avant-garde/experimental theatre

(xianfeng xiju/shiyan xiju)
With regard to Huaju (spoken drama), the concepts xianfeng xiju and shiyan xiju are generally interchangeable, because experimental theatre works are often regarded as avant-garde theatre works. However, only experimental theatre has been given a conceptual definition and recognized as an actual theatre movement by Huaju scholars. This movement arose in the early 1980s and since the mid 1980s has been considered by many to be a mainstream theatrical genre.
Some proto-experimental theatre plays were created in the late 1970s and the very early 1980s. For example, A Warm Current Outside the House (Wuwai you reliu) by Ma Zhongjun and Jia Hongyuan, staged in Shanghai in 1980, was innovative in its use of dream scenes and stream of consciousness technique. In 1982, Gao Xingjian’s Alarm Signal (Juedui xinghao), directed by Lin Zhaohua, was able to completely break from the old-style realism in Huaju. This play was staged in a rehearsal room of the Beijing People’s Art Theatre (Beijing renmin yishu juyuan), with the audience seated on three sides of the stage and without any realistic scenery. Furthermore, it broke the fourth wall by having actors converse with the audience during the performance. Alarm Signal is regarded as the first influential and mature experimental theatre production, as well as the beginning of the experimental theatre movement.
The most important traits of experimental theatre are: (1) breaking with the dramatic forms of realism and the fourth wall, in order to depart from traditional realistic Huaju; (2) a tendency towards theatricalism in production, generating theatrical effects and emphasizing artistic techniques so as to urge the audience to see plays as artistic works rather than as real life; and (3) suppositionality, the tendency to avoid duplicating real life on stage, and to rely instead on the actor’s ability to present that which is less concrete visually but more real in feeling, such as an old and feeble heart or an abstract river. Following these traits, experimental theatre directors usually adopt methods such as wuchangci (without act or scene breaks) structure, a bare stage, a non-proscenium stage, the use of a narrator, and the pursuit of communication between the actor and the audience.
Famous experimental theatre plays include: Bus Stop (Chezhan, 1981), by Gao Xinjian; Old B Hanging on the Wall (Gua zai qiangshang de Lao B, 1984) by Sun Huizhu; WM (W[o]m[en]) by Wang Peigong and Wang Gui; Uncle Doggie’s Nirvana (Gou’er ye niepan, 1986) by Jin Yun; Jesus, Confucius, and John Lennon (Yesu, Kongzi, Yuehan Lannong, 1987) by Sha Yexin; Thinking of Worldly Pleasures (Sifan, 1992) by Meng Jinghui; and File Zero (Ling dang’an, 1994) by Yu Jian. Important experimental theatre directors include Xu Xiaozhong, Lin Zhaohua, Meng Jinghui, Wang Xiaoying and Mou Sen.
Meng, J. (1999). Xianfeng xiju dang’an [Avant-Garde Theatre Files]. Beijing: Zuojia chubanshe.
Wang, X. (2000). Zhongguo dangdai huaju yishu yanbianshi [Evolution of Contemporary Huaju Art]. Hangzhou: Zhejiang daxue chubanshe.
Zhao, Y. (1999). Jianli yizhong xiandai chanju: Gao Xing jian yu Zhongguo shiyan xiju [Establishing a Type of Modern Dhyana Play—Gao Xingjian and Experimental Chinese Theatre]. Taipei: Erya.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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