Small stage, big show

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-14 08:05
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A Scene from Rossum's Universal Robots, directed by Yang Ting. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Four decades have passed since audiences saw a close-up style of theater production, Chen Nan reports.

In August 1982, Chinese play Absolute Signal premiered in a small rehearsal room of the Beijing People's Art Theatre. The stage set was simple, with just a few boxes and steel frames, and the room was packed with audience members who were captivated by a pioneering artistic style they had not seen before.

The play centers on five characters: a train driver and his young trainee, a robber and two passengers — an unemployed young man and a young female beekeeper. They meet on the train where unexpected events unfold.

Directed by Lin Zhaohua, Absolute Signal marked a breakthrough for the established theater which is considered the flagship of Chinese drama. The play is widely considered to be the mainland's first small-theater production.

"It was a humid summer. We went on lots of train journeys, especially at night. It was quiet inside and outside the carriage, making the rumbling of the engine particularly clear. We talked, smoked cigarettes and drank tea together. We had great moments that were full of creative thinking," recalled Lin, 86, in an earlier interview on his experience of making the play along with his team.

After Absolute Signal, the Beijing People's Art Theatre staged numerous productions, launching its own small theater in 1995 near Capital Theater, its home. The play has influenced Chinese directors, scriptwriters and performers who have been pushing boundaries and experimenting with ideas by creating their own small-theater productions — original ones and those adapted from Western classics.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Chinese mainland's small-theater sector. A number of events, such as photo exhibitions, workshops and forums, are being held to celebrate it.

A theater festival, Story in Beijing, which is dedicated to small-theater productions, also celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Twenty Chinese small-theater plays will be staged with 40 shows in Beijing in November and December.

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