Ancient Chinese town entertains the dramatic world

East China has delighted in a world of performance as the sixth Wuzhen Theatre Festival, an 11-day drama carnival featuring Chinese and foreign performers from 17 countries and regions, drew to a close on last Sunday.

Wuzhen is an ancient river town in Zhejiang Province (East China) with more than 1,300 years of history. Its development as a hub for art and culture has transformed this long-established settlement, seeing it play home to a tantalising offering of theatre every year.

Under the theme of inclusion, the town in Zhejiang Province hosted over 100 performances, as well as seeing an additional 29 major productions enacted. For the first time, offerings from five different continents were available for patrons to enjoy.

Among the standout plays were ‘Springtime in the North’ by the Japanese master of drama Suzuki Tadashi, ‘19.14’ by famed Russian director Alexander Morochnikov, ‘Dancer in the Dark’ from Germany’s Thalia Theatre, and the Australian realist production ‘Desert’.

The rendition of 1950’s play ‘Teahouse’, as part of the opening day’s offering, drew more than a thousand audience on the first day. Led by Meng Jinghui, Artistic Director of the festival, with dramaturgy by the famous German dramatist Sebastian Caesar, their collaboration saw a fusing of Chinese and western artistic styles.

Scene of the 6th Wuzhen Theatre Festival “Outdoor Carnival”

Eighteen youth theatre groups from across the nation competed throughout the 11 days in the “Young Theatre Artists Competition”, while numerous forums and reading sessions on topics of drama theory and development ran alongside the performances.

Off the stage, more than 1,800 street shows added to the atmosphere of the festival that enveloped the 1,300-year-old town, which was the first to take place outside one of China’s major cities.

“Now many international elite troupes are hoping to come to Wuzhen.” said Stan Lai, one of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival’s founders, who feels it is now one of Asia’s most influential with elite troupes from all over the world keen to take part.

While still in its infancy when compared with theatre gatherings such as France’s Avignon Festival and England’s Edinburgh International Festival, Wuzhen’s offering has enjoyed rapid growth.

“It feels like the entire town has become one giant theatre, you can go from one theatre to another within minutes and every single one is welcoming. I have learnt so much from attending this great festival, and have begun to understand the modern and contemporary forms of drama in China, as well as the opportunity to meet their creators,” said Agnes Troly, programme director of the Avignon Theatre Festival. “I especially enjoyed getting to know the next generation of dramatists and look forward to seeing how they shape the future of theatre here.”

The organisers will no doubt hope the festival will continue to develop the global esteem its more established contemporaries have built, while adding a notable chapter to Wuzhen’s own long-running story.

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