Black China

CHINA – we engage economically, certainly in the visual arts, more frequently through eating it, but what about China’s contemporary stage culture? APE Artistic Director, Sally Sussman lived, studied and worked in China in the late ‘80s, a time of great cultural renaissance and hope, which preceded the shocking public crackdown culminating in the Tiananmen Massacre. As a student at the prestigious Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, she was exposed to some of the leading artists making waves in the theatre scene in China. Prominent Shanghainese playwright and director, Yao Mingde was also studying at the Central Drama Institute at the time. In 2010 they met again in Shanghai to conjure up an ambitious plan to introduce to Australian audiences some of the most controversial Chinese theatre works from the late 20th Century: BLACK CHINA.

IF I WERE REAL (假如我是真的) by Sha Yexin (沙叶新), Li Shoucheng (李守成) and Yao Mingde (姚明德) is a seminal play of 1979 China, created during a brief flowering of literary freedom, where artists were encouraged to openly critique the regime. Inevitably this play was banned after a few performances. Nevertheless, it became the subject of intense high-level political debate about how far the arts should be allowed to go.  IF I WERE REAL draws from Gogol’s satire, THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, in depicting a bureaucracy gone mad, where self-proclaimed communists are really self-serving imposters and nepotism is rife.

IF I WERE REAL will be co-directed by APE’s Sally Sussman and one of the Shanghai co-writers of the piece, 67-year-old Yao Mingde and designed by Li Liang a prominent Australian-Chinese curator and artist, whose Shanghai gallery, Eastlink has staged some of the most provocative exhibitions in recent times. We will stage the work in English in a translation by Daniel Keene, adapted by John Romeril, with an entirely locally-based Chinese cast.

We will rethink the resonance of this work, as a radical response to an increasingly absurd world, at a time when China was poised on the verge of transition from socialist seclusion to major world player. We will contextualise the work by including archival interviews and images of the time.

APE is in discussion with partners to present IF I WERE REAL in 2013, as the first part of a three part series of theatrical exchange, entitled BLACK CHINA introducing radical contemporary theatre to Australian audiences.  Other works in the series may include:

THE OTHER SHORE by Nobel Prize-winner Gao Xingjian

Project details
In development for production 2013-14

Co-Directors: Yao Mingde (Shanghai) & Sally Sussman
Writers: Sha Yexin, Li Shoucheng and Yao Mingde
Translated by Daniel Keene and adapted by John Romeril
Design: Li Liang