NY Premiere of Beijing People’s Art Theatre

Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America, together with Columbia Productions, will present the New York debut of Beijing People’s Art Theater, arguably the most famous professional theatre company in China, in the play which is the cornerstone of its repertory, “Teahouse” by Lao She. The production will be November 27 to December 1 at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, 3 Spruce Street, (across the street from City Hall). The play will be performed in Mandarin Chinese with both English subtitles and simultaneous English translation through headphones.

This announcement was released by the YANGTZE REPERTORY THEATRE OF AMERICA about the NY premiere of “Teahouse” at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, November 27 through December 1.

tel. 212-924-0496


China’s most prestigious theater company in its New York debut

Pioneer social drama traces the progressively chaotic historical events, from the end of the Qing dynasty to post-Liberation times through a Beijing teahouse and its patrons.

8:00 pm November 27-30 and December 1
Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University
3 Spruce Street, New York City
Tickets $40-$50-$60-$100
Box office: (212) 202-0657 and (917) 217-6291
Online ticketing available at www.ivymedia.com/concert
Performed in Mandarin Chinese with both English subtitles and simultaneous English translation through headphones.
REVIEWERS ARE INVITED to all performances.

NEW YORK, October 21 — Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America, together with Columbia Productions, will present the New York debut of Beijing People’s Art Theater, arguably the most famous professional theatre company in China, in the play which is the cornerstone of its repertory, “Teahouse” by Lao She. The production will be November 27 to December 1 at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, 3 Spruce Street, (across the street from City Hall). The play will be performed in Mandarin Chinese with both English subtitles and simultaneous English translation through headphones.

Since its premiere in 1958, “Teahouse” has had more than 500 performances and been seen by more than 500,000 audience members in China, as well as Asia and Europe. This revival is the first to be seen in our country. It is staged by Lin ZhouHua, one of China’s most prominent stage directors, and features a restored version of the original set design.

The piece is one of the most famous dramas by a playwright and novelist who is regarded as one of the literary lights of 20th century China.

This production is the final stop of a U.S. tour that has also included performances to-date at University of California at Berkeley, Houston and Los Angeles. From October 27-29, the production will appear in Washington, DC as part of the Kennedy Center’s Festival of China 2005.

The production is made possible by generous support from Pace University’s Patricia O. Ewers Fund for Multicultural Programming. It is also supported by Dr. and Mrs. Denis Chang, C.B.E, Q.C., and Maryknoll Sisters.

“Chaguan” (Teahouse) is set in a typical, old Beijing teahouse and follows the lives of the owner and his customers through three stages in modern Chinese history, from approximately 1898 to 1948. It brings a cast of over sixty characters together in the Yutai Teahouse to reflect the changes that took place in Chinese society during that tumultuous period.

The play offers snapshots of the seismic forces of modern Chinese history by looking close-up at three key times in the modern era. It opens in 1898, under the Empire, when reformists failed to strengthen the Qing dynasty. Act Two leaps nearly twenty years, to the period after Yuan Shikai’s death, when the warlords, at the instigation of the imperialist powers, set up their separatist regimes and there were continual civil wars. The play ends in 1948, during the intrigues of the Post-WWII civil war.

Lao She saw the teahouse as the nucleus of Chinese society, a place where people from all walks of life came together. The story traces the changing lives of the multitude of characters who regularly frequent the establishment. They range from a manipulative pimp, Liu, and an aging court eunuch, Pang (who buys his wife out of poverty), to the upright and honest teahouse owner, Wang Lifa, and his business companions. As the characters struggle through progressively chaotic historical events, from the end of the Qing dynasty to post-Liberation times, the teahouse serves as a focusing point for the friendship, betrayal, bribery and hardship that besets their lives.

Throughout the play, Wang keeps the establishment open through his heroic savvy and gritty resourcefulness. Worn down by age and oppression, Wang and his friends ambivalently demonstrate the failure of their lives towards the end of the play by a mock funeral, welcoming the new society. The teahouse is requisitioned as a club for the military police and Wang is offered a job as doorman. However, he has already hanged himself.

