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Playwright proves that a small county can be a stage

China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-20 09:04

Huichang county, in eastern China's Jiangxi province, may not seem like a place with a bustling cultural scene at first glance, but on hot summer nights, residents pack the local theater.

In 2015, Stan Lai, a playwright born in the United States but whose ancestral home is Huichang, launched a program to bring his plays to the county.

"One play each summer, that's what I want to do for a decade," said Lai, who is based in Taiwan. "I want to see what changes will happen and how powerful art can be."

Lai called the program an experiment that aims to bring cultural activities to his hometown and help connect the remote county with the outside world.

Plays with sophisticated sets, lights and acoustics are regularly staged in theaters in big Chinese cities, but in small counties like Huichang, locals consider them rare events.

Huichang resident Hua Xiaochun, a member of the stage crew, watched the first play in 2015. He was deeply impressed by the program's first year and continued to watch the plays in the years that followed.

Lai's wife, Ding Nai-chu, manages the Shanghai-based stage crew. As more locals started to attend the plays, she got the idea to recruit young people to work on her team.

In 2017, Hua, who had just completed an automobile repair course at a vocational school, applied for a position on the stage crew.

"The job never bores me as I love the plays," he said.

Many young people in the county have never left Jiangxi. But those like Hua, who are members of the production team, are trained in lighting, sound and set design before heading off on tours across China.

Ding said she hoped the skills could help broaden the young people's minds and bring them more job opportunities.

She has recruited nearly 20 young people since 2016. Some remained on the crew after an internship, and some were recommended to other theater groups in Shanghai.

Hua, who stayed on, participated in the production in Huichang last year.

"I felt very proud, as my parents and many relatives were all in the audience." Hua said.

"As the lights dimmed, we went on stage and quickly moved all the sets and props away."

Zhu Chen, a Huichang resident who graduated from a music college, joined the crew as a sound designer last year.

"We hope one day more friends and relatives will enjoy our plays," she said. "We believe the shows can bring us more surprises and help us achieve our dreams."


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