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Theater festival stages a comeback

By Cheng Yuezhu| China Daily| Updated: November 26, 2021 L M S


Meng Jinghui's adaptation of the literary classic Le Rouge et le Noir serves as the opening play of last month's Wuzhen Theater Festival. LIU HUANG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Wuzhen again hosts event in a celebration of innovation and drama, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

Actor-director and co-founder of the Wuzhen Theater Festival Huang Lei can easily recall the planning and discussions in 2010 when preparation for the inaugural event, that would be held in 2013, got underway. It would grow to become an annual festival hosted by the picturesque town of Wuzhen, Jiaxing city, Zhejiang province, on the west bank of the Grand Canal.

Last year, the team was looking forward to hosting its 10-year reunion, but the festival was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The pandemic led to adjustments in format and content, including reconsidering the theme of the festival's next edition.

"Two years ago, at the end of the seventh edition, we announced that the next theme would be mao (flourishing). At the time, we didn't expect there to be a pandemic," says Stan Lai, the event's co-founder and festival director.

The English translation of this year's theme was then changed from "flourishing" to "burgeoning", which signifies new beginnings and new hopes.

The festival returned this year from Oct 15 to 24. A total of 66 performances of 24 productions from around the country were staged in Wuzhen's 12 theater venues. Nearly half of the plays were created by female theater artists.

Due to international travel restrictions, the festival highlighted young Chinese theater practitioners with a special section called Above the Clouds, the Sky Opens.

The section included five plays featured in Theater for Living, a reality show produced by video streaming platform iQiyi earlier this year that brought young theater artists to live and create together in Wuzhen.

"To see the works live is different from watching on TV," Huang says. "Drama is meant for theater. For the festival, the young artists adapted and extended their works, and we were truly awestruck seeing them live.

"The recordings can show us the moving aspects of the works, but they cannot match the awe of seeing the actors perform in front of you. What's important is that the show can introduce more people to theater."

Apart from the new works, the section also featured Ago, a six-hour play written and directed by Lai, and starring celebrity performers Hao Lei and Zhang Jie.

Meng Jinghui, co-founder and artistic director of the festival, says that the plays can be categorized into three types: works by young directors that offer a sense of vitality; professional and classic works; and the "bizarre" ones that emphasize innovation. His own adaptation of the literary classic Le Rouge et le Noir was the opening play of this year's festival.

"Wuzhen Theater Festival is very diversified. It can amplify your emotions and give you a special kind of artistic freedom," Meng says. "You can swim freely in the endless ocean of your own imagination. Such a theater festival is not only professional, international and contemporary, but also individualized."

The festival has set up for the first time a Best of World Theater section, with classic performances from major international theater festivals screened in Wuzhen's Canal Side Theater.

"Coming to the eighth edition of the festival, we have established strong connections with many international theater festivals. Despite the fact that international artists cannot come and perform, we still want our audience to be able to experience, and welcome them to come here if things go well next year," Lai says.

The festival again included the Emerging Theater Artists' Competition, which received a record high of more than 500 entries this year. It also has the Wuzhen Dialogues, featuring panel talks, workshops and read-through sessions, the Outdoor Carnival, and a Theater Night Market that enriches the visitor experience with music, film, art and food.

"This is something that many of our friends look forward to each year. It doesn't require any preparation at all. It doesn't even matter if you've never seen a single play in your entire life. Even if you couldn't buy a ticket, you can attend the carnival, or the Emerging Theater Artists' Competition," Lai says.

"Wuzhen Theater Festival is a place for people to dream. We as creators are dreaming, and the audience members are here to dream. It's a unique experience. You can come here for one day or 10 days, be immersed in performances, eating, drinking tea or coffee, or chatting with strangers about plays, life and your thoughts."

Contact the writer at chengyuezhu@chinadaily.com.cn


A scene from this year's Outdoor Carnival. CHINA DAILY


Performers parade the streets during the festival's opening day. CHINA DAILY