By CGTN's Yu Fengsheng & Yang Ran
Known better for his set designs and surreal photographs, Chinese contemporary artist Maleonn is staging his new passion project at Beijing's Tianqiao Performing Arts Center. His very first non-traditional work of theatre, called "Papa's Time Machine" debuted in the theater last Friday. The ingenious combination of live action and puppet show brings installation art, moving images and live music performance into full play, imbuing the once-familiar puppet show with a contemporary touch.
"Papa's Time Machine" is Maleonn's first theatrical work, and was inspired by his own personal experience. The idea came about after Maleonn’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s-related amnesia. Following the diagnosis, Maleonn, whose real name is Ma Liang, recruited his father to join him on this new project, which uses puppets to chart the story of their shared life experiences.
"Papa’s Time Machine" Director Maleonn
"The show is about the story of a father and son. The father suffers from amnesia as he gets older, so his son builds him a time machine to help him to retrieve his memories. I spent several years making this show and as you know I was a photographer before. This is my first attempt to produce such a piece of theatre, and I think the outcome is great," director Maleonn said.
Having been described as a "fairy tale for adults," the show looks at the relationship between a father and a son as they pass through different stages of life. The show tells the story of the young protagonist Makugee, whose father gradually becomes afflicted by Alzheimer’s. In response, Makugee tries to create a time machine in order to help his father recall the happy memories of their life together.
The puppets are no doubt the highlights of the production. Maleonn invented his own puppetry system with a unique visual style and structure. Each handmade puppet, operated by a collection of actors in black clothing and bowler hats, is life-sized and made up of thousands of pieces. The parts are a combination of leather, paper, clay and rubber. It took Maleonn and his team several years to finish making the puppets.
The young Makugee
"The puppets are life-sized and they are all created by our team. It is a lot of work and it took us three years to design them. I had never studied theater production before so I don't have much experience. I used all the technical skills I have in order to create a good show, "Maleonn says. This is not the first time that the life-sized puppets have appeared on stage. In addition to playing in Beijing, the show has also been performed in Wuzhen and Shanghai over the past two years, and it has also gone overseas, having played in Canada last year. The show will be staged at Beijing's Tianqiao Performing Arts Center till May 1.