Wuzhen Theatre Festival: Wuzhen, a 1,300-year-old town sitting on the Yangtze River an hour outside Shanghai, is sometimes compared to Venice for its network of picturesque waterways, stone bridges and grand, weathered buildings. For the past 10 years, Wuzhen Tourism Company has been working to build the city’s profile as a tourist destination, and one of its strategies—a focus on the arts—is about to come to fruition. Next month the city will host its first international theatre festival, the brainchild of Wuzhen Tourism Company’s president, Chen Xianghong, who brought several high-profile artists on board to create excitement—not to mention to ensure that the festival will present top-notch work.
The artistic director of the event is Stan Lai, widely acknowledged as China’s leading playwright. His wife Nai-Chu Ding, managing director of Taiwan’s Performance Workshop Theatre, is the executive director of the festival; popular TV actor Huang Lei is producing director.
Attending as honorary chairman is American dramatist Robert Brustein, thanks to a chance meeting last summer on Martha’s Vineyard. (Lai has spent considerable time in the U.S., and earned a Ph.D. in dramatic art at University of California–Berkeley in 1983.) Brustein has never before been to China, but the Lais told him they’d seen his American Repertory Theater staging of Six Characters in Search of an Author on tour in the ’90s, and invited him to become involved. Brustein will travel to Wuzhen with the Abingdon Theatre Company production (debuting in NYC this month under Austin Pendleton’s direction) of his biographical Bard play The Last Will. Brustein’s honorary chair duties are undefined, but he notes he’s looking forward to “learning how to extend cultural and artistic relations between our two countries.”
Another U.S. production, Signature Theatre Company’s The Dance and the Railroad, written by David Henry Hwang and directed by May Adrales, was also invited. Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret of Denmark rounds out the international guest list with Inside the Skeleton of the Whale, to be staged in a warehouse.
As for the Chinese productions, Lai’s own eight-hour epic A Dream Like a Dream is the centerpiece: Its crowd of some 200 characters—performed by a cast of 30—continually spirals around the audience on an elevated walkway, a framework inspired by Lai’s visit to India, where he saw pilgrims circling the Buddha Tree. The program also includes Meng Jinghui Studio’s Murder in the Hanging Garden, which blends suspense, satire and rock music; and the National Theatre of China’s Four Generations Under One Roof, a wartime story set in 1937 by Lao She and adapted by An Ying.
Among the venues, a brand-new performing arts center with 1,200 seats was constructed for the occasion, and new life has been breathed into ancient buildings and plazas, including a newly weatherproofed courtyard stage and a merchant’s estate turned teahouse. It remains to be seen whether the festival will become an annual tradition, but its organizers have certainly laid the groundwork for Wuzhen to become an enduring performance destination. (May 9–19; +86 2-2698-2323)
Camus Arts Centre: Next month Canna, to the south of the Isle of Skye in the Scottish archipelago of the Hebrides, will have a new summer theatre focused on Gaelic work. Home to just a handful of permanent residents, this is a site of which the Telegraph’s Neil Tweedie recently wrote, “There is getting away from it all, and there is Canna. Stillness is this island’s natural state, except in fierce winter storms, and silence its accompaniment.” Yet there are those who associate the place with music, not silence.
Among them is actor/singer Colin Irvine, who is originally from Edinburgh but moved to the island to run a guest house, with the notion that he might bring an infusion of the arts along with him. There he met a willing collaborator: Magda Sagarzazu, archivist at Canna House, the former home of musician Margaret Fay Shaw and folklorist John Lorne Campbell. The couple had purchased the island and built a collection of their scholarship on Gaelic traditions, bequeathing both to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981.
“There is a great tradition of song, folklore and storytelling in Gaelic and Hebridean culture, and we would like to promote this tradition as well as exploring other works,” says Irvine, who for the center’s inaugural summer season plans to give recitals and direct a couple of new plays by young Scottish writer Fiona Connor.
Irvine is seeking out touring productions as well. Coinciding with the island’s annual August culture fest Canna Feis, for example, the new center will host a play about the Lindisfarne Gospels, a seventh-century illuminated manuscript.
The name Camus Arts Centre suggests a dark and existential bent to a visitor more versed in French literature than in Gaelic; but Irvine explains that “camus” is in fact the word for “bay” and refers to the new venue’s scenic setting. A converted chapel, it will seat 40–50 people or accommodate 100 standing, and will maintain a flexible configuration in the hopes that a wide variety of performances, as well as visiting audience members, will land on Canna’s quiet shores. (May–September)
Wiener Festwochen: This is Swiss director Luc Bondy’s final year at Wiener Festwochen, aka the Vienna Festival, with which he has spent 16 years (first as performing arts director, then as its head). In Bondy’s note of farewell, he reminisces about accepting the assignment: “The great allure lay in letting stories be told in a city with such a powerful intellectual past—a city that perhaps, at a certain moment, was the epicenter of the key trends of modern thought—to invite forms of theatre to this very place or launch them from here.” But the city, he notes, which was the home of “Freud, Ernst Mach, Musil, von Doderer, Otto Wagner, Loos, Wittgenstein, Schiele, Klimt,” was also “the breeding ground of horror.”
This year’s 2013 performing arts program, curated by Stefanie Carp, embraces the contradictions of European intellect and politics, in such works as Martin Kušej’s production of Miroslav Krleža’s In Agonie, a Croatian trilogy about the Hapsburgs and the demise of Old Europe. Two festival commissions, from Angélica Liddell and Philippe Quesne, promise to explore the intersection of the personal and political. Christoph Marthaler will use the Vienna Parliament as the venue for music by persecuted World War II–era Jewish composers, in an exploration of nationalism and racism in Europe today. In I Hate the Truth, Bosnia’s Oliver Frljić directs four actors in the metatheatrical telling of his own life story, which intersected with politics in a particularly traumatic way (his parents abandoned him to emigrate to the U.S. during the dissolution of Yugoslavia). And director Nicolas Stemann and his cast binge on a 120-hour diet of nonstop news, then create a theatrical response each night. (May 10–June 16; +43 1-589-22-0)