WELCOME TO YANGTZE THEATRE OF AMERICA
Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America was founded in 1992 to produce works for and by Asian artists. Since then, it has become New York's most significant entry point for dramatic works from Chinese-speaking countries and a place of collaboration for artists from various parts of Asia.
CHANGING OF THE LEADERSHIP AT
MOST RECENT MAINSTAGE PRODUCTION
Full page interview of Joanna Chan -Wen Wei Pao,
OUR NEXT MAINSTAGE PRODUCTION
JUNE 25 TO JULY 12
An ancient myth about blood and honor reveals the secret life of a Chinese theater troupe in the dark comedy "Behind the Mask -- a Play" by Chinese authors Feng BaiMing and Huang WeiRuo, which is being newly adapted by Yangtze Repertory Theatre in a production helmed by Chinese-born director Chongren Fan. The play will be performed in Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles and will be completely accessible for English-speaking audiences. English translation is by Kristen Hung. This U.S. premiere will be presented by Yangtze Rep June 25 to July 12 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, East Village.
A play-within-a-play takes place in a theater space somewhere in China, where a nine-person troupe is rehearsing for a story about a Chinese mythical hero, Mei Jian Chi. As the myth is popularly known within Chinese culture, it depicts a tyrant, the King of Chu, who orders the death of his two master swordsmiths as part of a ritualized process to forge the world's sharpest blades, using human blood. Their son, Mei, seeking revenge, devises a death ploy with an errant by offering his own living but decapitated head to the King. Fragments of the mythical story switch in and out from snippets of mundane and personal follies of the struggling troupe during rehearsal. Through the play, we get to learn about the troupe and the pressures of the artistic life in contemporary China.
Yangtze will present a new adaptation of the original script that was written in 1999 by Huang WeiRuo and Feng BaiMing. The contemporary part of the play--the troupe’s own story--is devised and created by Chongren Fan and ensemble. The play examines the current theatre world through a comic lens and throughout, the characters are aware of their own theatricality. Director Chongren Fan writes, "We get a taste of what's going on in contemporary Chinese theater but also get a chance to explore how a theatre troupe works together to create an ensemble work." The music in the play, composed by Xiren Wang, is new and modern, with a strong innovative approach to ancient Chinese music characteristics.
The production features an ensemble of nine who play various roles in the play. The actors are: Shan Y. Chuang, Esther Chen, Chien-Lun Lee, Xiao Quan, Viola Wang, Neil Redfield, Hui-Shurn Yong, Chris Smith and Francisco Huergo. Set and costume design are by K. K. Wong. Lighting design is by Yi-Chung Chen. Mask design is by Andrew Diaz.
Director Chongren Fan was born in Shanghai and he is a New York-based stage director. Before coming to the U.S., he was Artistic Director of a Shanghai-based musical theatre company, All That Musical, where he directed productions including "Rent," "Spring Awakening" and "Seasons of Love: A Cabaret." He holds an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College's Multi-disciplinary Collaborative Theatre Program. He is currently a Resident Director at the Flea Theater, where he directed "The Final Kiss" last fall. He was a Jonathan Alper Directing Fellow at Manhattan Theatre Club where he was assistant director of "The World of Extreme Happiness." He was assistant director for A.R. Gurney’s "What I Did Last Summer" this season at Signature Theatre. He directed Goldberg Award winning play, "Nightfall," at NYU Tisch. He has worked on development projects with Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment, Ma-Yi Theatre Company, La MaMa, New Ohio Theatre, Dixon Place, Prototype Festival, American Dance Institute and Mecoon Theater (Shanghai, China).
Feng BaiMing (co-author) is a Chinese National First-class Playwright
and Member of China’s National Television Drama Committee. His works include
the operas "The Prairie," "Ocean," "White Reed/Red
Kopak," "My Heart Soars" and "Dragon Fly," musicals
"Equator Rain" and "Drama: Behind The Mask," and the
TV Series "Water Rises in the Wind." He has received many Chinese
national awards and recognitions, including the Five-One Project, Wenhua
Award for Outstanding Dramatic Writing, National Stage Arts Project Top
Ten Dramatic Works and the Chinese Cao Yu Prize for Drama.
Joanna Chan handed over leadership of the company on July 1, 2014 to the three-man team of K. K. Wong and Wayne Chang as Co-Artistic Directors and Jason HaoWen Wang as Executive Director, with Chan as Emeritus Director.
Joanna Chan's theatrical career spans over four decades. She co-founded Yangtze Rep and led it as Artistic Director for 22 years. She will continue writing for the theater, tend to publishing her 40 manuscripts, resume painting, and go on with her service in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
We salute our beloved founder and we look forward to continuing her traditions as we plan for the next epoch in the company she started.
