THE Teochew puppet opera show, which is a highlight during Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations, is the latest to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The opera troupe has fallen into hard times since a three-month hiatus during the movement control order (MCO) with about 100 performers facing bleak times.
Elvis Goh, 36, who is a fourth generation Teochew opera and puppet performer with the Teochew and Hokkien Puppet Troupe in the northern region, said the MCO had disrupted their performances this year.
“The troupe had to put on hold all performances and wait until the green light is given for such shows again.
“We, the younger generation, are able to survive as we have the ability to adapt, but presently, it is difficult, ” he said when met at the Teochew Puppet and Opera House in Armenian Street, Penang.
Goh said the troupe consists of performers between the ages of 13 and 70.
“Many of the older generation do not know anything other than the opera.
“Our daily earnings from the show is our income and we do not have any other benefits such as EPF (Employees Provident Fund) or Perkeso (Social Security Organisation).
“Many of the members did not receive the cash incentives from the federal and state governments during the pandemic and the only reprieve is the six-month deferment on car loans, ” he said.
Goh added that contrary to perception, there is a huge following for such shows now compared to a decade ago.
“They have definitely have gained a following, as we could see many younger people at the shows.
“Traditionally on a higher plane, the performances are not for men but for the Gods and we take certain pride in our performances during the festivals, ” he said.
The Teochew puppet opera has an almost 100-year tradition, although earlier records showed that the ‘opera bug’ began in the early 50s.
“My siblings and I are the fourth generation of performers and we will keep this tradition alive throughout generations as its legacy.
“The Teochew Puppet and Opera House here in Armenian Street is a place dedicated to the art and houses a museum and performance space and paraphernalia.
“It is for the preservation and propagation of Teochew operatic arts, especially Teochew puppet opera.
“Hopefully, the government gives its go-ahead for the shows to be revived soon, ” said Goh.