Theater through the lens of young and burgeoning directors
By Lyne Lin

I've always heard much about the Wuzhen Theatre Festival: How it's dreamy yet full of energy, how it's young yet gleaming with sparkling thoughts. 

For the past week, I've been here finding out what theatre is through the lens of burgeoning talents and young artists.  

On a drizzling morning, I met with Yang Ting, an established director, to find out more about her play "Still Barking," the story of an elderly mother kept under surveillance by her supposedly caring children.  

Yang explained the focal point of the young playwright.

"I was equally curious," the director said. "Her grandparents live by themselves in an old apartment in southern China. And her parents wanted to be able to check in on them anytime, anywhere, so they installed cameras. She drew her inspiration from this. To be honest, I was quite fascinated by the depth of this piece of work. Through the perspective of a surveillance camera, she digs deep into the loneliness and anxieties experienced by some seniors in modern times."

Performers take to the street during the 8th Wuzhen Theatre Festival, Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province, east China. /CGTN

Performers take to the street during the 8th Wuzhen Theatre Festival, Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province, east China. /CGTN

Drawing on his working experience at one of China's large tech companies, Shenzhen-based director and playwright Wang Haoran presents "Game Boy," a story alternating between the real and virtual world of a coding engineer. 

For Wang, theatre is all about the present, "I want to focus on now, for the time being. I don't want to talk about history," he said.

While Yang and Wang focus on how technology and the digital world reshape our day-to-day experiences, He Qi zooms in on the highs and lows of marriage life for millennials. 

The director of "The Cat" told me that the laid-back lifestyle of Wuzhen serves as a stark contrast to the city life featured in her story.

"Many people who come here for the festival are young people and city dwellers," He said. "For example, in Beijing, my theatre experience is always rushed. It takes an hour to get to the theatre from most places, and by the time the show starts, I'm exhausted. But perhaps this drastically different setting here, which offers some serenity, enables us to look at our city life from another perspective."

"We are removed from our urban setting, so we can better experience the problems this young married couple experience in their day to day lives."  

The quiet canals and the age-old wooden houses along the river bank all lend an air of tranquility to Wuzhen. But Zhan Li, director and choreographer of Fume, has brought "Rage" to this dreamy town, where she visualizes anger in various dance movements. 

"In this piece Fume, I ask them to draw a figure of their anger. Tell me what your anger looks like. They turn something that's very abstract to specific," Li said.

"When I feel angry, I always bite my teeth, so we do have a movement like this, a jaw clenching and it's also like an animal. Then we have specific movement with abstract movement and we turn them into a dance movement," she explained.

Becca and Kingston from China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) are among the 18 finalists competing for the Emerging Theatre Artist award and grand cash prize. Despite the difficulties of traveling during the pandemic, they flew all the way from HKSAR to Wuzhen to pursue their dream. 

The pair said theatre has transformed into a way of life for them: "We can be bold, we can try new things. We care about our community. We want to change the society in a better way through our arts." 

During the festival, Wuzhen is like a parallel space existing outside the world. My opportunities to sit down with these talents have given me a richer understanding of theatre. I think for the millennial directors, performers and playwrights, the genre is very personal. 

From the themes they explore to the stylistic presentations of their work, the commonalities reflect their individual struggles. They offer snapshots of our lived experiences, a mode of thinking, a way of life, and even an inner energy that propels us through the stubborn difficulties of everyday life. My journey here is about to end, but I can't wait to be back again. 

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