Yu-Huan, of the House of Yang, has been an undiminished subject of literature and fine arts throughout thirteen centuries. Her death marked the end of 130 years of unprecedented prosperity in China's Middle Kingdom and a golden age of artistic outpourings. Her life story is the subject of "The Story of Yu-Huan" by Joanna Chan, which was presented by Yangtze Repertory Theatre of America May 30 to June 22, 2014 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th St.), directed by the author and choreographed by Ashley Liang. This was was Joanna Chan's final production as Artistic Director of Yangtze Rep.
OTHER SIGNIFICANT PRESS FOR THE COMPANY
THE STORY OF YU-HUAN, reviewed by Theatre is Easy
NY TIMES REVIEW of "Luna," an evening of dance, choreographed by Max Luna III (September 22-23, 2006)
NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW of our production of "Teahouse," performed in NYC by Beijing People's Art Theatre (November 27-December 1, 2005)
NEW YORK TIMES
November 16, 2006
Oedipus Max: Four Nights of Anguish and Applause
in Sing Sing
To enter a maximum-security prison to see inmates put on a Greek tragedy, in this case Oedipus Rex, at Sing Sing is to descend into an echo chamber of ironies. An ancient story of murder and banishment brought to life by banished murderers. Imaginary horrors summoned in solid flesh by men whose own stories are horrifying and real.
It’s a lot to ponder as you hand over wallet, keys, watch and train schedule at the prison entrance. As for your illusions and misperceptions about inmates and prison life, those you surrender inside.
I went to Sing Sing with the play’s director, Sister Joanna Chan of the Maryknoll order, whose headquarters is not far from the Hudson River bluffs on which Sing Sing has hunkered since the 1820s. Sister Joanna, who is petite, Chinese and in her 60s, had been working with the inmates since June, and Friday’s performance was the last in a four-night run. The cast and crew, serving time for murder, rape, robbery, assault and other crimes, called her Grandma.
We walked through long, low corridors to the auditorium, called the Chapel, with a high ceiling of exposed steel beams and the grimy yellow light of bare bulbs. Nuns and other visitors from town nibbled cheese cubes and drank coffee from paper cups. A few mingled with inmates, easy to pick out not by their air of menace but by their green pants.
There were jitters in the room, not in the audience but in the cast and crew, the bustling nerves of any amateur production. Previous nights had gone well, I was told. The play had even won over B-block, a brutal crowd. Tonight’s show was for guests, and the final chance to shine.
I met the assistant director, an inmate with a white skullcap and deep-set eyes who went by his Muslim name, Bilal. He told me how faith helped him to face his guilt in murder, and how theater polished the tarnished gem inside. Like other inmates I met, he had the taut intensity of someone gripping his beliefs tightly, so as not to let them get away.
Sing Sing, the former home of Old Sparky, is not widely known as a progressive place. But its theater program is a rarity in New York prisons. It relies on a nonprofit group, Rehabilitation Through the Arts, and the savvy benevolence of Sing Sing’s superintendent, Brian Fischer, who considers its virtues self-evident.
The inmates chose Oedipus Rex because they had done more than a dozen productions, including Jitney, by August Wilson, and wanted something really difficult. Sister Joanna persuaded them to choose Sophocles over Shakespeare, since it was more accessible and would fit in the maximum allowed two hours.
She took me backstage before the curtain rose. The cast
and crew held hands in a circle and prayed for a good show. Jocasta,
Oedipus’s wife and mother, was an actress from New York City
and the cast’s only non-inmate. She told everyone how proud
she was. Oedipus, with tongue-in-cheek pomposity, demanded silence
and offered encouragement. Please, let’s kill them all,"
he said. We all knew what he meant.
This production went to Greece by way of the five boroughs, as the ancients were summoned to be asked important questions about a foretold murder. But the men hit their marks precisely, and moved and spoke with elegance and conviction. If they were haunted by the play’s resonance in their lives, they didn’t show it. They seemed like people trying to produce art, and in so doing to somehow assert an identity better than the one of murderer, rapist, robber, that had overwhelmed all others.
As I watched, I wondered what it would be like to be defined by my own worst sins. It struck me that when people are locked up for horrible crimes, a lot of goodness and beauty necessarily get locked up too. It also seemed that the Theban society onstage, though afflicted by plague, vengeance and divine cruelty, was probably gentler and saner than the one the inmates knew. Its members clearly cared for one another, and were not numb to grief.
When Oedipus made his final entrance, blinded and lurching, from stage left, the Chorus trembled, and shock and sorrow rose on cue in the hushed auditorium, just as it has for the last 2,500 years.
