Monday, May 04, 2009

Independent Theatre in China

Last week in class, we took a closer look at independent theatre in China. Some of the videos we viewed in class were very experimental, and sometimes shocking. The use of the(almost) naked body was a recurring theme. It was interesting to see how the actors would place their bodies in different positions to align with the space they were in. A lot of use of performance space, players climbing across exposed beams in factories and running through concrete buildings still under construction. There is a feeling of raw in the theatre works we looked at. What I like about independent and experimental theatre is that it doesn't take much materialist structure, whether costumes, stage props, or stage design, to get the point across. A lot of the time, what happens in theatre is for the viewer's to interpret. The minimalist nature of independent theatre in fact helps to emphasize the bigger concept or picture at stake, sometimes with the use of strong, deliberate pauses and figuring out timing, for instance. Theatre becomes all about body interpretation and movement, with very little dialogue and drenched in expression...a little says a lot and goes a long way. 

A lot of energy in a performance says a lot.
I give a lot of credit to independent theatre actors. At times, it may be frustrating to be unable to connect to the performance as an audience member; it is the energy of the actors that creates the communication and understanding. This is exactly why independent theatre is raw. I saw some independent theatre in Paris, and sometimes, it was hard to sit through the performances because they were very experimental and it was hard to figure out what was going on. I distinctly remember one performance in which half the audience stood up and left after the first 20 minutes (i felt so embarrassed for the theatre group). One has to be careful not to lose the audience...
Anyhow, that's the great thing about experimental theatre though, or any art for that matter: it's all in how to present what you want to present without being either too obvious and contrived or too hard to decipher. The best art always falls somewhere in the middle. 
Finally, I enjoyed seeing the grass stage performance the other night. It was interesting, it was engaging, the actors were very convincing, and again, the messages were strong without the need for elaborate dialogue, costumes, set design, props, etc. The characters were well-developed, I particularly liked the first actor and the following actress. The toilet paper subtitles were also enjoyable. The performance allowed just enough free space for the audience to interpret, consider, and open dialogue towards long-standing, and sometimes universal, social issues. And that's what you want to do in art: make people think and continue to consider and discuss after the exhibition or performance is over. Experimental theatre shows us that sometimes less is more.

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