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Veteran stage actor, director unveils life of the theater

By Li Wenrui | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-01-04 09:30

What it's like to be a stage actor? What is the best approach to appreciate Shakespeare? What are the common misunderstandings people have about actors and actresses? Joseph Graves, a veteran actor and director from the US, will tell you about the fun and reality of this glamorous trade.

A teacher at Peking University and an actor on the stage, Graves has been living in China since 2002, dedicating his life to introducing Shakespearean plays to China. As the artistic director of PKU's Institute of World Theater and Film, he wants to help more Chinese university students experience the magic of performance.

One-man show  Revel's World of Shakespeare by Joseph Graves. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Graves points out that theater performances, where actors bring the audience together on a theatrical journey, are much more interactive than films. "In the best circumstances, there is a kind of almost spiritual experience that happens between the audience and actors that can never happen in a film."

He also demystifies the acting profession. "Most people know actors most from movie stars or television stars. It leads people to think that all 'successful' actors are wealthy and beautiful," Graves said. But the overall picture is much more polarized. "The reality is that 90 percent of actors die in poverty."

With only a small group of actors making big money, one should be much more clearheaded when it comes to career choices. "So to dedicate your life to film or television or the theater is a kind of risky life, in terms of financial security."

Graves gives a lecture at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, May 8, 2016. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Over the years, he has helped to establish performing arts departments in universities across China. "I have interacted with thousands of students in a lot of different universities," he said. "A lot of students have gone on to become drama teachers, actors, directors, writers here in China, some in America."

But many problems are still unresolved. "The slower part is finding a way to encourage the universities and the boards of education to develop these programs in a well-funded and well-staffed style."

Graves rehearses a play with the students at Peking University. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Graves plays a lot of characters with very strong personalities, such as the Greek hero Achilles and the idealistic knight Don Quixote. "I do identify with someone being willing to spend their life trying to understand it, to understand themselves and other people, and to have the courage to say there are probably some things that are really true."

He has been involved in six productions that integrated Chinese opera forms, including the Pulitzer-winning play Our Town written by Thornton Wilder. Shown at Beijing People's Art Theater with an international cast, it boldly combines Peking Opera with English monologues.

"I'm very familiar with several Chinese opera forms," he said. "They are really quite beautiful and quite powerful once you begin to even have a smattering of understanding of what's going on."

Contact the producer at liwenrui@chinadaily.com.cn

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