“Teahouse” is Lao She’s most frequently performed play. The Beijing People’s Art Theatre performed it in 1980 in West Germany and France during the three-hundredth anniversary of the Comédie-Française.

The play was performed by its original cast until 1992. In 1999, a “new generation” of actors was cast and the play was re-directed by Lin ZhouHua.

Director Lin ZhouHua is regarded as “the Mike Nichols of China.” His major works include the modern dramas “Weddings and Funerals,” “Nirvana of Gouerye,” “Bird People,” “Ruan Lingyu,” “Antiques, Tea House, Frameless Wind and Moon, ” “Beijingers,” “Hamlet,” “The Orphan of the Zhao Family,” “Faust,” “Chess People,” “Three Sisters Waiting for Godot,” and “Richard III.” His Peking Opera productions include “Turandot” and “The Humpbacked Prime Minister Liu.”

Translator Ying Ruocheng (English edition) is an actor, director, and translator who was China’s vice-minister of culture (1986-1990). From 1978, with the opening up of China, Ying played an important role in transforming his country’s cultural life, encouraging international exchange and urging creative freedom for writers.

Lao She (1899-1966) – also Lao Shê – pseudonym of Shu Sheyou, original name Shu Qingchun – was a Chinese playwright and author of humorous, satiric novels and short stories. He is perhaps best known for his story, “Rickshaw” (1936), a twentieth-century classic. An unauthorized and bowdlerized English translation, “Rickshaw Boy,” with a happy ending, appeared in 1945 and became a U.S. bestseller.

Lao She was born of Manchu descent in Beijing. His father, who was a guard soldier, died in a street battle during the Boxer uprising. “During my childhood,” he has later said, “I didn’t need to hear stories about evil ogres eating children and so forth; the foreign devils my mother told me about were more barbaric and cruel than any fairy tale ogre with a huge mouth and great fangs. And fairy tales are only fairy tales, whereas my mother’s stories were 100 percent factual, and they directly affected our whole family.” Fatherless since early childhood, Lao She worked his way through Peking Teacher’s College. After graduation he supported himself and his mother through a series of teaching and administrative posts. He served as a principal of an elementary school at the age of 17, and later he was a district supervisor. He spent the years from 1924 to 1929 in London, where he taught Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies. By reading amongst other things the novels of Charles Dickens, Lao She improved his English, and decided to start his first novel.

In 1931 Lao She returned to China and continued to write and teach in various universities. “Cat Country” (1933) was a bitter satire about Chinese society. In “Heaven Sent” (1934), partly modeled on Fielding’s Tom Jones, Lao She turned again to humor. He reversed his early individualist theme and stressed the futility of the individual’s struggle against society as a whole. In “Rickshaw Boy,” he traced the degradation and ruin of an industrious Peking rickshaw puller, a peasant drawn to the city. To earn his living, he pulls a rented rickshaw from dawn till dark, enjoys briefly the status of owner-operator, and finally dies on a snowy night. Evan King’s translation published in 1945 invented new characters and changed the ending.

The outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) radically altered Lao She’s views. Between the years 1937 and 1945 he wrote a number of plays, worked as a propagandist, and headed the All-China Anti-Japanese Writers Federation. After World War II, he published a gigantic novel in three parts, “The Yellow Storm.” It dealt with life in Peking during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. Between the years 1946 and 1949 Lao She lived in the United States on a cultural grant at the invitation of the Department of State. When the People’s Republic was established in 1949, he returned to China.

Among Lao She’s most famous stories is “Crescent Moon,” written in the early stage of his creative life. It depicts the miserable life of a mother and daughter and their deterioration into prostitution. “I used to picture an ideal life, and it would be like a dream,” the daughter thinks. “But then, as cruel reality again closed in on me, the dream would quickly pass, and I would feel worse than ever. This world is no dream – it’s a living hell.” His fiction was noted for its farcical tone.

