Communications are key to the development of any theatrical production. In this project these communications have been tested due to the nature of the production and the locations of the team behind the performance. This has not merely been the problems of translation and interpretation encountered due to differing languages. The familiar scene of a stage rehearsal, with the Artistic Director sat to the front directing the choreographed movements of the performers, is far removed from reality when there is a several thousand mile gap between the key participants.
The Scriptwriter and Producer of the performance – Dr Haili Ma – is based at the University of Leeds, UK, as is the Artistic Director and manager of Stage@Leeds – Mr Steve Ansell. The digital creation team – Mr Nick Bax and Abby Hambleton – from Human Studios, are based at Sheffield, UK.
The performer – Rousang Wang – is based at the Shanghai Yue Opera House, in Shanghai, along with the filming and technical teams from Shanghai Theatre Academy, Miss Jiajing Zhu and East China University of Political Science and Law, Prof Zhipeng Zang.
This method of creation provides a true test of international collaboration, particularly challenging in the current climate of global travel restrictions.
Whilst the initial inception of the project performance has been discussed in person over a number of months of research development, the realisation of the project only became a possibility within the last twelve months and of course, due to the Covid-19 pandemic all discussion and negotiation has necessarily been conducted online. Initial conversations to instigate the project were successfully held through email communications and via the preferred social media platform in China, WeChat. Finer points of artistic direction were subsequently planned to be held through the online platform of ‘Zoom’.
Whilst the project has previously successfully utilised the Zoom platform for a number of UK-China international meetings, our performer Rousang has found it difficult to maintain a stable link from the Shanghai Yue Opera House rehearsal room. Her personal preference was to use WeChat. Similarly, WeChat is not an app that is widely accepted by UK institutions and has only been available to the UK team on their personal devices, with varying degrees of reception and stability.
Script rehearsals held throughout March 2021 led to the development of a new platform which we have called ‘ZoomChat’. This came about through one of the early rehearsal being interrupted when Rousang lost her zoom connection and resorted to using WeChat, whilst Steve was unable to access his WeChat account from his studio. Two laptops – one on WeChat and the other on Zoom – placed screen to screen provided the new ‘ZoomChat’ link which has been utilised on more than one occasion.
The project team are indeed fortunate to have Steve Ansell as the Artistic Director. He has worked with Chinese Opera previously and toured China with UK performances. He has a good understanding of Chinese Opera and the aesthetics of Chinese artistic movement and expression which may have been alien to others. His appreciation and understanding has helped the development of the project tremendously.