Carnival atmosphere

By Hu Bei Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-19 18:53:01


Two Chinese opera performers staging at one bridge of Wuzhen during the Outdoor Carnival of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival. Photo: Courtesy of the festival
Two Chinese opera performers staging at one bridge of Wuzhen during the Outdoor Carnival of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival. Photo: Courtesy of the festival 
It was the afternoon of May 17 on a narrow lane of Wuzhen, an over 1,300-year-old water town in Zhejiang Province, just after a spring rain. Tiny raindrops were still sprinkling down from the gray tiles of the old wooden houses.

Right about then, under the eaves of one old house, a young man and a girl - both wearing ancient Chinese costumes with bright colors - began a conversation. From their costumes, onlookers could deduce that the young people were performing a traditional Chinese play.

Outdoor carnival

Since May 9, similar scenes have been happening on almost every corner of the old town as part of the first Wuzhen Theatre Festival.

During the 11-day festival, which concluded yesterday, the "outdoor carnival" was certainly the most eye-catching part. Over 500 outdoor performances by Chinese troupes and many from foreign countries were scattered around the narrow lanes and small plazas of the town.

At each street performance, groups of people would gather to listen. Those who took photos revealed themselves as out-of-town tourists, while those just leaning against the wall to take a nap illustrated the leisurely attitude of the local residents.

Shi Hang, the famous Chinese playwright and critic from Beijing, participated in the first Wuzhen Theatre Festival. He told the Global Times that through the festival's outdoor carnival, he met the most "multi-level" theater audiences he had ever seen in China.

"Here, we have theater professionals, theater fans and media reporters who came to Wuzhen specifically for theater. We have ordinary tourists who simply wanted to visit Wuzhen, but accidentally met a street play. And we have many local people who probably never saw a live play on their streets before," Shi said. "Theater originally started from outdoor performances, and in Wuzhen, we have returned to the most primitive and pure state of theater."

Wu Jia, a theater producer from Shanghai, stayed in Wuzhen for two days to enjoy the festival. The outdoor carnival also impressed him a lot.

"Objectively speaking, I don't think we could hold a theater festival like the Edinburgh Festival or the Avignon Festival in major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai, because the spaces are too big and dispersed, and most city people are always in a hurry," Wu said, "However, in Wuzhen, in this small town with its very distinctive characteristics, this time, I see hope."

Big productions, high price

After missing its performance in Beijing in April this year, Wang Lin, a senior theater lover who lives in the capital, still has not realized her wish to see Stan Lai's eight-hour production A Dream Like A Dream. The widely hailed play is one of six leading productions at the Wuzhen festival.

"Shortly before the festival, when I realized that I must order tickets for this production in advance, the cheaper tickets (480 yuan) had been sold out on the festival's official website. The only ones left were expensive, all exceeding 1,000 yuan ($163)," Wang said.

When Wang and her friend arrived in Wuzhen during the festival, one festival staff told them that all the tickets for A Dream had been sold out. "And the scalpers raised the price more than twice the face value," Wang added.

The relatively high price being charged for the leading six productions of the festival (from 480 to 1,680 yuan) is indeed one of the common complaints about the festival.

In answer to this issue, Huang Lei, the main organizer of the festival, explained to the Global Times that the ticket prices are set by the individual production companies, and these prices are comparable with those charged at most other theater venues.

Shi Hang told the Global Times that the relatively few leading productions this time is probably another reason for the high prices.

In Shi's opinion, within the scope of the whole nation's live theater market today, only a handful of directors can win enough box office.

Of the names on Shi's shortlist, three are included in this festival: Tian Qinxin, Meng Jinghui and Stan Lai. And their productions make up half of the festival's leading six.

"Someone asked me why there are no productions from Shanghai or Guangzhou (the two major theater markets in South China) at this festival... I had to ask in reply, 'are there any representative theater works with nationwide reputation in these two cities now?'" Shi said.

Yang Shaolin, the general manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center told the Global Times that Shanghai would probably never be one of the festival's first choices anyway, but always be ranked after Beijing, Hong Kong or Taiwan.

"I don't think any outside theater productions will challenge the local theater market of Shanghai," Yang said, "A stable market in any place must depend on its self-sustaining ability, and not some external force that occurs from time to time."

Single investor

This time, the festival's total expenses (more than $8 million) including the construction of seven newly built or restored theater venues) is supported by one company - the Wuzhen Tourism Investment Company.

Fu Weibo, a senior theater producer in Beijing, who was also the chief organizer of the Beijing International Youth Festival and the Golden Hedgehog University Students Drama Festival told the Global Times that, "Under the current situation that many theater festivals in China are running on financial fumes, such a big investment is indeed very rare."

In Fu's analysis, the important things for the local Wuzhen authorities to do are firstly to insure that the money used in support of the festival is used wisely, employing modern transparent accounting practices to deter corruption and profiteering. Secondly, the organizers must develop a business model that can guarantee the sustainability of the festival. Only then will it have the chance to develop as hoped into one of the world's leading theatrical gatherings.

Posted in: ARTS

blog comments powered by Disqus