Lao She was a member of the Cultural and Educational Committee in the Government Administration Council, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Literature and Art and vice-chairman of the Union of Chinese Writers as well as chairman of the Beijing Federation of Literature and Art. He was named a “People’s Artist” and a “Great Master of Language.” His plays, such as “Dragon Beard Ditch” (1951), became ideologically didactic and did not reach the level of his former work. “Shen Juan,” written in 1960 on the sixtieth anniversary of the Boxer uprising, was a four-act play about the Boxers. Lao She emphasized in it the anti-imperialistic zeal of the Boxers and the burning and killing carried out by the allied powers. His last novel was “The Drum Singers” (1952), which was published only in English. He fell victim to the Red Guards at the outset of the Cultural Revolution and was either murdered or driven to suicide. Since the fall of Chiang Ch’ing, guiding hand of the Cultural Revolution, in 1971, Lao She’s works have been republished.

Established June 12, 1952, Beijing People’s Art Theatre (BPAT) is China’s most famous producer of modern realistic drama. The company has won high prestige both within the country and abroad through its diverse repertoire, superb and rigorous stagecraft and its subtle and deep artistic style. It made international headlines in 1983 when Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” premiered there with the playwright as guest director.

BPAT’s dominant style is realistic modern drama, as embodied by the plays its most famous artistic director, Cao Yu, who is regarded as “the Eugene O’Neill of China.” In its literature, BPAT pays tribute to his leadership, as well as to that of its late General Artistic Director, JiaoJuyin. The company notes that its artists have persevered in the artistic style of realism, but that different art forms are also absorbed and displayed, like “a hundred flowers blooming.” Its “signature” works include “The Tiger Tally” and “Cai Wenji” by Gue Moruo; “Dragon Whiskers Ditch” and “The Teahouse” by Lao She; “Rickshaw Boy,” adapted from Lao She’s novel of the same name; “Thunderstorm,” “The Sunrise,” “Peking Man” and “Wang Zhaojun” by Cao Yu; “Guan Hanquing” and “Death of a Famous Actor” by Tian Han. Other productions include “Warning Signal,” “Weddings and Funerals,” “Xiaojing Zhaojun,” “A Farmer’s Nirvana,” “Top Restaurant,” “Poet Li Bai,” “Galan Hutong,” “Beijing Master,” “Antiques,” “Endless Romance,” “Myriad Twinkling Lights,” “The Zhaos’ Orphan,” and The South Courtyard in the North Lane.”

The theatre has also produced a large number of famous foreign plays: “The Miser,” “Aesop,” “Even the Wise is not Free from Error,” “Measure for Measure,” “The Visit,” “Death of a Salesman,” “The Life of a Woman,” “The Gin Game,” “Amadeus,” “The Caine Mutiny Court Marshall,” “The Seagull” and ‘Wet Paint.” While faithful to the original texts, these productions have also acquired a “distinctive Chinese national nuance.”

Over the past fifty years, BPAT has performed across China and abroad. Plays of its classical repertoire, including “The Teahouse,” have performed in Germany, France, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Singapore, Korea, Egypt, and Ireland, as well as in Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. The theatre has collaborated with international artists such as Toby Roberson, Arthur Miller, Charlton Heston, Oleg Vevremov, Margaret Booker and Manfred Beilharz.

The company now has three theatres: The Capital Theatre, The Mini Theatre of BPAT and The Experimental Theatre of BPAT. The company’s Stage Art Center makes sets, costumes and props for the company and other performing troupes. In order to carry forward the theatre’s traditions, faithfully record its development and promote innovation of Chinese modem theatre, the Drama Museum of BPAT is under construction.

Old-style teahouses such as the one depicted in Lao She’s play continued to thrive throughout the 1950s and early 1960s in Beijing. However, during the (1966-76) Cultural Revolution such places were attacked as bourgeois and an upper-class stigma was attached to the idleness of spending all day drinking tea. Once China opened its doors to the West in the 1980s, young urbanites started to view coffee drinking as a more modern, fashionable pastime. However, after a decade of non-stop modernization, traditional-style teahouses have started to reappear nationwide. In rural areas, teahouses have been set up as small enterprises, and even in the image-conscious cities many Chinese are beginning to rediscover tea culture.

