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New musical unearths story of Sanxingdui excavation

Updated: 2023-05-15 10:09 ( China Daily )
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When award-winning theater director Thom Southerland was invited to join the production of an original Chinese musical, which aims to bring the archaeological discoveries from the Sanxingdui site to life onstage, he did some research about the site, which he found intriguing.

Sanxingdui site was discovered in Guanghan, Sichuan province, in 1929. Dating back at least 3,000 years, the site is best known for the numerous exotic-looking bronze and gold artifacts found in "sacrificial pits". Since 2020, a new round of site excavations has attracted widespread domestic and global attention.

"I was amazed by those mysterious items from thousands of years ago. The mask is always in my mind. When I learned that the mask was created thousands of years ago, it seemed to be very unreal. I feel inspired," says Southerland, who appeared in Beijing on May 8, when Sanxingdui the Musical was launched, referring to the gold mask discovered at the site. Southerland is excited, as he plans to visit the Sanxingdui Museum in Guanghan, which was built in the 1990s to keep, preserve, display, and research the archaeological discoveries from the site.

"It will be the most contemporary, yet traditional, musical with an original Chinese story. I am trying to find a way to tell the story of ancient Chinese culture in a very modern way. The challenge is apparent and unlike any other challenge I have met in my previous productions," says the director. "With the musical, we celebrate Chinese culture and demonstrate it to all people."

Southerland was in China in 2019 when the musical, Titanic, which he worked on as the artistic director, toured the country. He was impressed by the audience response, he says.

According to the musical's production companies, including Beijing One World Culture Communication Co and Sichuan Province Song and Dance Theater Co, Sanxingdui the Musical will premiere in October and tour around the country and internationally.

Wang Yong, who wrote the script for the Chinese musical, says that, besides the archaeological discoveries from the Sanxingdui site, archaeologists are highlighted in the musical.

"The story will be told by the archaeologists. We've traveled to the museum to see those discoveries and talked with archaeologists, hoping to learn real stories about their work," says Wang, a veteran playwright, who is the head of the China National Peking Opera Co.

"As well as pandas and hotpot, Sichuan, also known as Shu, is home to the Sanxingdui site, which provides valuable insight into its ancient civilization," he says.

Chinese songwriters, Qian Lei and Tang Tian, are composers of the musical, which also has an international creative team, including stage designer Morgan Large, international consultant Philip Godawa and visual design consultant Stafeno Poda.

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