Amidst a hubbub of networking at Drift‘s launch party on Saturday at Abbey Road, we caught up with Shanghai Repertory Theater’s producer, Rosita Janbakhsh, to talk about their new production Drift. The play makes its English-language world premiere at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center from September 7th to September 12th.
Drift, SRT’s most cutting-edge project to date, pushes the boundaries of theater with its contemporary representation of an alternate reality that reflects multi-ethnic identity crisis and explores cross-cultural clashes. It is a tale of two cities that spans three generations. Caught up in the speed of modernization, culture and memories are contested. The discovery of self is the ultimate identity crisis: finding out not only who we are but where we belong in a rapidly shrinking world.
The play is the work of Nick Rongjun Yu, acclaimed playwright and director of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center. Featuring an international cast, Drift is being directed by Jonathan Geenen, who has returned to Shanghai specifically for this project.
Where: Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center: 288 AnFu Rd (安福路288号)
When: Tuesday, September 7 to Sunday, September 12
Tickets: Sunday-Thursday tickets cost 180 RMB, Friday-Saturday tickets cost 200 RMB. For more information, hit up www.ticket2010.com, the Ke Center or the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center
What is your vision for Shanghai Repertory Theatre?
Rosita: I would like Shanghai Repertory Theatre to continue putting out good-quality theater. What we’re working to now is creating a sustainable theater side in Shanghai. It’s still a young field. We’ve got a whole set of talent so we’ve developed the artistic side. Now we’re trying to develop the legal, administrative, financial – the business side of making theater professionally.
We hope to launch internationally with Drift at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We’re currently working with SDAC on Drift. In addition, the Ke Center for Contemporary Arts continues to be SRT’s production partner, which is a partnership we have had since SRT’s inception last Fall. We’re making links to the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center with Drift. We are hoping to continue forging links in order to better establish SRT’s involvement and development as a theater company based in Shanghai.
Financing is always an issue as the artistic field we are in is theater. It’s not something that you can invest in and have a monetary pay out in the traditional sense.
In comparison to the established theater hubs of the West, whose history in modern spoken drama spans thousands of years, Shanghai and China as a whole is still in a developmental stage particularly with regards to accessibility of the work for the audiences here. SRT would like to continue to work with entities such as the Ke Center and SDAC to collaborate on projects in order to better further understand the varied cultural viewpoints we all bring to the table.
It’s an amazing experience to be a part of that movement…the art movement. The most important thing is for SRT to continue to build a strong reputation of high quality work that is not simply entertaining but thought provoking and working with and learning from the local theater scene to learn from each other.
In what ways would you say Drift might be different or unique from the other productions SRT has put on so far?
Rosita: Other plays have been out and about for many years, such as Noel Coward, Ionesco, and Shakespeare. Drift, however is very much a contemporary piece from 2005. With Drift, there is much left for the artist to bring to the piece. What I mean is that it throws the ball back in the court of the director and actors to develop the piece together. This is the 1st time that we’ve collaborated in such a way. This piece has an openness about it.
We’ve all fallen in love with this play. It represents what we’re doing and where we come from- it’s this brilliant social commentary on what it feels like to exist. It doesn’t matter if the play is set on Jupiter or Mars; it’s all about the message.
How did you come across this play?
Rosita: Back in February, we were searching for a Chinese play that we could eventually take to the Edinburgh Fringe at some point in the future. While researching Chinese plays performed in English, I came across one play performed at Tufts University. The professor behind the play was Claire Conceison; upon further research I discovered that she is one of very few experts on contemporary Chinese theater and has written some brilliant books on modern spoken drama and its development and existence in China.
I then emailed Claire who then introduced me to Nick Yu (the playwright of Drift). After reading through his works, the director (Jonathan and I) both decided on doing Drift together.
What was your approach to putting on Drift?
Rosita: Jonathan and I knew each other long before. He actually brought me on to be a producer at the EastWest theater company. Then he went to Toronto and I left EastWest. We stayed in touch though, and had always hoped to be able to work together on another project in the future.
We were given an opportunity to perform at SDAC in September and thus thought being able to work on Drift throughout the summer was a chance we couldn’t pass up, so Jonathan hopped on a plane and arrived at the end of July and we began rehearsing. The process itself has been a challenge due to the developmental nature of working with the words in the script and sometimes having to reword and reorder scenes in order to make the fluidity of the message visceral.
Hence, as actors we had to be flexible in terms of creation of our characters particularly in the beginning when we were all working together to discover the best method of staying true to the heart of the playwrights story and themes within the story.
The acting was crucial. Jonathan kept challenging us to be better. Despite the multimedia, light, and sound support we would ultimately have during the performances… He said that our performances as actors themselves needed to stand out on their own and when the production was stripped down to its simplistic elements…there had to be realism at the core.
What audience are you targeting?
Rosita: Well traditionally, 80% of our audience has been expats. But I’d say – it’s for anybody who loves theater. We’re trying to expand the community of theatergoers in Shanghai.
In what way do you think Drift will bring Shanghai theater to the next level?
Rosita: In Drift, you have a bunch of foreigners being Chinese people. Usually here in Shanghai, it’s Chinese people acting as foreigners. So this is the other way around.
We’re challenging the audience with this play. It isn’t something like Noises Off or Shakespeare. We’re asking them to come and be willing to be affected by a thought provoking piece of theater, Drift was performed in Shanghai twice before but in Chinese and later as a bilingual production, however this shall be the first time it has been performed all in English, as such it brings a different angle than before…we’re asking the audience to come and grow with us as we continue to challenge ourselves as artists, to challenge the company as an artistic entity, and to challenge our audience into engaging with the art in a way that we hope will continue to grow our perspectives of the world around us.
Drift runs from September 7th through September 12th in the Drama Salon of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center on Anfu Road in the French Concession.
Get your tickets now at www.ticket2010.com or buy them at either the Ke Center or the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center. Sunday-Thursday tickets cost 180 RMB, Friday-Saturday tickets cost 200 RMB. Bring your friends along for the show to get in on their great deals. Tickets for groups of 10 cost 150 RMB each. Tickets for groups of 25 cost 120 RMB each. Tickets for groups of 50 cost 100 RMB each. For more information, call 13641701170 or email [email protected] .
Drift will have a second run at the Asia Contemporary Theater Festival in November.