This March saw the second phase of the Royal Court International Department and British Council’s extraordinary new playwriting project with a group of 16 Chinese writers. In the tranquility provided by an old Buddhist temple in the heart of Beijing, the group gathered to discuss and work on the first drafts of their plays. Joining them for a week of intensive work were playwrights Carl Miller and April De Angelis and Elyse Dodgson and Sam Pritchard from the Royal Court. Two of the playwrights reflect on the work they’re developing as part of the workshop and what it means in terms of their writing:
Half a century ago, there were quite a few Chinese plays that captured the zeitgeist of China with verve and delicacy (such as Teahouse and Thunderstorm). These works have since moved and inspired generations and allowed all of us a taste of that particular piece of history, of all the loves, pains, dreams and horrors of that people. The sad thing is, and I’ll be really honest, that we don’t have that kind of work in our time. Not even close. Most contemporary Chinese theatre works have very little intention to engage with our shared reality and are often vapid and opportunistic. I’ve met many people who blamed this utter lack of originality and social responsibility on the playwrights of our time and I almost believed them. What happens to the playwrights? Am I the only one, among the people I know, who really cares?
But that’s such a lie. In this workshop, to my great surprise, I’ve discovered such a great bunch of unique and strong voices that tried their best to tell the story of our time. It is ‘us’. To be part of this group is truly empowering and of course, with their experience, skills, patience and generosity, Elyse, Carl, April and Sam from Royal Court have inspired us to write that play we’ve always been burning to write. I know too well there are political, commercial, and technical factors that might stop these works from ever arriving at the stage. But the fact that we are all writing together as a group is, I believe, the beginning of a beginning. I hope that fifty years from now, when people look back to our time, they can feel its life through the plays by people like us.
I would say this project creates an extraordinary connection between me and the other 15 writers. Writing is a personal and lonely task, very often a task that requires one to spend tremendous time and efforts completing on your own, and such challenges escalate further as we are currently living in an environment which there are a lot of external influence and pressure. In this project, everyone has offered some inputs. To selflessly offer our thoughts and ideas to others as a writer, especially those we think we need to carefully protect, or even allowing others to challenge them, requires courage. In this workshop setting, we have all made some breakthroughs that we did not manage to do in the past, and thus forming the kind of atmosphere that cannot be observed in any similar kind of previous writing workshops that I have participated in before. There was also some amazing transformation among us, which might bring forth some exciting results in the future. Personally, I have learned some significantly useful techniques about writing and how to discuss your own work with others, how to improve yourself as well as your script, making it more mature, during the writing process. It is the connection that really matters – the connection between other young writers who belong to the same generation as I. Seeing how they observe the world and our daily reality and how they write about it is a more important experience than bettering my writing skills.