BEIJING - Cannibalism, incest, or isolophobia, anyone?
If you've been out for a drive (or cab ride) in central Beijing this month, you may have seen signs advertising this month's Beijing Fringe Festival. Even if you don't think you're on the "fringe", don't be put off. The capital's playhouses are featuring some of China's most cutting edge productions as well as a few gems from around the world.
Alexandre Ross (l.) and Chris Chan (r.) star in Lumenis Theatre's production of "Magical Chairs", an absurdist short play by Mary Mazzilli. The show made its Beijing debut at the 2011 Beijing Fringe Festival on Sept. 17. [Photo courtesy of Lumenis]
Despite the festival's less-than-saturated promotion in the months leading up to its Sept. 5 kickoff, it's safe to say the word is out about the already 4-year old event. In all, 40 plays and dance productions, including six from overseas were chosen for this year's roster, with most shows playing two or three nights at theaters across the city. Average ticket prices range from 30 to 210 yuan, with the vast majority of shows playing to sold-out or near-capacity crowds.
Interest and investment in Beijing's fringe theater scene has grown remarkably in recent years. The number of productions in this year's festival nearly doubled from last year, including roughly twice as many international acts, said Wang Xuejiao, a member of the festival's organizing committee. The Beijing festival's profile got a boost at France's prestigious Avignon Theater Festival this summer, as two Chinese plays made their international debut.
"We've seen an explosion in interest," Wang said. "Beijing has established itself as the foremost city in China for experimental theater." The city's cultural development in the last ten years as well as overseas trends been major influences in the burgeoning scene, she said.
Being lucky enough to score tickets to three of the festival's performances, I arrived at each theater to find the house completely packed with college students, aspiring actors, intelligentsia and curious expats. Wanting to get a feel for both local and international talent, I chose two Chinese-language shows and one English-language production with Chinese subtitles from a visiting British troupe.
At the end of each performance I attended, the directors and cast of each show answered questions and sought feedback from audience members, giving theater students, industry insiders and curious fans a chance to mingle. More than a third of each house I attended stayed for the post-show talks, alluding to the level of interest and dedication of the festival-goers.
Here's a recap of the productions I have seen so far this month.