The 8th Wuzhen Theater Festival remains lively
Published: Oct 25, 2021 01:10 AM
A performance at the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival

A performance at the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival


One might think that the pandemic would have discouraged a lot of visitors to Wuzhen, a scenic spot in East China's Zhejiang Province, leading to its annual theater festival being rather quiet in 2021. However, the reality has been quite the opposite, with a lively festive atmosphere still brightening up the 8th Wuzhen Theater Festival. 

The more than 1,300-year-old streets of the city's old town were packed with young performers and street acts, all competing loudly for the attention of passers-by. Members of student theater troupes walked the cobblestones trying to drum up interest in their shows.

"The festival is still flourishing. The only difference is that there are fewer tourists from overseas," mentioned Wu, a shopkeeper who sells sandalwood at the scenic spot. She recalled that two years ago foreign visitors would buy some sandalwood while enjoying the festival.

"Tickets online sold out in just a second. I had to wait for almost eight hours to purchase a paper ticket on location," Qu Rui, a 25-year-old visitor from Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, said. 

Temporary end

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to the Wuzhen Theater Festival.

"In March 2020, we decided to postpone the festival to 2021 due to the severity of the epidemic, and so we told the overseas opera troupes that were invited to cancel their trips. This year, we were still not able to invite them and decided to hold a pure Chinese theater festival," said Huang Lei, co-founder and production director of the festival.

In order to ensure the diversity of the Wuzhen Theater Festival, a total of eight operas are being shown from the world's six most influential theater festivals - the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Berliner Theatertreffen, the Avignon Festival in France, Salzburg Festival, Holland Festival and Street Theatre Festival in Krakow, Poland.

Huang told the Global Times that they still maintain close relationships with the festivals overseas, adding that he is very positive about the future and believes that "we can get rid of the virus crisis and the theater troupes from overseas will come back again."

According to reports, the festival employs more than 4,000 staff and over 500 crew members from theater troupes, as well as more than 700 artists from over 130 performances at the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival. Managing the large number of staff and visitors has proven to be quite a challenge due to the anti-pandemic measures at the festival.

Everyone is required to present a health code and tour card that shows the person's movements over the last 14 days. 

"We are paying great attention to the current pandemic situation and are fully cooperating with the local government to maintain order," Huang mentioned.

A pure Chinese festival 

Opening the brochure for the 2021 festival, the list of shows will make your eyes wide open as you realize how impossible it would be to see every single one of the large number of performances on offer.

Promotional material for the opera <em>Ago</em> Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival

Promotional material for the opera Ago Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival

The 2021 Wuzhen Theatre Festival is showcasing a total of 64 performances of 23  dramas.  

Some operas inspired by the pandemic are also at the festival. Zhang Hui, director of Stuck, one of such operas that has earned high praise, told the Gloabl Times that compared with depicting the heroic deeds of medical workers, she prefers sharing the feelings of ordinary people during the pandemic. 

One of the biggest highlights at the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival are the performances by inheritors of China's intangible cultural heritage such as puppet shows and Nanyin, an ancient Chinese music performance from East China's Fujian Province. 

Wu Qiuxia, a teacher from the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts, has brought two traditional Chinese operas, Qinqiang Opera and Yuju Opera, to the 8th Wuzhen Theater Opera Festival.

Even thought this is the sixth time that Wu Qiuxia has participated in the festival, she says she can still feel the passion of the audience. 

"The festival can be a good platform for introducing traditional Chinese culture to the ordinary people, and meanwhile the performers, my students, are able to earn valuable practical experience."

For Chen, a musician who plays the traditional stringed instrument known as guqin, this was the first time she joined the festival. She said that "the introduction of China's intangible cultural heritage has given the festival a stronger Chinese taste."

Luo Jie, a 26-year-old visitor, told the Global Times that she cried after watching a dance opera inspired by the LGBTQ community. 

"I was very moved that I could see such a show full of sincerity and felt grateful that they care about this group."

Besides the operas and carnival, the festival also includes other events like the Emerging Theater Artists' Competition, Wuzhen Dialogue and some new art exhibitions. 

Promotional material for the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival

Promotional material for the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival

Stronger vitality

Running from October 15 to Sunday, the 8th Wuzhen Theater Festival, has its strong vitality like a bamboo shoot, Huang explained, and it has experienced a rebirth after the outbreak of COVID-19.

Huang said he was very pleased to see more theater festivals like the Daliangshan International Theater Festival held in China as this is a sign of Chinese cultural prosperity. 

"The Wuzhen Theater Festival has the responsibility to take the lead in developing Chinese theater, and we will continue to hold the festival and make it better," said Huang. 

"It will always take a while for it to return to its original glory," he added.