Chinese-Speaking Theatre in Perspective: A Symposium: Drama Programme, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 12-16 July 2004
Ruru, Li, Asian Theatre Journal
A symposium on the last ten years of Chinese theatre in Hong Kong shows the diversity of modern drama in Taiwan, the People's Republic, Hong Kong, and Singapore and points to a rapidly changing future.
Li Ruru is author of Shashibiya: Staging Shakespeare in China (2003) and teaches at the University of Leeds.
The symposium "10 Years' Retrospect of Chinese Theatre (1993-2003)" was hosted by the Hong Kong Drama Programme of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and attracted scholars and practitioners from Hong Kong, Macao, mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan, Britain, Japan, and the United States. It had been made clear from the first call for papers that "Chinese" was to be defined in terms of language rather than geography, while the "theatre" in question was huaju (modern spoken drama) and not xiqu (traditional Chinese operatic form). There were forty-four papers, providing analyses of thirty-nine stage productions. For each paper the executive committee of the symposium arranged rejoinders. In instances where the respondent was the director or the playwright of the work discussed, this opened an especially informative debate. Recordings of the stage productions were available for participants to view on their own time, while all the presentations employed visual aids. Full-length versions of most papers were provided in advance. The small scale of each session made it possible to create an intimate atmosphere that guaranteed an enthusiastic discussion after the presentation and response.
The present symposium was a follow-up to the initiative in 1991 of participants at the Hong Kong Theatre Forum who felt that Hong Kong theatre should be studied within the wider frame of Chinese theatre. That move had led in 1993 to a symposium titled "Contemporary Chinese Playwriting," which examined nineteen scripts. The 2004 symposium exhibited a greatly expanded scope regarding both the productions it covered and the diversity of opinions voiced. The papers, as well as the plays under discussion, not only demonstrated how the unprecedented developments in the various regions of the Chinese-speaking world over the last ten years have been reflected in their theatres, but also illustrated the rapidly changing attitudes toward the theatre and everyday life shown in these societies, raising pertinent issues of theatre's future. Although linked by their use of the Chinese language, the striking stylistic differences between the stage productions, as well as the concerns expressed by each work, pointed to the distinct cultural perspectives generated by social, historical, political, and economic factors operating within each region. However, rather than attempting to summarize all the topics considered at the symposium, I hope that the following notes will give readers a glance at the recent evolution of Chinese-speaking theatre.
The most noticeable feature of the productions that were discussed at the symposium was the theme of "seeking identity." Chan Kwok Wai's paper (1) focused on two productions: I Am Hong Kong and Yes, Chief Executive, (2) both staged by Chung Ying Theatre Company, one of the first two professional theatres in Hong Kong. Established in 1979 by a group of British theatrical practitioners under the aegis of the British Council, it became a theatre with an entirely Chinese cast in 1985. In 1993, when Ko Tin Lung was appointed as the first Chinese artistic director of the theatre, he decided that Chung Ying was "to stage productions full of local colours," (3) and the two productions discussed by Chan embodied Ko's ideal. "I Am Hong Kong was produced before 1997," Chan remarked, "when Hong Kong was anxious about what was to happen, but its imagination of the future was rather positive." Most people believed the marginality of the area would help it negotiate with the central government and "Hong Kong would still be Hong Kong after 1997." The play's title expressed the great pride that local people took in their city. …