Bring The Wilderness to Manchester!
“The Wilderness” is a dark and turbulent tragedy about love, revenge, redemption, and the struggle of good and evil within the depth of human heart. It is one of the key works of China’s most famous contemporary playwright Mr Cao Yu, who was dubbed China’s Shakespeare. We are raising funds to bring this fantastical play to a Manchester theatre for the first time.
I founded Arts of China nearly 7 years ago, dedicating my efforts to bring Chinese performing arts to the British audience. As a professionally trained dancer, I have delivered numerous workshops in schools and performed on many stages all over the country.
Producing a theatrical play is a new territory for me. The idea came from Zijun, a talented young dancer who joined Arts of China over a year ago. While in high school back in China, Zijun had played a role in "The Thunderstorm", another of Mr Cao Yu's key plays. She enjoyed rehearsing that role, and considered the idea of performing "The Thunderstorm" again in England. However, eventually, she decided to take on a new challenge, “The Wilderness”, as it is also said to be one of the hardest of Mr Cao Yu’s works to perform.
Great ideas don’t come by every day. When you do hear one, you don’t let it go.
When Zijun mentioned the idea of producing a stage play, I immediately knew that I wanted to support her and make it happen.
Instead of performing a role in the play, Zijun will direct it, and this wiIl be the first theatre production of Arts of China. Zijun put together a project plan, revising it several times, feeling her way through the process. Once the plan was outlined, Arts of China helped recruit the cast and the crew, all of whom would be working hard for no financial reward. After one month and three rounds of auditions, we finally decided on the actors and actresses with the best overall qualities (a round of applause for them).
As the cast members were either full-time students or in full-time employment, remembering lines and attending rehearsals all had to take place in their spare time. We have intentionally opted for amateur performers, instead of professional actors, because we want to provide opportunities to aspiring artists to use and develop their talents.
The cast devoted an average of 8 hours a week to rehearsals. Each rehearsal usually started with warm-up exercises for the voice such as tongue twisters and breathing practice, and then moved on to reading lines and character development. As time went on, the cast became more and more familiar with the script and with each other. Modifications to the original script made room for innovative ideas.
We brought in professionals to help the actors improve their voice strength, spatial awareness, and acting skills. A professionally trained soprano coached them on the correct use of their voice box and diaphragm. The actors took ballet classes to improve their postures. During rehearsal, they made do with random furniture and make-shift props to imitate the real stage setting.
The actors were so absorbed in and influenced by their roles that some of the character traits they had become familiar with began to surface in their own daily lives. The actors also swapped roles sometimes in order to gain insights into the other characters and to practise how to improvise.
In order to make sure that we did not inadvertently breach copyright, we got in touch with Ms Wan Fang, Mr Cao Yu’s daughter, with the help of the Head of Manchester's Confucius Institute. Ms Wan Fang gave her consent to reproduce this play in England.
We also found that our own composer, who created original scores that combine traditional Chinese instruments with western electronic music, successfully captured the fusion and harmony between Chinese and western cultures.
One other aim of ours has been to mix art forms, and intersperse speaking with the expressiveness of dance.
We get along very well as a team. There is a great vibe between the director and the actors, and there is always a constructive and friendly atmosphere. The actors have contributed many of their own ideas; sometimes these have been so quirky that they would have all of us rolling on the floor laughing out loud. Other times someone's suggestion has been so thought-provoking that the whole team has been lost for words for a while.
We have been rehearsing for three months now and will continue rehearsing into the winter. We are planning to perform the play on stage in the UK at the end of this year.
Such is the story of "The Wilderness" so far. We really need your support to help finance the staging of the play .
With the best will in the world, we cannot create a wonderful work of art from thin air. Rental fees, props, costumes, marketing… nothing comes cheap. Our work is entirely not for profit. All we are asking is funds to cover the essentials:
• theatre hire,
• sound and lighting,
• videographic equipment,
• rehearsal space,
• set design,
• programmes, brochures and posters,
• CDs and DVDs,
• travel and subsistence.
We hope you will share our passion and pride for this courageous endeavour. Anything you feel you can spare to help bring this unique piece of theatre to life will be truly gratefully received.