Performing in a Cantonese opera is a skill that needs to be honed at a young age, which might explain why troupes are having trouble recruiting performers at a time when Canto-pop is king. But a group of children are having the time of their lives learning what many would see as an esoteric pursuit. They belong to the Cha Duk Chang Children's Cantonese Opera Association, based in Sheung Wan and chaired by Cantonese opera fan and playwright Stella Ma Man-har. The group's aim is to maintain interest in traditional culture among Hong Kong's children. Tasks that could be seen as boring chores are presented as games, and the approach appears to be working. Leung Chi-ching, 12, and Lam Yu-tung, seven, are two of five lead characters in a new avant-garde Cantonese opera - The Quest For The Moon Fairy. The two-hour opera was written by Ms Ma. Unlike traditional Cantonese operas, this opera, which will be staged at the Sha Tin Town Hall on October 19, is designed for children. Its music and lyrics are easy to sing and to memorise. Many mimic well-known children's songs. Yu-tung was originally taught piano by her brother, but gave up in favour of Cantonese opera. 'I was told off because of my bad performance on the piano,' says the Immaculate Heart of Mary School pupil, who started studying Cantonese opera 18 months ago. 'With the opera, there's no training but games. I have fun with my friends.' Chi-ching, on the other hand, took it from the start. Her grandmother was a Cantonese opera fan and she has studied it for 21/2 years, saying she prefers it to pop music. 'Originally I was told by my parents that I was coming here to play games,' says Chi-ching, a CUHK Federation of Alumni Chan Chun Ha Secondary School student. 'But when I got here I found out it was actually a Cantonese opera.' Ms Ma says her intention was to use the traditional medium as a way to educate children about Chinese culture. 'We want to make the stage a classroom,' she says. 'Children can explore their culture while playing opera. Our hope is to improve them physically and mentally and help them gain more confidence in expressing themselves and dealing with others.' Ms Ma says the stage performances have boosted the confidence of the children, some of whom were extremely shy when they joined. Some were reluctant to do their school homework. But now due to Ms Ma's 'homework-first' policy, they willingly finish their assignments before opera classes. 'Homework is not a problem any more,' says Yu-tung. Chi-ching says she loves playing the oldest sister - both in the opera and in real life to the other cast members. 'I'm the big sister here,' she said. Her brother Leung Chun-yu, 11, is also in the show. 'I like to look after my younger sisters and brothers and they always take my advice,' Chi-ching says.