Top-notch shows from around the globe reunite at the 10th Wuzhen Theater Festival
A jubilant reunion
Published: Oct 24, 2023 09:20 PM
Actresses perform during the carnival show at the 10th Wuzhen Theater Festival. Photos: Courtesy of festival organizers

Actresses perform during the carnival show at the 10th Wuzhen Theater Festival. Photos: Courtesy of festival organizers

Hustle and bustle at the global Wuzhen Theater Festival marked the return of the event on October 19 amid its 10th anniversary. Tickets to the festival, which is meant to run until October 29, were sold out in just half an hour, kicking off celebrations with a bang. 

Parades, installation and modern art, improvisation performances, physical theater, dance, cross-talk, acrobatics, magic, miming, avant-garde theater… festival-goers have a wide array of options to enjoy.

With the theme "Rising," the Wuzhen Theater Festival includes 28 productions from 11 countries and regions, with a total of 87 performances across 12 unique performing arts.

Traditional intangible cultural heritage, including Sichuan opera, Kunqu opera, Qin opera, Lüju opera, and puppetry performances, stood out at the festival.

A 'utopia'

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the return of Specially Invited Plays with 14 performances from countries including Germany, Austria, Poland, India, Italy, Belgium, France, Brazil, Japan and the UK.

Almost all the foreign guests expressed their excitement at their return to or their debut at the Chinese theater festival. They compared it to a "utopia" in which sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and they expressed their expectation for more cultural exchanges through theatrical performances.

As the highlight show at the opening ceremony, H - 100 seconds to midnight directed by Robert Wilson garnered a great deal of attention during the festival.

World-renowned American theater master Wilson, 82, met with audience members in person, reaffirming that the festival does bring together people from around the world, regardless of their backgrounds or identities.

Tom Till, managing director of the show, told the Global Times that the Wuzhen Theater Festival has a lot in common with the Festival d'Avignon in France, through its distinct Chinese perspective which could serve as new sources of inspiration. 

Deepan Sivaraman, director of the Indian drama Peer Gynt, one of the Specially Invited Plays, told the Global Times that the most exciting part of the Wuzhen Theater Festival is likely the old town itself. The uniqueness of the festival set against the architecture and landscape in Wuzhen gives the festival the "potential to become one of the biggest and most important festivals in the world."

Sivaraman was touched by Chinese audiences who stayed on even after the curtain call. "I have always felt that after a performance, if the audience does not leave immediately from the theater, it means something to them."

"Both China and India have something in common as we both have profound cultures and histories, and I look forward to more cultural exchanges between the two countries in theaters," he said.

The inclusion of China's intangible cultural heritage is indeed another highlight of the festival, making it different from other theater festivals in the world.

Lu Yaping, one of the intangible cultural heritage program heads, told the Global Times that traditional cultural elements like opera and intangible heritage have a rich history and unique charm, and through cooperation with the festival, they aim to make intangible heritage an active art form that is accessible and engaging for everyone.

An actor performs during the carnival show at the 10th Wuzhen Theater Festival. Photos: Courtesy of festival organizers

An actor performs during the carnival show at the 10th Wuzhen Theater Festival. Photos: Courtesy of festival organizers

A better future

As one of the most influential theater festivals in Asia, the Wuzhen Theater Festival is continuing to grow. 

As an "old friend" of the festival, Stefan Christ, the subtitle operator of the H - 100 seconds to midnight, told the Global Times that the quality of the productions invited to Wuzhen has consistently increased since its inception one decade ago

Sivaraman, who has been involved in the festival three times, told the Global Times that the Wuzhen Theater Festival can be regarded as a ­sustainable model as it is audience-funded in Wuzhen while it is the government that funds theater festivals in India.

He was also highly complementary about the high efficiency and professionalism of the theater team at the festival. Three days before Sivaraman and his crew arrived in Wuzhen, everything, even the props, had been arranged, which came as a pleasant surprise to them. 

"The organizing team, the artistic directorial team, and the technical team are incredibly professional," Sivaraman said. "We can't really find a fault. I've been to many festivals and I'm telling you, you guys are doing an incredible job; you have actually proved that."

Wang Bo, a die-hard fan of the Wuzhen Theater Festival, told the Global Times that the festival is becoming more academic and professional, and he expressed his amazement at the setup of theater stages in Wuzhen in how they perfectly match the shows.

Looking ahead, the organizers hope to attract more foreign audiences to the Wuzhen Theater Festival over the next decade, and aim to inspire a sense of enthusiasm for the future of theater.

Huang Lei, co-founder and production director of the festival, expressed his gratitude to professionals and audiences who came due to their love of theater during the last 10 years. He highlighted the fact that the theatrical space fosters a unique sense of consensus and creates a special, quiet understanding, different from cinemas or concert halls.

He believes that the quality of audience members has been rising, and attending a theater performance has become a serious and ceremonial event, creating a favorable environment for theater experiences.

Meng Jinghui, the co-founder and artistic director of the festival, told the Global Times he felt proud that the festival is leading the improvement of the whole infrastructure of theaters around the country. 

"The improvement of humanistic facilities within the country could foresee a bright future for theaters in China, and in this sense, I take the festival as a success," Meng said.