Teochew puppets returning soon

Family art: Goh and Toh at the launch of ‘Mistress of Teochew Rod Puppetry’. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: One of Penang’s most iconic heritage treasures will finally be reopened, nearly four years after being shuttered by the Covid-19 pandemic’s movement control order (MCO).

The Teochew Puppet and Opera House, one of Malaysia’s last bastions preserving the art of iron rod puppets and Chinese opera performances, will reopen soon, said its director Ling Goh.

Goh said final touches were being made to ongoing renovations, and preparations are underway for the items to be showcased at its museum gallery in Armenian Street here.

“Apart from the items used in puppet and opera performances, we will have costumes that visitors can try on.

“We aim to enhance their experience. There will also be workshop sessions to elaborate on the culture,” she said at a recent book launch at the museum.

The house, which includes an academy, has been closed since the MCO was enforced in March 2020.

Established in 2014, the museum used to exhibit musical instruments, costumes and scripts from traditional Teochew performances.

Visitors could also interact with the puppets with iron rods and dress up as opera characters with full makeup and costumes.

The opera house was one of many local cultural organisations that participated in the recent George Town Heritage Celebrations 2024. Visitors were able to paint their own Teochew opera masks, as well as see a mini exhibition of actual masks and some paraphernalia.

Goh has yet to decide on the reopening date of the opera house, and an entry fee might be imposed.

A book that documents Goh’s mother, Toh Ai Hwa, 73, in her lifelong journey as a Teochew opera performer was launched recently.

The 112-page book, Toh Ai Hwa: Mistress of Teochew Rod Puppetry, chronicles the mother and daughter’s journey in preserving the cultural performance and founding of Kim Giak Low Choon Puppet Troupe, recognised as a Living Heritage Treasure by the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT).

The book is titled One Person, Two Hands and Three Iron Rods in Chinese.

Chairman of the Penang tourism and creative economy committee Wong Hon Wai said at the ceremony that preserving the intangible cultural heritage is crucial, particularly in Penang, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

“Over the years, the Teochew Puppet and Opera House has committed to promoting and inheriting Teochew traditional culture and art, which is a long and arduous mission.

“Today, it is about to transform the house into the ‘Malaysian Teochew Opera Inheritance Centre’ and shoulder more important responsibilities.

“It will pay more attention to the development of education and training with the purpose of spreading and popularising traditional culture and art,” he said.

On the book, Wong said Penang has played a pivotal role in the development of Teochew culture in Malaysia.

“The Teochew iron rod puppet art is a unique Teochew cultural performance in Penang.

“Originating from folk shadow play, the puppets are carved from paper combined with painting, embroidery and clay sculpting.

“It relies on three iron rods to manipulate the paper puppets,” he said.

PHT president Lim Gaik Siang, who was present, said Toh, who started Teochew puppetry at the young age of 12, is not only the guardian of Teochew puppetry but also a true “inheritor”.

“Her grandfather was a troupe leader, and her grandmother and mother were both Teochew opera actresses.

“From the age of 12, she studied in the Teochew Puppet Troupe, and later took over and changed the troupe to ‘Jin Yu Lou Chun’.

“Today, this art has been passed down to her grandchildren – a full five generations of hard work and dedication,” said Lim.

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Teochew , Puppet , Opera House


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