#HerWorldHerStory: Student, 16, wants to make Teochew opera cool again

by Cara Van Miriah; Hayley Tai; Cheong Wen Xuan  /   April 12, 2020

She embraces her roots and wants to turn the tide with cultural art


#HerWorldHerStory is a collection of 60 women sharing their successes, passions, challenges, inspirations, hopes and dreams. Together, they give a snapshot of what it is to be a woman today.

Every month from March till August, we present 10 women navigating their lives now – and in their own words. Keep scrolling for Tan Wei Tian’s story…

Hair Hongling, using Kevin. Murphy Makeup Benedict Choo, using Cle De Peau Beaute

While many kids wore capes to mimic their favourite superheroes, I’d put on my dad’s long-sleeved shirts to imitate the “water sleeves” that were worn by the Teochew opera actors. My grandmother opened my eyes to Teochew opera when I was a little girl. She brought me frequently to Kreta Ayer People’s Theatre in Chinatown, and Bukit Gombak community centre, to watch the live performances.

I was taken in by the costumes, beautiful headdresses, and poetic lyrics and music. At three, my parents got me an opera teacher with the help of the National Arts Council, and I performed my first opera. I can’t remember much about my first performance but it was the start of my journey in Teochew opera.

At first, my friends at school didn’t understand why I took an interest in Teochew opera, which they perceived as a dated artform. But I managed to pique their interest with videos and images of my performances. I was really touched when some of them even came to watch my shows. Teochew opera is a dying artform, and I enjoy sharing with other people on the performance art.

I now perform with Nam Hwa Opera during school holidays. We prepare for our full-length opera shows at least two to three months ahead. When I finish school in the evening, I head for my rehearsal at 7pm, ending at 10.30pm. To me, a good opera comprises a fluid storyline, dynamic characters and nostalgic melodies

To don the full regalia takes two hours of preparation. It’s challenging for me as I stand at 1.6m, and the headdress alone can weigh over half a kilogramme.

I’d see myself practising and preserving this dying artform for a long time, it’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I watched the first Teochew opera performance.

This article was first published in Her World’s April issue. Grab a copy today!