Pengtou literally means the beginning of a stage show. The performance before the real show commences is therefore called pengtou. It is an important feature of the three-role tea-picking opera in Taiwan.
In the broad sense, the forms of performance at the pengtou of three-role tea-picking operas include “shuban”(chanting with the beat of castanets), “bangqiang” and “daqiang”(vocal accompaniments) and “daobai”, “taibai”, “cibai”, etc. In correspondence with the rhythm of the castanets the clown conducts the chanting of at least four lines of free verse rhymed and easy to recite. A performer in the backstage or one of the musicians repeats the last word of each line to help with the effect (bangqiang). “Daqiang” is when sometimes an actor backstage or a musician answers the clown. “Daobai”is the narration by the clown or another character. The dialog between roles is called “taibai”. “Cibai” means the extra singing during the pengtou performance, but this addition is up to the performer. These forms of acting are cleverly used at pengtou to warm up for the real show.
The content of pengtou comprises Hakka slang, proverbs, shifuhua, lafange, riddles, puns and couplets. They are usually funny and entertaining, full of rhythms and sometimes conducted in inter-complimenting. There is one important principle, however. Whether all the forms of performance at pengtou are relevant or not, the dialog and singing at the end must lead to the main play, serving as a bridge to connect the pengtou and the main show in a subtle way. Therefore the end of pengtou is immediately followed by the real play.
What are special about pengtou are its entertaining humor and the subtle link to the main show. Plus its form of performance is not fixed. The actors can adopt different combinations or decide whether it should be performed or not, depending on the situation. But on the whole, it does have its place and is an indispensable part of the three-role tea-picking opera.