Zendric Chua (2nd from left) with his classmates at the traditional Chinese Opera workshop

Growing up, Zendric Chua would curiously observe his grandmother whenever she stationed herself in front of the television. As her favourite Chinese operas played, the on-screen theatrics would always be echoed by her animated reactions.

“One moment she would be laughing, and the next moment she would be tearing up,” he said.

“I’d always wondered how Chinese opera could take her on such an emotional roller coaster.”

It was not until he was 15 that he finally found his answer, thanks to the Refreshing Traditions programme at SOTA.

Supported by Temasek Foundation, the programme immerses students like Zendric in rich learning experiences to foster their appreciation for traditional art forms such as Chinese opera, Wayang Kulit and Indian Kathakali.

At school, the Year 2 theatre student learnt the ropes of Chinese opera through workshops and masterclasses on costumes, make-up and singing. At home, Zendric would play the role of a teacher, sharing everything he had learnt with his grandmother.

“After every workshop, I would tell her all about my experiences and the elaborate costumes that I got to wear.”

“I could tell that she was envious,” he quipped. Besides a deeper understanding of Chinese opera, Zendric also gained newfound respect for its practitioners.

“On stage, they would perform stunts in their costumes and make it look unbelievably easy. But when I tried the costumes on, I couldn’t move freely at all. It was eye-opening to find out that they were so heavy.”

Outside of costume, Zendric still feels the weight that falls upon the shoulders of his generation.

“Over time, many of us have lost touch with our own cultures. Now it’s up to us to continue these traditions.”

– Zendric Chua

As the final curtain threatens to fall on Chinese opera, the aspiring theatre teacher hopes to share his and his grandmother’s love for it with younger audiences.

“We must stay connected with our roots. Chinese opera must live on so that future generations can appreciate its beauty.”