Yearender-China Focus: Small theaters enthral audience big time-Xinhua

Yearender-China Focus: Small theaters enthral audience big time

Source: Xinhua

Editor: huaxia

2022-12-26 16:04:00

BEIJING, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- Since childhood, Wang Guang has dreamed of performing plays in theaters. Thanks to his constant efforts and outstanding performance, he became a stage actor in June this year.

Participating in over 30 stage performances from July to September and appearing in popular dramas such as "The Desperate Love" and "If There Was No Tomorrow," Wang had a busy schedule.

Wang, who is 23 years old, credits many of his performance opportunities to the Beijing-based Star Theatre, with whom he signed a contract shortly after graduating from Jilin University of Arts in June.

The 13-year-old theater group is located in an inconspicuous alley near Xuanwumen subway station in downtown Beijing. Instead of undertaking major productions intended for large audiences, its main focus has always been on the creation of small-scale theater works.

Over the years, the theatre group has created 55 original plays and put on more than 1,000 performances annually on average, attracting about 4 million people, said Deng Wei, senior vice president of Star Theatre.

Unlike large productions shown to massive audiences in large theaters, small theater plays are intended for limited audiences in smaller venues.

"Being on the stage feels magical, every time my character shed tears, I can feel the audience shedding tears as well," Wang said. "This closeness with the audience is the charm of the small theater."

"Small theaters bring the viewers and the actors closer, and we can enjoy the plays up close and even take part in them," said 26-year-old Du Yu, an avid theatergoer. "I am relieved of the monotony of daily life when I am able to experience the emotions portrayed in a play," she added.

Such closeness naturally demands more precision from actors. "In small theaters, actors must make their performances and communication believable enough to elicit audience empathy," said Huang Yanzhuo, director of "The Desperate Love."

Owing to the collective efforts of Huang and the actors, the play was a huge success, with 2,800 performances staged in about nine years.

In China, a country with a rich and profound history of performance art, small theater performance is a relatively new concept. First attempted by the prestigious Beijing People's Art Theatre in 1982, the concept of small theater has seen much development in China over the past 40 years.

According to statistics from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism, as of 2021, the city was home to over 80 small theaters of different styles. The genres of performances have also expanded over time. Apart from dramas, audiences can also enjoy operas, dance dramas and magic shows, among others.

In addition to providing people with entertainment, the development of small theaters also stimulated theatrical creation. A number of talented artists have taken the opportunity to execute bold theatrical experiments that reintroduce traditional Chinese arts to the public in the most unexpected ways.

Over the years, artists have presented the classic Chinese love story "Xi Xiang Ji," or "The Romance of the West Chamber," in the form of modern drama, and have performed a Peking Opera version of Goethe's Faust. According to the bureau, small theater adaptations of classic Chinese cultural works have significantly increased in the recent decade.

"With only a limited number of people in the audience, small theaters have more flexibility for new explorations," said Zhang Yiwu, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Peking University. He noted that these small theaters also provide young theater directors and actors with the opportunity they need to improve themselves.

"It is evident that in the past decade, more content related to traditional Chinese culture is seen in small theaters, which reflects that young people today are paying more attention to the fine traditional Chinese culture," Zhang said.

For Du, watching performances at small theaters is a way of life. "Small theater dramas are now a part of pop culture for many young people," she said.

Star Theatre has endeavored to meet the needs of young audiences. In addition to creating more participatory plays in which the audience can engage, they have enhanced interaction with the audience after the curtains are down.

According to Deng, after every performance, they would invite the entire audience into an online group chat via mobile apps to collect their feedback.

For Wang, the comments of audiences is what inspire him to be a better actor. "I hope to hone my acting skills and broaden my horizon at the same time," he said. "In the future, I expect to not only act on stage, but also direct my own plays."