Letting cultures speak between China and the U.S.
By Li Qing  ·  2023-02-13  ·   Source: Web Exclusive

"It is important that our cultures speak to one another," Travis Preston, Dean of the School of Theater at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), told Beijing Review.

In 2015, Preston worked with famous Chinese playwright, Stan Lai, often praised as Asia's top theater director, on Nightwalk in the Chinese Garden, which made its debut in 2018. The production, created by Lai, was inspired by Chinese romantic tragicomedy The Peony Pavilion, written in the 16th Century about two lovers finding each other in dreams.


A poster for Fantômas: Revenge of the Image, co-created by Travis Preston (FILE)

For many in the U.S., the project was an extraordinary introduction to ancient Chinese culture in a contemporary context, Preston said. "We have much to learn from Chinese artists and I believe exchange is extremely important to the vitality of both countries."

The collaboration with Lai also created a significant chance for Preston to communicate with Chinese audiences. Lai is one of the founders of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, an annual event in the ancient water town of Wuzhen in east China's Zhejiang Province. Founded in 2013, the festival is growing into a globally influential theater festival.


Travis Preston, theater director and dean of the School of Theater at California Institute of the Arts (COURTESY PHOTO)

"I don't know of any other festival town in the world like it. It is truly an amazing gathering place," Preston said. It is an ancient town that has been impeccably restored and then enhanced with extremely contemporary touches, the artist explained.

As Executive Artistic Director of CalArts Center for New Performance, the professional producing arm of the Institute, Preston brought his work Fantômas: Revenge of the Image to Chinese audiences in 2017, making it the first production to have its international premiere at the festival. Focusing on modern urban terror, it provided an immersive and experiential performance to festival-goers and inspired them to think about the close relationship between sensation, violence and entertainment in contemporary visual culture.

Preston said he believes the Wuzhen Theater Festival is one of the most effective festivals in the world as it provides a better platform for artists to meet new peers and interact. He joined the festival’s artistic committee last year and, as the only foreign member, will continue to promote performing arts communication between the two countries.

Exchange between China and the U.S., both in the performing arts and in the arts generally, is extremely important, Preston said, adding he believes Chinese performing arts will have increasing impact in the U.S.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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