Traces in the Snow: A Kunqu Play for Everyone, Especially for the Holidays

As the holidays get closer and the temperatures dip, come get some warmth at Flushing Town Hall by attending Traces in the Snow, a comic Kunqu play that will brighten the season with humor and mirth, on Saturday, November 9, 1:30 p.m.

Kunqu, an elegant form of traditional Chinese theatre, is well known for its exquisite fusing of poetry, music, and movement in performance to present stories and characters. Traces in the Snow, presented by Kunqu Society, stands out among the Kunqu plays for its popular appeal and easy access: The script consists mostly of everyday speech, as the main characters, the husband and wife Lu Mengzheng and Liu Cuiping, engage in rounds of comic banter and action concerning some suspicious footprints in the snow.

Lu Mengzheng, the husband, is a real historic figure known as a reputable prime minister at the end of the tenth century in China. In folklore, Lu lived a rags-to-riches tale, ascending to his prominent position from a beggarly existence.

Traces in the Snow tells of a time in Lu’s life when he was unable to support himself and his newlywed bride—his father-in-law, a prime minister, objected to his daughter’s choice of Lu as her husband due to Lu’s poverty and cut them off. On one frigid snowy day, Lu returns home empty-handed after seeking food at a nearby temple. When he sees footprints of a man and a woman around their shack, Lu’s suspicion grows, along with his sense of inadequacy and insecurity. Traces in the Snow takes the audience on a comical and heartwarming journey to see how Lu and his wife resolve the mystery of the footprints and reaffirm their devotion to each other.

Cheng Min, a top-ranked Kunqu performer nationally in China and currently a Resident Artist of the Kunqu Society in New York, will play the character Lu Mengzheng. Shi Jiehua, another Resident Artist of the society, will play Lu’s wife Liu Cuiping.

You can purchase affordable tickets here.

In an interview conducted by Dongshin Chang, President of the Kunqu Society, Cheng Min shares his personal journey as a Kunqu performer and what the audience can expect when seeing the play.

How did you become a Kunqu performer? What was your training like?

I guess it was a stroke of fate. When in third grade I was chosen to audition, not knowing what I was auditioning for. It wasn’t until I passed rounds of auditions and was admitted into the Jiangsu Provincial School of Performing Arts that I knew I was admitted into the Kunqu training program. I then received formal training for seven years. The first few years focused on basic training of body and voice, as the teachers observed which students were suitable for which role types. I learned several male role types and was eventually selected to specialize in the young male role type, studying under quite a few masters of the role type.

From whom did you learn Traces in the Snow? What is special about this play?

I learned the play from Master Cai Zhengren, who took me under his wing as his direct disciple and taught me much. Traces in the Snow is very special in that the characters mainly talk, as opposed to the singing that is characteristic of traditional Chinese theatre and Kunqu. This is very challenging for performers, as they need to articulate and convey the various emotions of the characters in the simple language. They also need to work very closely with their stage partner in terms of timing and interaction in order to create comedy on stage.

What is most satisfying as a Kunqu performer?

That you bring the characters and stories to life on stage and that your efforts are appreciated by the audience. I heard from my teachers that receiving applause from the audience was so gratifying that a simple meal of plain rice in soup after performance tastes even better than stewed meat. I think that’s definitely true.

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