Teahouses today are quite different from the ones in Lao She’s time. Now they are filled only with the quiet buzz of leisurely chat and are devoid of the unsavory characters that once lurked in many a teahouse corner. Entertainment and recreation is determined by locality, as is the custom of drinking tea. In Sichuan, where the practice of tea drinking is thought to have originated, old men sit at long school-desks crammed into small halls often shouting over the opera performances taking place on stage. The waitstaff weave their way between them, pouring water into large tea cups through long-spouted jugs. In Canton, it is customary to hit the fingertips on the table to signify thanks after receiving your tea.

Appropriately enough, one of the first in the renaissance of authentic old-style teahouses to open in Beijing was called the Lao She Teahouse. It came complete with “old Beijing”-style drum players and folk singers. In Fujian and Taiwan, the appreciation of tea or pin cha (lit: imbibing tea), involves more ceremony, and teahouses from these regions have been the most popular in major cities. Oolong tea is sipped from thimble-sized ceramic cups and strained at least twice before drinking.

Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America (www.yangtze-rep-theatre.org) was co-founded by Joanna Chan in 1992 to produce works for and by Asian artists. It has since become New York’s most significant entry point for dramatic works from Chinese-speaking countries and a place of collaboration for artists from various parts of Asia. Yangtze and its artistic director have been responsible for the New York debuts of many notable artists, including Wang LuoYung, who appeared in the leading role in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway, and Dr. Wang XiaoYing, Deputy Director of China’s National Theater in Beijing. In 1997, Gao Xingjian, the 2000 Nobel Laureate in Literature, was brought to NY by Yangtze Rep to direct his own play, “Between Life and Death,” at Theater for the New City and to present a showing of his ink paintings at Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University. These events remain the only full-scale presentations of works by Gao in the US to-date.

Yangtze Rep has produced NYC productions of three major plays of Cao Yu, “The Sun Shall Rise,” “Thunderstorm” and “The Wilderness.” Cao Yu was founding director of Beijing People’s Art Theatre and is regarded as “the Eugene O’Neill of China.”

Plays which attempt to dramatize forces of Chinese history have been Yangtze Rep’s emphasis over the years. “The Life and Times of Ng Chung-Yin” (NY premiere 1998) was a controversial portrait of a journalist/activist. Joanna Chan’s bilingual drama, “The Story of Yu-Huan” (world premiere 1998), dealt with the celebrated beauty (708-746 AD) whose hanging death exposing the injustices of a society not governed by law. “The Eternal Game” (NY premiere 1996) by Wang Wei-zhong (of Tienjin) was a political allegory on brilliant men of integrity who serve under lesser ones. Joanna Chan’s “The Soongs: By Dreams Betrayed,” which caused an uproar in the Chinese communities in 1992, examined the collective responsibility of the populace in the rise of tyranny, the myth-making machinery of modern media, and the delusions of the missionary movement and U.S. foreign policy. It was one of the 18 most significant original works chosen for scholarly critique in the worldwide symposium, “Chinese Language Theater: A Ten-Year Retrospective,” held in Hong Kong in July 2004 with a gathering of stage directors, playwrights and scholars from different parts of China, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, England and the U.S.

Yangtze mounted “OneFamilyOneChildOneDoor,” written and directed by Joanna Chan, at the Bank Street Theater, in 2001 during the dark days following the 9/11 attacks. The play, a dark comedy on the human costs of China’s one-child policy, which was one of the two finalists in the Jane Chambers Playwriting Contest in 2002, became so popular that it has been revived twice, in 2002 and 2003.

Yangtze Rep has been funded by the New York State Council on the Arts (since 1994), the Alliance of Resident Theaters/New York (since 1995), the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (since 1999), New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (since 1997) and the Asian American Arts Alliance (in 1998). It received a special development grant for emerging artists from the New York State Council on the Arts (1995).

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