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Artist interview: Zhao Chuan

Artist Interview: Zhao Chuan
It’s called “tailor the play for the actor.” For instance, Jack and Mary joined the group, then we adjusted the play for them. If someone else comes instead of Jack and Mary, the play will turn into something totally different. Many things can’t be replicated. Because the play is derived from the actor, it bears the imprint of the actor’s life, with the personal history and things from the actor’s background. Therefore, the play will change a lot when there are different participants. How can an individual perform all the things? People are not born artists. You don’t naturally become an artist when you step on the stage. It’s our job to think about the question for the actor. That’s being professional.
If we have any professionalism at all, we should help the actor to think about a process he could go through to accumulate the energy, the confidence, and the courage to express himself. Then an individual will be capable of facing the public on the stage, to face so-called publicness.
It’s an important part in my philosophy about the theatre. First of all, the theatre is a space we constructed to invite the audience into. They’re not entering the mainstream theatre I mentioned earlier. On most occasions, it’s a special space to show the audience how the theatre is situated in their lives, and how the theatre goes back to the space of life after the performance. I have talked about collective works. Ordinary people from life are trained to express emotion, ideas, and arguments in this special space. Finally, there comes the post-performance discussion. It’s about how the play matters to all the people in the space. Of course we can’t let everyone talk.
But a few who do speak act as examples to the others. It suggests that there could be an intervention in such a public issue in such a way. Our lives and experiences can be exchanged in such a way. That’s my relatively complete idea about the theatre. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, the actor bears complete responsibility on stage. The speaker also has to face the world without the help of others. Standing there and speaking for five minutes is different from speaking to friends or on the Internet. It’s not a purely… not a purely rational thing, I think. I don’t know about the specific performance you attended.
Sometimes people stand up to talk; for instance, the worker I saw in the audience stood up. In fact, he didn’t want to discuss the play with us. He talked about something like the pension. He had so much to say which he believed to be important. He thought, “Why didn’t you even mention a word in the play?” Therefore, he wanted to express it after the performance. It’s common that something in the play reminds the speakers of someone or something they met in life. They feel an urgency to express it. And then, as you know, the comments will go off, away from the play itself. It’s all about the emotion.
The speaker finds an emotional connection with the play, and feels the impulse to express it in front of other audience members. That’s why we often find people crying during the discussion. Not every time, but at least two or three times out of ten performances. The speaker will suddenly break into tears while speaking. Or the speaker will start crying even before his or her speech, and is unable to control it. There was violence, too; quarrelling and scrapping, occasionally, not so often.
I think it’s about emotion, or being connected to the emotional. People need a source of strength to be really persistent on certain things. It doesn’t come from rationality, but from something else, quite complicated. Some moments in post-performance discussion can be wonderful. That’s to say, at that very moment, certain communication, exchange, and connection of ideas come into being.

We interviewed Zhao Chuan, the founder of theatre collective Grass Stage. In this excerpt, we asked him two questions:

  • How does Grass Stage develop its plays?
  • What is the significance of post-performance discussions?
  • This article is from the free online

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

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