Chinese theater talent on the fringe of discovery

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When veteran director Yang Ting was invited to offer advice to young people interested in theater, she refused.

"I am happy to share my own experiences of working in theater, but I cannot give you any advice," she explained. "Theater is all about personal feelings and imagination. If you have some ideas, you just give them a try and immerse yourself in theater."

Her reply received applause and cheers from the audience, most of whom were young theater directors.

They gathered together to mark the opening ceremony of the 15th Beijing Fringe Festival, which was held at the small theater of the National Theatre of China in the capital on Sept 9.

Beijing Fringe Festival, founded in 2008 by Beijing Federation of Literary and Art Circles, and the National Theatre of China, offers a platform for young Chinese theater talent to showcase new work, promoting the development of a flourishing theater scene in China and fostering international exchange.

According to renowned theater director Meng Jinghui, who is the artistic director of Beijing Fringe Festival, nearly 500 theatrical productions have been staged by the festival since 2008, including 91 works from artists of 20 countries. Moreover, 32 works by young Chinese talent, which were originally shown during the festival, have been staged around the world over 600 times.

"Every year, we welcome young theater talent during the festival. Some attendees have participated in the festival from the very beginning, while some are very new to it. Some are even first-time theater directors," says Meng. "With the diversity of their works, we see emotions and feelings and the beauty of theater, which is so visceral."

This year, 14 Chinese theater directors will stage shows at seven Beijing theaters from September to November.

One of them is Sun Mingchi, who will stage a physical theater work, titled Mingming, at 77 Theater, a popular venue in Beijing dedicated to pioneering theatrical productions, on Oct 9 and 10.

"Since 2013, I have been recording all of my dreams. I now have over 35,000 words describing 328 dreams," says Sun, a graduate of the Central Academy of Drama with a major in directing. "When I review my dreams, which have become words now, I feel like I am meeting an old friend, one who gives me power. I want to share some of my dreams with the audience through a physical theater work. It's intimate and personal."

Sun will also act in the work alongside three other performers.

Director Li Ning will also bring his physical theater work, Kuan Shu Wei Zhui ("Forgive the Coccygeal Vertebra"), which is inspired by people working from home since early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Li participated in Beijing Fringe Festival in 2008 and, so far, he has staged four of his works during the annual festival.

"The pandemic greatly affected our lives and people spend much more time at home, sitting in front of their desks and working for hours alone. The new lifestyle inspired me to think," says Li, who is the director and scriptwriter of the show.

The pandemic is a topic that other young directors also explore with their theater works. In a play, Garden, director Hong Tianyi engages the audience in a discussion about trying to survive the pandemic by working in theater. No Way Out, a play by director Wen Qi, concerns people's future world, looking at the effect of the pandemic on issues like climate, energy and the environment.

For the first time, Beijing Fringe Festival will work with Young Theater in Shanghai, offering a platform for young people working in theaters from the two cities to communicate and cooperate.

Young Theater is located in Shanghai's Yangpu district, which is home to renowned universities such as Fudan University and Tongji University.

"For the first time, we will put on performances for audiences outside Beijing, which is exciting. The Young Theater, like those putting on shows in Beijing, will be a place to prepare new talent and new productions and will attract young audiences," says director Li Jianjun, who rose to fame by staging his works during the annual festival and is now part of its creative team.

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