Project seeks to inject new blood into China's theaters

Updated: 2019-12-23 China Daily


Peng Tao, head of the dramatic literature department at the Central Academy of Drama. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A project for young theater talent training and theater works incubation was launched in Beijing on Tuesday, aiming at supporting and encouraging young Chinese playwrights to create original work.

Supported by Beijing Culture and Arts Fund, the platform called Pei Yuan, will be open to young Chinese theater talent, who can submit their original work for consideration through Feb 29. Playwrights, whose work stands out among the others, will have the opportunity to work with veteran directors and actors to have their plays staged next year.

"Chinese playwright Cao Yu, at the age of 23, became famous overnight with his classic play, Thunderstorm. At 22, Chinese author Wang Meng wrote his life-changing work, The Young Newcomer in the Organization Department. We have many great writers, who achieved success at a young age. We need young Chinese writers today, whose work reflects and represents society," says Peng Tao, head of the dramatic literature department at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing. "Now, I am working with my students on this project."

According to veteran Chinese actor Feng Yuanzheng-who has been working with the Beijing People's Art Theater since 1991 and is also a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference-the project started with his proposal about launching a fund for young Chinese playwrights during the 13th National Committee of the CPPCC, held in Beijing, in March 2018.


Liu Tong, president of the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"We are facing a severe situation; we have a lack of young theater talent, we're even losing it. We need young people who love theater and love to create it," says Feng, 57, noting that the Beijing People's Art Theater has lost Ban Zan, a great actor, writer and director, who died of heart attack at the age of 41 on Sept 3.

"If we compare a play to a big tree, script is its root and actors are like the trunk. It takes 10 to 15 years to train young theater talent to become mature and professional. We must not just stimulate young writers to write original plays, but also challenge them to continue to write works with quality, which can stand the test of time."

Feng, who was born in Beijing, was enrolled in actor training classes at the Beijing People's Art Theater in 1985. According to the award-winner, the Beijing People's Art Theater, which was founded in 1952 with Chinese playwright Cao Yu as its first president, launched six actor training classes from 1958 to 1985. In 1978 and 2004, the theater worked with the Central Academy of Drama on training young actors.

On Dec 16, the theater opened an actor training class, which recruited 15 Chinese actors selected from over 1,000 applicants, aged from 24 to 42.Veteran actors such as Feng, Pu Cunxin and Song Dandan, are teachers there.


Chinese actor Feng Yuanzheng. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"All of the 15 actors are professionals with acting experience. The latest training class for actors has been prepared for two years and those enrolled will keep on the tradition of the theater," says Feng, adding that in 2021, new theaters will open, which will increase the number of venues under the umbrella of the Beijing People's Art Theater from the current three to five.

"More venues means more shows, which need more actors. Some of the best actors with the theater, including Pu Cunxin and Yang Lixin, have retired or will retire in a few years. These new actors will dominate the stage one day," Feng says.

The need for young playwrights was also echoed by Liu Tong, president of the Jingju Theatre Company of Beijing, during the launch ceremony. Jingju, or Peking Opera, was listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2010.

Liu says all traditional Chinese operas, about 438 in total, require new, original scripts to give them a modern appeal. He says what traditional Chinese operas need is not just young playwrights, but also young theater talent to help keep the old art forms alive.

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