Global Times 11-20-2012
Lights, camera, theater!
Aspiring and ambitious, theater director Wang Chong is on a mission to overthrow the dated stage techniques that dominate Chinese theater today. Following an experimental foray filming his past three dramas live on stage, the 30-year-old Hawaii University alumnus now is embarking on a new experimental infusion of video and stage performance.
His latest work, Ibsen in One Take, to be staged at Trojan Theater next week, will see Wang shoot the drama from various angles in a single, uninterrupted take - a rare feat in filmmaking.
Written in English by Norwegian playwright Oda Fiskum and translated by Wang and Liu Chen into Chinese, the drama is a bittersweet memoir looking back on the life of a man who grows up to be lonely and estranged from his family and friends due to constant verbal abuse from his father.
Theatrical tribute to Ibsen
The story is loosely based on the life of Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), the most influential European dramatist in China. The majority of lines are from his major works, such as A Doll's House (1879). The protagonist in Ibsen in One Take (Li Jialong), who is unnamed and depicted in an unspecified era, represents an average person in society.
Wang's emphasis on storytelling lies in method, not content. As actors perform on stage, the audience will also be exposed to two other scenes: two crew members shooting live, and a big screen showing their unedited pictures. Seldom used in filmmaking, the "long take" is usually reserved for dramatic or narrative effect to capture realistic scenes on camera.
It also normally spans 15 or 20 minutes, whereas Wang is shooting the play in its hour-long entirety.
The director explained he wants audiences to focus on the screen rather than watch actors on stage.
"I want [the audience] to forget about the acting and instead focus on what is happening around the stage and on screen," said Wang, who is also the artistic director of Beijing-based troupe Théatre du Rêve Expérimental. "The camera offers another angle to examine the world with subtle details; it expounds relationships between characters."
Capturing the digital age
Wang's interest in multimedia led him to launch what he dubbed the "New Wave of Theater" earlier this year, inspired by the French New Wave Movement of the 1950s that presented movies in a documentary style.
"I read in a recent report that young people in China spend an average of eight hours daily on the computer and only 20 minutes reading paper materials, such as books or reports," he noted. "We are living in an age where reading has become digital and the aesthetics of the audience are also changing. Faced with so many diverse communication and media channels, we are confronted by the stark reality of living in a modern age. I've turned to multimedia to reflect on the digital age."
Movie magic alive on stage
Confronted by criticism that his multimedia approach could undermine the centuries-old tradition of theater, Wang insisted his method remains true to the performance art's roots.
"What I'm doing is not a deviation from traditional theater, as the story is told by actors on site and their performance is merely filmed, not recorded," he said, quashing hopes of anyone hoping to buy a copy of Ibsen in One Take.
Increasingly popular in the West, multimedia remains in its infancy in China's theater scene. Wang's exploits have been "refreshing" because they reveal the filmmaking process on stage, said acclaimed theater director Wang Xiaoying.
Wang Xiaoying also praised Thunderstorm 2.0, which was directed by Wang Chong and shot using four cameras when it premiered in July.
"[Screening plays] offers audiences a different perspective to watch the story unfold. Combining detailed images with the raw process of making a movie, audiences are exposed to multi-layered stories," said Wang Xiaoying.