Sister Joanna told me later that chorus members had been reluctant in rehearsal to touch one another, though they eventually got past it. Oedipus, a man of conspicuous self-control, had particular trouble losing it for his final breakdown, when he collapses into the arms of Creon, his uncle and brother-in-law. He didn’t pull it off until Monday’s dress rehearsal. On Friday, Sister Joanna thought she saw real tears.
After the curtain fell and the cheers and applause finally died, the crew joined the cast onstage, with officers quickly posted on the left and right steps. The inmates crowded the footlights, straining for the hands of audience members who filed slowly past to say thank you, great job, wonderful show. Clearing the room of visitors in small escorted groups took nearly an hour. The inmates never stopped chattering and hugging, their faces shining with relief, and with the yearning to savor every moment before the spell was broken and they were taken to their cells.
Review | Luna
Max Luna III took his audience on a winding ride on Friday night in choreography presented by the Yangtze Repertory Theater of America at the Schimmel Center at Pace University. The evening opened with two dances so blandly generic — though one, “Cold Song," featured a powerful performance by Jason Jordan — that you wondered not where the real Mr. Luna was hiding, but if he indeed existed.
Mr. Luna, a former Alvin Ailey dancer, emerged in two pieces that made it plain that he had something of his own to say and the skill to say it. He works in a modern-dance idiom colored by the traditional dancing of his native Philippines, represented in “Tinig Ng Lupa," the evening’s closing dance.
“The Hurt We Embrace," to music by Jan Kaczmarek, was a traditional wrecked-relationship duet, but the vagaries of love were observed and communicated with extra shrewdness in choreography performed with affecting intensity by Joseph Watson II and Roberta Sorrenti. Everything came together in Mr. Luna’s new “Mga Awit (A Love Cycle for Voice, Cello & Piano)," danced to music full of dramatic incident, composed by Michael Dadap and performed live by Sal Malaki (tenor), Marc Tagle (cello) and Cynthia Guerrero DeLeon (piano).
Mr. Luna’s program notes describe the piece as “dedicated to my partner, Alan, who has shown me that the miracle of love renews and grows through the cycles of life." The suite brims with cycles of growth and renewals, particularly in two group segments that stand out for their unexpected thrusts and patterns. Mr. Luna knows how to move his dancers and juxtapose them and his onstage musicians. The bright opening solo by Matt Anctil and a lush duet for Mr. Jordan and Mica Bernas are as authoritative, and feel as personal. Good dancers all, so why no program biographies?
LAO SHE'S "TEAHOUSE"
BY BEIJING PEOPLE'S ART THEATRE
Steeped in 50 Years of China's Subjugation
By WILBORN HAMPTON, NEW YORK TIMES
First performed in 1958, "Teahouse" has been a favorite work of one of China's favorite writers, before and after the Cultural Revolution. The current revival, which is performed in Mandarin with English supertitles and sponsored in New York by the Yangtze Repertory Theater, is playing a limited run that ends tonight at Pace Downtown Theater, 3 Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan.
The play covers 50 years of Chinese history, and a unifying theme that runs through it is the subjugation, often willing, of China to foreign interests and powers through the first half of the 20th century. Spending an evening at the Yutai teahouse with the Beijing Theater helps explain the excesses of Maoism.
All of the action takes place in the teahouse, owned by Wang Lifa. The cross section of its customers range from pimps, gangsters and opium addicts to rich idlers who bring songbirds in their cages for entertainment, government spies, secret policemen and rebels. Tea is not the only commodity sold there.
The first act takes place in 1898, on the eve of the Boxer Uprising, as the Qing dynasty is in its death throes and although the Yutai denizens still wear their hair in pigtails, British influence is paramount. Poverty in the countryside is rampant, and peasants go to the teahouse to sell their children to wealthy mandarins.
The second act jumps forward 20 years to the time just after the death of Yuan Shih-kai, the successor to Sun Yat-sen as head of the Chinese republic. Warlords, each backed by a foreign power, have split China apart and the country is in a state of perpetual civil war. Wang has tried to keep his teahouse intact by taking in students as boarders and adding entertainment by way of a gramophone. Many of his old customers still appear, but in vastly altered circumstances.
The final act takes place in 1948. The Japanese occupiers have left, but the Kuomintang, also under foreign influence, has again turned the tables on the teahouse's customers, many of them bynow the sons and daughters of those in Act I and some of whom want to tear down the teahouse and replace it with shops full of foreign goods.
If at one level "Teahouse" seems like a primer
on pre-Communist Chinese history, it is Lao She's development of his
characters over two generations that makes it exciting theater. A
stellar cast of about 30 give a brilliant master class in ensemble
acting, led by Liang Guanhua as Wang, Pu Cunxin as Master Chang and
Yang Lixin as Master Qin. This is the first visit to New York by the
Beijing People's Art Theater, and I hope it returns again soon.