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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: September 26, 2011 NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
A Tale of Two Theater Festivals
Avignon, France, and China's capital city share a common bond in theater

VISIONARY: Chinese art director Meng Jinghui attends the first "China Day" event during the Avignon Theater Festival Off unit on July 10 (GAO JING)

LIVE SHOW: Four Chinese performers sing in Avignon for "China Day" on July 10 (GAO JING)

Cooking a Dream tells the legendary story of Lu, a young man eager for fortune and fame. While dreaming, Lu's fantasies come true: He is rich and wins the emperor's favor but eventually is accused of a crime, sentenced and dies. The story expresses a philosophy of life—a Chinese proverb says that glory, honor, and wealth are nothing but shadows.

"We want to tell a traditional Chinese story for Western audiences. The success of Cooking a Dream strengthens my confidence and makes me clear about how to create drama," said Huang.

"Foreign playwrights and audiences gasped with admiration at the superb skills of the performers and the wisdom of Chinese philosophy. A French spectator told me that this play was easy to understand even without the help of subtitles," Huang said. "China has great philosophy and splendid culture. Today, we must combine the valuable heritage with modern art to create new dramas."

Fostering cultural creativity

"The purpose of the BFF is also to cultivate China's young dramatists. Our work has helped invigorate the theaters and nurture the creations. Chinese dramas have become increasingly creative in recent years," said Meng.

The annual BFF has attracted more and more young people since its launch in 2008. The number of works has increased to 57 from 11 in 2008.

"BFF is dedicated to cultivating young playwrights, directors and performers for Chinese drama circles and encourage original works," said young director Shao Zehui, Secretary General of Beijing Young Dramatists Association. "We offer young artists an open stage for free so that they can use their imagination to create various new works without worrying about the cost or box office performance of their plays."

Shao also said that modern dramas were not as diverse as audiences expect in China. Playwrights and directors often give up their original ideas and make compromises to cater to investors' tastes for the sake of popularity. For this reason, Beijing Federation of Literary and Art Circles and the National Theater of China decided to sponsor the BFF to support young dramatists from 2008.

"We hope that more and more works could be staged during Beijing's theater festival. Only through staging more plays and offering more choices, can the audience pick what they like best and can the repertoire of Chinese modern dramas be enriched," Shao said.

A lifestyle

Over 65 years, Avignon has become a theater town each summer. However, it is not easy to make drama appreciation a popular lifestyle in Avignon.

Jean Vilar, the founder of Avignon Theater Festival, had committed his life to making dramas more popular. The success of Avignon is the result of concerted efforts of French playwrights who worked for more than half a century. Since Festival Off was created in 1966, Avignon was open to all troupes and public interest continued to grow.

The BFF is not only nurturing creativity, but also cultivating an atmosphere for drama appreciation in Beijing. Modern drama has a 104-year history in China. Many brilliant works and outstanding figures emerged and became reputed on the stage during its development. But like other performing arts, drama has suffered a setback in the last 20 years, due to the multi-media recreation boom.

"Avignon Festival teaches us a lot on developing modern drama in China," said Huang. "But we cannot copy their patterns because we have different conditions and we must combine our own features."

Many artists choose Beijing to live and pursue their career because the capital is not only China's center of politics and economy, but also the country's most inclusive and diverse hub of arts. Its unique artistic atmosphere is conducive to production of any art genre from pop music to drama and opera.

"Beijing has large audiences who like dramas. It doesn't need tourists to fill the theaters during the summer like Avignon does. So performing arts have huge potential for development in Beijing," said Huang.

Like many other artists who participate in the theater festival, Huang believes that through their hard work, the day when drama becomes a lifestyle in Beijing, just as it is now in Avignon, will soon come.

"The BFF will be a vigorous and influential cultural event of the living art in China," he said.

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