I’m leaving this weekend for a one-week trip to Shanghai. “Journey from the East” is moving me into all sorts of new territory, and going to China feels like the ultimate metaphor for the entire project.
Before I can journey FROM the east, I have to journey TO the east!
The plan is for me to co-write–along with Bill George (co-founder of Touchstone Theatre) and William Sun (VP of Shanghai Theatre Academy, and our primary Chinese artistic collaborator)–the script for the April 2015 production that grows out of the next two years’ exploration. I’ll also co-design–along with Jp Jordan–that production. In preparation for Moravian College’s role in the project, I will be teaching an acting class in Spring 2014 that includes some Chinese performance techniques. In Spring 2015, William will come to Bethlehem for two months to direct the play and lead performance workshops.
My visit to Shanghai has three goals. First, I will launch the collaborative aspect of the project by meeting William Sun and beginning our discussions of this new artistic journey. Collaboration is tricky business, made all the trickier when you’re working with new people. This initial step of laying groundwork will include my visit to Shanghai, then William’s quick visit to Bethlehem in July, and then Jp and Lisa’s visit to Shanghai in October. Hopefully, by the end of the year we will have a pretty good sense of each other, and will have established a solid foundation on which to build this international collaboration.
The second goal of my visit is to experience a range of Chinese theatre, and see first hand some of the performance techniques about which I have read. I have arranged tickets (no easy task!) to see a variety of shows including a contemporary rock musical and an acrobatic spectacle. I expect the highlight, though, to be a production of “A Dream Like A Dream”–an eight-hour epic written and directed by the acclaimed Stan Lai. [“probably the best Chinese language playwright and director right now” (International Herald Tribune) and “Asia’s Top Theatre Director” (Asia Week)] My understanding is that the audience is seated in swivel chairs and that the action takes place around the perimeter of the theatre. (“An eight hour play in Chinese!?” you say? To prepare for this, I contacted Corey Fischer–one of the founders of Traveling Jewish Theatre, who knows the playwright–and he put me in touch with Stan Lai about an English translation. Stan Lai graciously shared a translated script, which I am reading in advance of seeing the play. How I react to an eight hour play the day after traveling through twelve time zones is a whole different issue!)
The third goal of the visit is simply to begin understanding Chinese culture. The most daunting aspect of this project is the fact that I know so very little about China. The customs, the history, the language and the art forms are all, well, foreign to me. I decided that the best crash course I could get would be to throw myself into the deep end with a trip to Shanghai. I am fortunate that my wife, Christine, is able to join me on the trip–everything is better when you’re holding someone’s hand!
Despite any nervousness associated with this JOURNEY into unknown territory (the trip, the new collaborators, the project as a whole), I am a firm believer in the profound and positive power of being shaken out of my comfort zone. That has always been the biggest impact of my previous travels abroad and, frankly, one of the main reasons I do theatre. Always something new, something challenging, something to learn.
If I am able to access the blog from China, I will try to post again from over there. Until then…