Little Theatre

Little Theatre
(Xiao juchang)
‘Little Theatre’ in China, often characterized by experimentation and avant-garde work, refers to Huaju (spoken drama) staged in small theatres or non-theatre spaces with 50–400 seats. Following early twentieth-century Little Theatre movements in the West, it was first introduced into China in the 1920s and was called aimei de xiju, a transliteration of ‘amateur theatre’. The movement became widespread during the May Fourth Period, but soon subsided during the struggles between the CCP and KMT. ‘Little Theatre’ (xiao juchang, or hei xiazi/ ‘black box’) was resurrected in August 1982 when Gao Xingjian’s Absolute Signal, directed by Lin Zhaohua, was staged in a small rehearsal hall at the Beijing People’s Art Theatre. In late 1982, the Shanghai Youth Art Theatre presented Mother’s Song, directed by Hu Weimin, in its small rehearsal room. The popular success of both plays led to the rise of ‘Little Theatre’ performances.
By the mid 1980s, Huaju troupes in China’s major cities were staging productions in newly created ‘Little Theatre’ spaces.
‘Little Theatre’ has been flourishing since the 1990s, with nationwide festivals generating hundreds of productions. This is a direct reflection of socio-economic change during China’s transformation from a planned to market economy. Previously, Soviet-style 1,200–1,500 seat theatres were the standard. Responding to financial pressures brought on by diminishing state subsidies, ‘Little Theatre’ has lower production costs and serves the needs of an audience with greater individuality and a larger choice of entertainment venues. The intimacy of ‘Little Theatre’ is changing performance and staging techniques by engendering direct actor-audience communication and encouraging audience participation.
See also: Zhang Xian
Tian, Benxiang (ed.) (1996). Xin shiqi xiju lunshu [Discourse on Theatre of the New Era] Beijing: Cultural Art Press.
Yu, Shiaoling S. (ed.) (1996). Chinese Drama After the Cultural Revolution, 1979–1989: An Anthology. New York: Edwin Mellen Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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