)

Cantonese Opera Karaoke Singing Courses

Production / Performance,

Singapore Chinese Opera Festival

Production / Performance,
(and set forth in following years)

Cantonese Opera Music, Singing and Acting Courses

Production / Performance,

Lectures at colleges and universities in the USA

Production / Performance,

Bringing Chinese Opera to the People

Production / Performance,


In 1997 the Chinese Theatre Circle received the Excellence for Singapore Award for its outstanding role in cultural exchange.

The artistic director and main actress of the Chinese Theatre Circle, Joanna Wong Quee Heng, has received for her work in the public and cultural sectors many awards like the Public Service Star Award in 1974 and the Cultural Medallion in 1981. In 1998 the President of Singapore made her Justice of Peace.


Homepage of the Chinese Theatre Circle


Excerpt taken from "Duell at the Border"

play video