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Theater breaks make-believe notion

By Xu Lin (China Daily)

08:43, July 09, 2012

Wang Chong (left) with the theatrical production team of Thunderstorm 2.0. Provided to China Daily

Watching Thunderstorm 2.0 is like touring an experimental theater.

Audiences have to divide their focus on two scenes concurrently - one, on four cameramen filming the acting on stage, and another, on a big projector screen which shows the close-up of what the cameramen has captured.

Thunderstorm 2.0 is the latest production of theater director Wang Chong from the Beijing-based Theatre du Reve Experimental. It is an adaptation of Thunderstorm, a classic Chinese drama by playwright master Cao Yu, in 1934. The play, which has been performed onstage tens of thousands of times, is about conflicts caused by incest in a feudal family.

"It's real-time editing work. I just want to bring master Cao Yu's work back to life using new technology," says the 30-year-old director, who first used live shooting in 2011 when he shot Woody Allen's Central Park West.

He says Thunderstorm 2.0 symbolizes a reform in arts using advanced technology and challenges traditional stage performance.

Wang has improvised the original Thunderstorm. In his version, the story happens in 1990 and there are only three leading roles - two women and one man, all without names. All props are from the 1990s, such as old-fashioned furniture, a clock and cassette player.

The 60-minute production is about women's love and hatred, with the first scene depicting a love triangle from a woman's eyes. The second scene tells the story from another woman's perspective, and it is in this act that audiences get to notice the details that they might have missed in the first act.

While four cameramen are filming onstage, an editor is busy editing the live video so that audience members will enjoy the film on the projector screen. For example, when a woman is peeling beans, one camera has a long shot of her whole body and another one has a tight shot of a stand-in's hands peeling beans in one corner onstage.

"It seems to be such a mess because there are nearly 20 people on stage, but on the projector screen it becomes a complete, beautiful movie," Wang says.

"I want to break the make-believe system. Audiences will get to see the sharp contrast. Sometimes seeing is not believing," he says.

Two dubbing crew are in charge of live dubbing and sound effects such as opening the door and striking a match.

"All lines are from the original work. Master Cao Yu's words are always powerful," Wang says.

"It's also educating audiences about skepticism. We are trying to tell them through the play that some things are fake and arranged," he says.

One of the heroines in Thunderstorn 2.0, Zhao Hongwei, says she enjoys being part of the production.

"I'm having a lot of fun because it's like a combination of theater and film. From the play, I learned that women may become tough after some bad experiences, but we are not in control all the time. We live in a world ruled by men," she says.

Wang says he has two other productions in the pipeline which combines live video shooting on stage.

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