Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
China Daily Global / 2024-01 / 18 / Page016

A global village where the world's a stage

By Cheng Yuezhu and Tang Ying | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-01-18 00:00

A small settlement in Jiangxi province that's the ancestral home of big-name theater director Stan Lai is raising a curtain on its performing arts, Cheng Yuezhu and Tang Ying report.

On Jan 5, Huichang county in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province, hosted an unprecedented scene when over 200,000 visitors celebrated the Huichang Theater Village's opening, including theater practitioners, performing arts groups, experts and tourists.

Contemporary performing arts and traditional Chinese celebrations took place throughout the theater village, from an opening ceremony held at the Lai Family Mansion Plaza in front of the former residence of renowned theater director Stan Lai's family, to an outdoor performance by Taiwan-based performing arts group U-Theatre around an ancient banyan tree at the village's entrance.

When dusk descended, Lai's classic play The Village was staged at Theater Converge, one of four major theater venues inside the village, marking the 100th performance of the play's special edition.

"The Village tells the stories of people who moved from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan. These, in fact, also included people from Huichang, my father being one of them. I felt greatly moved when I saw the rehearsal," Lai says.

"I am even thinking, if this play will be performed frequently here, one of the characters should learn to speak the Huichang dialect, so that the audience will know this character is from Huichang and feel a sense of affinity."

Since his father left Huichang for Taiwan and then the United States, Lai hadn't visited his ancestral hometown until 1997, when he got in touch with his uncle.

From 2015, Lai started bringing one of his theater productions to Huichang each year, and he has since worked with Huichang's government to transform the Xibeijie community, located in Huichang's ancient city, into the Huichang Theater Village.

While preserving the historical buildings, many of which were built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), four theaters have been revamped or built to host a variety of productions at international standards.

Apart from Theater Converge, the venues also include the Courtyard Theater, revamped from the historical Wu family's ancestral hall, and the Open Space which features experimental theater and a rehearsal hall.

The revamped squares, including the Lai Family Mansion Plaza and Wisdom Square, also allow for a variety of outdoor performances.

Unlike conventional theater festivals, such as the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, of which Lai is a founder and festival director, the theater village is envisioned as functioning as a year-round base for theater productions.

"Our wish is that performances will be staged throughout the year, so that visitors can travel here, perhaps for a lovely weekend with cultural activities, see a few plays and go sightseeing in nearby areas," Lai says.

The theater village will host spring and autumn performance seasons every year. Its first spring season following its opening ran until Sunday.

It included three plays by Stan Lai — The Village; a new play titled Flower in the Mirror, Moon in the Water that staged its world premiere in Huichang on Jan 10; and a localized version of Lai's classic Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land performed by the Huichang Tea Harvest Opera Theater.

"This is my hometown, so whenever people come here, at least one or two of my plays will be available," Lai says.

Other theater troupes from home and abroad presented their productions, such as Hong Kong Repertory Theatre which staged Soeurs, UTheatre which staged Meeting With Vajrasattva and French troupe Compagnie des Quidams which staged Herbert's Dream.

"The Huichang Theater Village isn't just putting up a setting for a single play. It is a real village, yet I can experience the atmosphere of theater in its every corner. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world," says Liu Ruo-yu, founder of U-Theatre.

Liu says that when she first visited the Lai Family Mansion Plaza, where Meeting With Vajrasattva was to be staged, she thought it was unnecessary to bring the original stage set because the mansion provided a perfect backdrop for the production.

The same went for her experience seeing a performance of Flower in the Mirror, Moon in the Water at the Courtyard Theater. Prior to the performance, the crew appealed to Huichang residents to donate old chairs, many of which were handmade and had been used for decades, to provide seating for the audiences.

"The moment I saw the theater's door, I exclaimed that this is where drama belongs. There is no fabricated scene inside the theater. The walls, the chairs and the objects are all authentic and antique. That's why I feel walking into the theater village is like stepping into a play. It's an environment filled with a theatrical ambience," Liu says.

Lai says the theater village project is creating an ecosystem that's conducive to the sustainable development of cultural and creative industries.

It has already attracted cultural production companies, an immersive experiential theater, as well as a film-and-theater costume rental and photography service.

Huichang entrepreneur Wang Mingfu has collaborated with Lai to establish the Hesheng Institute of Theatre Technology, which offers training for future theater technicians, and Lai's own Theatre Training Above center is also based in the village to provide theater education to enthusiasts.

"I'd like to see what changes a small town will undergo because of theater, because of culture," Lai says.

"It is our wish to witness whether the Huichang Theater Village will turn out to be a piece of fertile land, where all sorts of new things grow and thrive."

Over 200,000 people visited on Jan 5 and 6, respectively, and more than 160,000 came on Jan 7.

The theater village's opening and the first theater season offer a great opportunity to boost Huichang's culture and tourism industries, Zeng Junhua, head of the county's bureau of culture and tourism, says.

"We will focus on improving the five aspects of overall planning, quality, supporting facilities, services and marketing to drive the integrated development of theater, intangible cultural heritage, education and tourism," Zeng says.

Huichang has also established a fund to attract artists from around the world to be based in the village long term. Selected participants will have access to the creative facilities, equipment, technical support and living amenities.

"The theater village is dedicated to creating a vibrant and creative artistic community, providing a platform for artists who are passionate about theater, and are imaginative and dream driven, to showcase their work and exchange with one another," Zeng adds.


Taiwan-based group U-Theatre performs at the opening of the Huichang Theater Village on Jan 5. CHINA DAILY



A panoramic view of the grand opening of the Huichang Theater Village. CHINA DAILY



U-Theatre performers present an outdoor show around an ancient banyan tree at the village entrance. CHINA DAILY



Hong Kong Repertory Theatre stages the play Soeurs at the Open Space in the Huichang Theater Village. CHINA DAILY



Most Viewed

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349