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CHINESE THEATRE TODAY Beyond the Great Wall Mark Amitin FIRST THOUGHTS Thinking I would be overdosed with acrobats and didactic plays, I was prepared for the worst on my trip to China. But, as I gathered letters of introduction to directors, actors and film people from acquaintances in Hong Kong I was told that there was a substantial shift in cultural policy taking place. Where the many actors and directors who had worked during the decade of the Cultural Revolution went puzzled me. Had they suddenly shifted gears into new art at the behest of the present government? The theatre they had made for ten years had now been villified by the government, and the present academic assessment of the revolutionary proletarian art forms is a 9 dismal one. These actors and directors have been returned to the farms and factories from where they had been recruited. Most having been connected to the amateur theatre groups connected to their places of work, some still holding their administrative positions. The judgment of the returned professionals was that the cultural workers of the period of 1966-76 were really not making art, just propaganda. Having been given back their art and their theatres has imbued these workers with a passion and commitment that I could scarcely imagine. What struck me deeply is their desire for information about our work in the West, for new training and fresh ideas. Even after these many years of being shifted from the ranks of artists to prisoners to cultural workers and back again they still possess a true sense of naivete about the rest of the world. Our dialogue covered a range of topics about the differences in American theatre between the commercial and Broadway theatre, off and off-off-Broadway, the avant-garde, radical theatre versus experimental and an in-depth discussion of the use of environmental theatre, audience-actor involvement, and the process of creation in improvisational methods. They were genuinely interested in trying to understand how these experiments developed and how the audiences react to them. While they were intrigued it seemed unlikely that any attempt to try out these forms was likely in the near future. THE PRESENT To better understand the present state of theatre in China it is essential to take a brief look at the history of China and the relationship of the theatre to it. Prior to the revolution in 1911 roles in the theatre were portrayed by men. The traditional theatre was derived from what the Chinese call yangko; the original yangko were planting and harvesting songs and dances. In north and central China the local form was known as pingchu. In the south it was known as yuehchu, this being a much less rigid form than in the other regions. These melded into what was to become a type of opera, not in the Western sense, but a fusion of costume, dance, and storytelling in song. Under the dynasties of the emperors these operas usually told stories of the court or were based on myths. The kanchu, as it became known, was the final, high form of Peking Opera with its very stylized and formalized movement , the painted faces and harsh dissonant-sounding music. After the collapse of the Ch'ing (Manchu) Dynasty in 1911 and the founding of the first Republic there was more movement towards a spoken drama influenced from the West that was called huachu. Hauchu was patterned after European naturalistic and realistic theatre. The influence of writers such as Ibsen, Chekhov and O'Neill was the strongest. This coincided with the period of the Russian Revolution. In 1921 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded in Shanghai, a city which rivaled Peking as both a cultural center and political base. The KMT (Chaing Kai-shek's) Nationalist Army and the CCP forces were in armed conflict by the early 1920s. As a result there was an upsurge of 10 literary activity and small theatres began undertaking plays with significant social themes. CHINESE ACROBATS The Japanese attacked China and began sweeping across the country in 1921. Tein Han, a major playwright, joined the League of Leftwing Dramatists. The training of dozens of small...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 9-26
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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