a little self-guided research pt. 2: chinese performance theory

As I mentioned in my first “a little self-guided research” post, one thing I am taking full advantage of is having the time to get things done that I couldn’t make time for in NYC. I.e., READING A LOT!

Since the Guare post, I’ve tackled 7 Albee plays, 4 Shepard, + I am currently reading through some Jules Feiffer + Marsha Norman.

But it doesn’t stop at plays. I’ve also been researching performance in Chinese culture. I found a really great book with a collection of excerpts about performance theory from Chinese thinkers from antiquity to present!

Edited + translated by Faye Chunfang Fei, Chinese Theories of Theater and Performance: from Confucius to the Present provides some interesting insight into the evolution of theatre perception + execution in Chinese culture.

As someone who has left live theatre performances in Taiwan in euphoric rapture + also scratching my head with thoughts of, “Why?? Just, why?…,” I feel like many of my questions about observed performance conventions were explained after reading this book. Here are some sections that stood out to me:

FU YI‘s (554-639) Preface to On Dance,

“I’ve heard that singing gives voice to words and that dancing completes the meaning. So I feel talking about poetry is less desirable than listening to it, yet listening to it is less desirable than seeing it in motion.” (p 23)

LI ZHI‘s (1527-1602) Miscillaneous Commentaries Huagong vs. Huagong,

File:Li Zhi.jpg

Li Zhi/photo from wiki

“Thank heavens for the truly inspired amoung us in the vast universe; like the creation of the world, their marvel is beyond reason.” (p 51)

TANG XIANZU (1550-1616) Epigraph for the Theater God Master Qingyuan in the Yihuang County Temple,


tang xianzu/from wiki

“The rich and the privileged put aside their arrogance, even the poor and miserly vie to make charitable contributions. The blind hunger for sight, the deaf crave for sounds, the mute want to shout, the lame want to run. The impassive become passionate; the reticent speak with eloquence. The silent make noise, the noisy grow silent. The hungry feel sated; the drunk sober up. People walking stop; people sleeping wake up. The coarse become refined; the foolish become intelligent…When a performance reaches the most exquisite point, one can hear the soundless and see the Tao as big as life. The performer/dancer does not know where his feelings come from, and the enraptured spectator does not know where his own mind has gone.” (p56-57)

CHEN DUXIU (1879-1942) from a 1904 article On Theater,

chen duxiu/photo from wiki

chen duxiu/photo from wiki

“Theater is in fact a great big school for all the people under heaven; Theater workers are in fact influential teachers of the people…Only theater, through reform, can excite and change the whole society–the deaf can see it, and the blind can hear it. There is no better vehicle for social reform than the theater.” (p 117-120)

HUANG ZUOLIN (1906-1994) from “On Mei Lanfang and Chinese Traditional Theater,”

huang zuolin/photo from wiki

huang zuolin/photo from wiki

“Put simply, the most basic difference is that Stanislavsky believed in the “fourth wall,” Brecht wanted to demolish it, while for Mei Lanfang such a wall did not exist and so there was never any need to pull it down, since the Chinese theater has always been so highly conventionalized that it has never set out to create an illusion of real life for the audience.” (p 156)

LIN ZHAOHUA (1936- ) from “The Director’s Notes on ‘Wild Men,'”

“A director must have the conviction that nothing is impossible on the stage. I would like the performers in this production to be able to embody not only their characters but also the flowing human consciousness, the state of human emotions and moods, and to live not only in the present reality but also in memory, in imagination, and in remote antiquity, and to step in as animals, vegetation, floods, noise, and even scenery and stage props. This was an exploration of the total theater; there was speaking, singing, dancing, pantomime, and vocal mimicry, and so on. Some comrades ask: Is this still spoken drama? I say this is Theater.” (p 181)

Sing it, Ethel!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s