All the world's a stage

Updated: 2013-11-03 08:15

By Zhang Kun (China Daily)

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The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center not only brings theater from around the world to Chinese stages but also is determined to negate the environmental impact of its activities with environmentally conscious initiatives. Zhang Kun reports from Shanghai.

The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center has combined environmentalism with the fun of the theater. "We are the first zero-emission theater in China," says Yu Rongjun, vice-manager of SDAC.

That means all 14 plays to be staged at this year's Shanghai International Contemporary Theater Festival (2013ACT) will have their carbon emissions calculated - including international flights and power consumption during the shows - and neutralized, through helping mid-western China's poverty-stricken regions develop green power plants.

"ACT has been a platform of modern and experimental theater since its founding in 2005," Yu says. "We also want to play the part of trendsetter in addressing environmental problems."

All the world's a stage

For this year's ACT festival, SDAC will present 14 plays from five Chinese cities and seven foreign countries, including Lithuania, Argentina, the United States and Switzerland. Most will be having their debut performances in China.

"We don't often see plays from these places. Audiences and playmakers in Shanghai will find their work quite different and maybe inspiring," Yu says.

Have a Good Day from Operamanija, a group from Lithuania, presents the modern lifestyle in the form of an opera-musical. Cashiers and shopping centers, mechanical greetings and fake smiles all of this is so familiar, as if taken straight from the life of today's Shanghai.

"Only they are presenting it in a very unexpected way," Yu says. "It's the artistic experimenting and risk-taking that we find particularly valuable."

The opening performance will be The Subtle Body by the Gold No Trade Theater Company from the US. It's a comedy about a British physician and his wife who come to China to research Chinese medicine. The group from New York wants to "strip theater down to its most essential". The Subtle Body is the company's latest work and will stage its world premiere at 2013ACT.

Dedicated to presenting the frontier of theater art in the contemporary world, SDAC keeps looking for "different subjects, expressions, crossover and physical theater productions" for the annual ACT festival, even though some of them may not be commercially successful, Yu says.

ACT has always been a public festival, not commercial initiative, he explains. A State-owned theater, SDAC receives a subsidy from the city for the festival every year. But the 200,000 yuan ($32,873) will only cover one-10th of the festival's cost.

"The box office income has continued to rise in recent years, but we are still struggling with financial difficulties," Yu says. Besides asking for support from official sources, Yu also calls on private sponsors for theater art.

"We don't have much money. As a State-owned theater company, we are obliged to introduce good shows from abroad. It's with the same mindset that we decided to take the zero-emission initiative," he says.

"We hope to raise awareness first among our own workers and audiences. They will pay attention to the energy consumption in their daily life and maybe do something to cut it down a little," says Cai Biye from SDAC, who is working on the zero emission project in collaboration with Emissions Zero, a carbon-neutrality company based in Shanghai.

"We think more theaters may follow us," Cai says. "After all, the idea is well established in many parts of the world."

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 All the world's a stage

Hong Kong Repertory Theater stages A Bowlful of Kindness in Cantonese. Photos Provided to China Daily

 All the world's a stage

The Subtle Body by the Gold No Trade Theater Company from the US opens the festival.

(China Daily 11/03/2013 page15)