Song of the Female Textile Workers: ‘In Rehearsal’

April and May

Following concerns around censorship, recorded footage from a closed rehearsal, conducted by our Chinese partners in April, was presented to a panel from the Chinese Cultural Bureau. Our partners Shanghai Yue Opera House have reported that the Cultural Bureau were satisfied with the content and were delighted to announce that the performance has been cleared to continue its development.

A further rehearsal was conducted at Shanghai Yue Opera House earlier this month and the recorded footage was made available to view on the Stage@leeds website from 1100am on Thursday 27th May 2021.

We held a Discussion Event on 4th June 2021 from 11am and all were welcome to join us, whether they had viewed the rehearsal or not. The event was free and places could be booked through the stage@leeds booking site.  The panel included the UK and China creation team, including star performer WANG Rousang, and the discussion was chaired by Dr. Joslin McKinney, Associate Professor in Scenography from School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds. The event page can be found here. 

The discussion explored the challenges and opportunities in creating a UK-China theatre performance, with particular reference to theatre aesthetics approaches, digital platform compatabilities, audience connectivity and content censorship.


July  – Rehearsals in Shanghai 

In a meeting held over WeChat in July attended by Dr Haili Ma, Steve Ansell, Rousang Wang, Chunyi Wu and Morgan Buswell, it was communicated that difficulties faced in the process of creating the project were becoming more apparent. Alongside the time difference, some of the notes given after rehearsals could occasionally be lost in translation.

Addressing this, Steve Ansell emphasised that the end goal of the project was to utilise the varied skills of the participants in order to create a performance that all could be proud of. To counteract the language barrier in understanding the process, Dr Ma and Mr Ansell orchestrated a new plan. They would record themselves performing segments of the performance for Rousang to watch, providing a concrete idea of their vision for her to interpret. Rousang was encouraged to offer her notes, thoughts and criticisms and collaborate in return.

Emphasis was placed on how the project should be a “two-way process”, that it is just as as important for the UK partners to know what is working and what is not from the partners in Shanghai as it was for the UK partners to offer their notes in return. Steve Ansell, recognising Rousang’s immense skill, status and artistry as a performer, was particularly keen to encourage her to offer her notes and criticisms, as her collaboration is invaluable.


With this new plan of action underway, attentions turned from Shanghai back towards Rousang’s “co-star”, which is to take the form of the digital components designed bespoke for the performance by Nick Bax and Abby Hambleton at Human Studio, our partners in Sheffield, UK.

The meeting, held on the 3rd of August, opened on a fantastic note – congratulating Nick on his recent appointment as a research fellow at The University of York. Following this, it was on to the matter at hand. By this point, the digital materials for scene 1 had been completed, and much of the materials for scenes 2 and 3 were also coming along well. Dr Ma, in collaboration with Rousang Wang, had noted that edits needed to be made to ensure that the digital assets were in keeping with the timing of the music in scene 2.

Much of the conversation however, was to ensure that the edits were made to one particularly critical factor, namely, the accurate depiction of the butterflies. This was, of course, no easy feat. The movements of butterflies are very delicate, and this proved to be a difficult thing to design and animate. In addition to this, an extra butterfly was needed for the ‘Love of the Butterflies’ finale, alongside the ‘Red Flower’ sequence, and another sequence featuring many butterflies, and animations symbolising the famous water sleeves incorporated into the choreography. With the filmed performances planned for the end of September looming, there was scant little time to have all of these crucial elements brought together in time.


Despite the limited time, these elements were indeed finished by the last week of August, and sent to Shanghai in order for Rousang to interact with and rehearse with them throughout early September. Given the time to do so, rehearsals were conducted and it was agreed that the performance in its current form would be shown on the 21st and 22nd of September in order to coincide with the return of taught students at the University of Leeds.
For details of how it went – see here.