Richmond Culture Days: Cantonese Opera Makeup Application Demonstration

The city of Richmond held it’s third Culture Days weekend from September 28 to 30, 2012 at the Richmond Culture Center (i.e. Minoru Public Library area). Culture Days is a collaborative coast-to-coast volunteer movement to raise the awareness, accessibility, participation and engagement of Canadians in the arts and cultural life of their communities.

Culture Days featured many free, hands-on, interactive activities that invite the public to participate “behind-the-scenes”, to discover the world of artists, creators, historians, architects, curators, designers and other creative people in their communities.


What caught my attention was the Cantonese Opera activities during this Culture Days event. The first activity was Chinese Opera’s Signature Make-up Application demonstration. This demonstration was carried out by the Vancouver Cantonese Opera which is a non-profit organisation.


How does the Cantonese Opera actor/actress transforms from the left to the right? It takes a laborious make up session and dressing up. I will show you the steps here. The makeup usually takes 2 hours from start to finish.


A Cantonese Opera performer wears a pajamas like white base clothing. This is to protest the actual costumes from sweats. First, the performer has to wrap the hair in a black net hair cap. Tapes are applied to secure the cap and also to sort of pull the eyebrow upward.


Then a base coat of white cream is applied to the whole face, follow by red from below the eyebrow to the cheek, darker on the eye and tone down towards the cheek.


The center of the nose is left with white to accentuate it’s look. The performer will then apply powder all over the face to eliminate the greasy look. Next is the application of the eyebrow. Actor will have a more masculine eyebrow while actress will have a more finer and feminine eyebrow. The drawn eyebrow may not follow the original contour of the eyebrow. The eyebrow has to be drawn upward to resemble phoenix eyes.


The eyes are makeup to look larger with thick liner.

One common problem encounter during the makeup is the eyes start to tear due to prolong focus on the makeup. The thick makeup is also harmful to the complexion, especially for professionals who earn a living with this art.


On the tables are hair extensions that will be placed on the forehead and cheek. Rosa Cheng, the Artistic Director of the Vancouver Cantonese Opera, uses real hair extensions. These hair extensions have to be moisten with some wet tree barks to soften before shaping and applications.


A tiny bit of glue is applied to the hair to stick them to the forehead. Actress will hair extension on the cheek to make them look more slimmer and a facial shape like “gua ji” (i.e. pumpkin seed).


Actress also has a long pony tail. This one that Rosa has is made from real hair and costs her CAD$1,000. It is at least 4 feet long.


A thick hair band like thing is wrapped around the hair extensions to secure them and also provide room to pin beautiful sparkling hair pins/decorations. Another hair extension is placed on the top. Actor will has less elaborate makeup.


Decorating the hair with matching ear rings. The hair decorations will sparkle under the bright lighting on the stage. A simple set like the one on the right can easily cost CAD$300.


Rosa has to makeup her hands too so that they look compatible to face makeup. The performer put on their costumes after the make up and hair do is completed. The Cantonese Opera costumes come in many pieces.


Rosa told us that she needs at least two helpers to put on her costumes. There are a lot of tucking to make sure that the costume is neat and prim.


One last thing on the makeup, Rosa wears a tear drop decoration on her forehead to represent a fairy.

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