Queen's Yu Theatre Society Debuts The Storm: Festival

International students update 1934 play for modern times at the Grand Theatre

The Storm: Festival.
Credit: 
Supplied by Meishan Wan

Since its inception in 2018, the Yu Theatre Society at Queen’s has aimed to give Chinese international students a distinctly Chinese theatre experience while sharing dramatic narratives with the rest of the Kingston community.

The Storm: Festival opened on Jan. 10 at the Kingston Grand Theatre and will be there until Sunday, Jan. 19.

Nicholas Wang, director of The Storm: Festival and one of three co-founders of the group, brought the first Mandarin-language play to Queen’s in March of 2019 with Rhinoceros in Love.

Although he has directed plays in China before, this is Wang’s second production at Queen’s. As with the first play, The Storm: Festival is performed entirely in Mandarin while English subtitles are projected to the upper left and right of the stage.

Wang is excited to present this particular story to the Kingston community because of its importance to Chinese theatre culture. 

“Our version of this play is adapted from a very classical Chinese play,” Wang told The Journal. “Everyone in China who has learned contemporary theatre has studied this play.”

The Storm: Festival is adapted from a play called Thunderstorm by Cao Yu, which was originally published in 1934. The story centers around the wealthy Zhou family and its patriarch, whose rigid traditionalist ways lead the family to moral and psychological ruin.

However, while Wang was delighted to share the play itself, the director also noted difficulties in bringing the production to English audiences.

“We’re very aware that we’re putting on this play in Kingston, so there are a lot of English speakers, and the subtitles and translations were hard,” Wang said.

To help meet these constraints, Wang said a heavy edit of the play was required. “It’s a very long play,” he said. “There are 750,000 words in the original, and we cut half of them so we could have this version.”

Still, the very purpose of the Yu Theatre Society was always to ease the burden of the language barrier on Chinese drama students and Chinese theatregoers, which is why it’s so necessary for Wang to present these plays in their original language.

Now a fourth-year drama student at Queen’s, Wang recalls his troubled experience as a first year in the program, saying, “There were only two or three Chinese students learning drama.”

“Production was really difficult for me because everyone gets it and I don’t,” Wang said. “Then in second year[…] the [Chinese] community became bigger, so I saw the demand for Chinese theatre.”

The Storm: Festival was accompanied by a live soundtrack performed by Cherish Fan on the violin and Cassie Wan on the pipa, a popular string instrument in China. Both performers are Queen’s students.

Combining these two popular instruments from the East and the West helped to transform the production into a cross-cultural exchange.

Having studied drama and theatre in both China and Canada, Wang has a unique, multicultural perspective which makes him well-suited to the challenge of presenting Chinese theatre to the (mostly) English-speaking Kingston community.

 

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