Verse and song
The artists use the contemporary style of Shakespearean performance based on theatrical realism to express the real world, while employing Peking Opera conventions based on a stylized expression to portray the dream world. "I think the most engaging part of our production is the striking contrast between these two different means of expression," Wang Jiannan said. "However, such experimentation is a big adventure, especially in the relatively conservative traditional theater in China, where making theatrical contrasts might invite severe criticism. This project provides a good opportunity to create in a comparatively open and free environment."
Fitting the English verse to the melodies of Peking Opera is exacting work, according to Wang, with rehearsals involving much discussion and improvisation. "We pooled wisdom from various sources like our teachers, friends and experts from the outside. It's been a very difficult six months of trial and error."
In the production, Gomar plays roles other than Sly, including laosheng (a middle-aged or old man) and xiaosheng (a young man), which is typical in Peking Opera, and quite different from his usual performances in Western plays.
According to Gomar, all this would have been impossible without Wang, who also served as their Peking Opera specialist. His more than 10 years of experience helped the performers retain the authentic qualities of Peking Opera. According to Wang, the consistency and flexibility of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter also fits nicely with the verse structure of Peking Opera tunes.
The performers agreed that participating in the project has itself been a lesson in intercultural communication. Each member comes from a different theatrical background, such as traditional British theater, classical Indian performance and Peking Opera.
The project started when Gomar and Simha, who were studying in an intercultural communication program, felt frustrated that many non-Chinese people did not understand or would refuse to try to understand Chinese opera.
"They stood back, mocked it and ridiculed it. The main reason for this, we saw, was the linguistic barrier between art and audience," Gomar said. "We wanted to find ways to break down that barrier because we really like Chinese opera."
They went further than merely removing language obstacles, and discovered that the two forms can complement each other in a new synthesis.
While borrowing elements from different traditions, the new piece is neither a Peking Opera production or a Shakespearean work, but rather draws on the similarities and contrasts of the two, and stands somewhere in between.
"In some way, we use the most beautiful things in both the English and Chinese traditions to express ourselves, but our main effort is to create a performance enjoyable and understandable to both Chinese and non-Chinese audiences," said Gomar.
The play is being staged at Shanghai Theatre Academy U1 Space (630 Huashan Road) from 7:15 pm to 7:55 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday for free, and at the Pearl (471 Zhapu Road) from 8 pm to 8:40 pm on Thursday for 100 yuan ($16) per person, and 50 yuan per student. For bookings and inquiries, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.eastwesttheatre.com/.