Global Times 7-10-2012
Thunderstruck at the theater
Audiences attending theater director Wang Chong's latest production Thunderstorm 2.0 at the Trojan House Theater should brace themselves for a much more charged spectacle than dramatist Cao Yu's predecessor Thunderstorm. Since rehearsals for the new production began a month ago, Wang, 30, has also been keenly anticipating how the audience will react to Wednesday's premiere.
Unlike the original drama, there's no luxury living room from the 1920s, no wealthy businessman declaring his lonely wife sick and no incestual love affairs between a stepmother and stepson or step-brother and step-sister.
Throughout the hour-long show, the audience will have to shift their attention between the chaotic stage, where actors shuffle in between spaces, and a giant projector screen hanging above the stage showing close-ups of what the four cameras capture.
Using real-time editing, images appearing on the screen tell the moving, explicit story of how two female characters react after being cheated by a womanizing playboy.
"The style of mainstream dramas nowadays is boring. Most just focus on one subject and follow the basic formula of time, location, characters and storyline. A lot of works either lack imagination, techniques or artistic values," explained Wang, the avant-garde director of the Chinese-language versions of The Vagina Monologues and Self-Accusation. "The reason I've taken on Thunderstorm is that it's rooted in Chinese theater."
Penned by Cao Yu in 1934, the play conforms more closely to Western-style dramas. It's regarded as a masterpiece in Chinese theater's spoken drama, or huajiu. While over the centuries Western classical works have been presented in diverse ways onstage, adaptations of Thunderstorm largely conform to the realistic presentation by the Beijing People's Art Theater in 1954, one of the most prestigious theater troupes in China, which denounced capitalism.
"In society, people are confronting a massive amount of information each day and more often than not the world is chaotic. People are lost in it," Wang pointed out, explaining why he embraced multimedia to present the story.
In the era of Weibo (China's Twitter-like microblogging service), information is shown in different forms such as photos, videos and short messages. Drama should do the same and present diverse subjects, argues Wang.
"I'm not a scholar, nor a reader. I'm a creator of the same status as master Cao Yu. I want to show something that reflects the characteristics of our age," he said, adding film can help him achieve this goal.
There are different characters in the new interpretation from the old story, but "the amazing thing is every line is from the original play," said actress Gong Zhe, who plays a nanny carrying the playboy's child.
"Some lines are spoken by different characters in the revamped play. It's like the original drama is being dismantled and digested, and then put back together differently before being performed to the audience."
Thunderstorm 2.0 will also lift the curtain of the La Nouvelle Vague du Theater Season (literally "New Wave Theater Season"), a term Wang and fellow initiator Li Yi borrowed from France's New Wave moment in the 1950s.
There will be four new experimental dramas on show by the end of this year. The New Wave filmmaking movement represents rebellion against dictatorial storylines by using portable equipment and requiring little or no setup time.
Although defining the New Wave movement might be difficult, the essence of it is telling a story your way instead of pleasing the audience, Wang said. "What we want to do via the theater season is to not stick to one form, but use every possible means we can to break way from traditional theater in China," he said.