Community theater open to everyone

14:19, December 07, 2009      

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"One of the big aims of the theater is to show Chinese people great stage plays and dramas from the Western world," explained Penghao Theater's manager Jennifer Liang. "So most of the plays we show here are Chinese translations of Western plays."

"This month we have all English language plays, which is unusual for us," she said.

Located off Dongmianhua Hutong and tucked in behind the Beijing Film Academy, Penghao Theater is what you want from a tiny community theater - open to all.

The theater was founded in February 2009 by Wang Xiang, a former dentist and theatre-lover, who selected the name from a Tang Dynasty poem by poet Li Bai. In it, "penghao" refers to ordinary people.

For Wang, this was meant to convey that it was created for everyone's enjoyment. "Even ordinary people have big dreams," he said. "So we can make our lives more colorful by going to the theater and pursuing our dreams through the shows."

The theater also serves as a local bar and cafe. It is somewhere local thespians go to hang out and eat savory spaghetti carbonara while memorizing lines for upcoming shows.

Nick Ma, a native of Columbus, Ohio who has lived in Beijing for 10 years and owns several bars around town, is one of them.


Penghao theater serves as a local bar and cafe.

An actor and member of the Beijing International Theater Experience (BITE), he was preparing for his upcoming roles in the Beijing Actors Workshop's (BAW) A Theatrical Triathalon, which includes nine one-act plays written and performed by Beijingers for Beijingers.

Ma explained that the role he was cast in for the play Sex and the Forbidden City was uncharacteristic for him. "For some reason, I always get cast as police officers or psychopaths," he said. "Unlikable characters. But for this one I got cast as Mr Big, so it'll be interesting."

The recent weekend (Dec 3-6) featured a one-man show by British actor Ian Reed. His show highlighted three classic works of English literature: The Massacre of the Innocents, The Sea and the Mirror, by W.H. Auden, and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

Running for a little over an hour an a half, Reed, who studied theater in New York City prior to moving to Beijing two years ago, gave the audience the virtual spectrum of English accents and physical comedy.

Later on this month will be a concert by Beijing New Music Ensemble on Dec 18 titled Encounters. This is a contemporary and jazz music fusion by the New York-based pipa virtuoso Min Xiaofen, with digital sound musician Carl Stone and Bruce Gremo on woodwind.

From Dec 19-27, Penghao will present Revel's World of Shakespeare. A monologue written and performed by Joseph Graves and directed by Hu Xiaoqing, it catapults audience members into the innocence and confusion of childhood and draws on Shakespeare's works for gravity and humor.

Penghao Theater serves as a host venue for BAW and BITE theater groups, as well as Chinese plays and small concerts.

Ma explained that he and other members of BITE were already trying to decide what their next production would be: Of Mice and Men or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

"I'm leaning toward Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," he said of Tom Stoppard's well-known absurdist tragicomedy, but admitted there are concerns about cast size and how to market it here.

Source: China Daily
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