Monday, March 19, 2012

Devising behind the firewall

I feel like a smuggler. When I've been to China before, writing this blog has been OK, even though I sometimes haven't been able to read it. Facebook and Twitter have long since been barred here - and now it seems that Western blogs are also subject to the Great Firewall of China. It all seems very strange and ambiguous, given that the Chinese version of Twitter, weibo, is much larger than its Western counterpart, and was buzzing all week with political gossip around the ousting of Bo Xilai. Anyway - for whatever reason - I am sending this post out by email so that Sheelah can put it online from the office. All very under the table in smoke-filled rooms.... very Shanghaiese.

We gathered on Wednesday morning in the rehearsal room at SDAC. Tony Guilfoyle had flown in from Quebec, where he's been working on the new Robert Lepage production, so he's been battling with a 12-hour time difference. For Dori Deng, who grew up in China, it's a homecoming: she's never worked in her home country before, and now she's experimenting with multi-media and bilingualism. I don't know what I'd do without her shuttle diplomacy! Song Ru Hui, who cooked up the idea of this new show with me back in 2010, is probably even more intense and fascinating than I remember her. She's always incredibly truthful and engaged when she performs - and for precisely that reason she can't do it until she's 100% sure of and committed to what she's doing.

Our new addition is Ning Li - and he's a real find, courtesy of Nick Yu and Jackie Zhang from SDAC. Li started his career in Shanghai, but has been in Beijing recently. He's also lived in the States, and is married to an American, so he has a foot in both cultures. Devising is totally new to him, but he has shown a wonderful openness in these first few days.

So far we have spoken to people from the business world - both English and Chinese; talked amongst ourselves about the current historical moment, about culture, identity and change; played games with language and style; experimented with cameras and the web; improvised scenes and potential stories. As usual in work of this kind, the great benefits are the things you're not looking for, and the knowledge that people bring of their own culture. Yesterday Li and Hui gave me a totally new idea of what it was like to be a young Chinese person in the 1980s - leading to a very intense and touching scene, redefining how I would think of a lovers' parting.

It's very early days, and we're still unsure of what this play will be. But it feels like something very exciting is happening. Let's hope it doesn't get censored!

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