Beijing People’s Art Theatre

Beijing People’s Art Theatre
(Beijng renmin yishu juyuan)
Beijing People’s Art Theatre (BPAT) was established in 1952, shortly after the founding of the People’s Republic. From the very beginning, both the Chinese government and BPAT’s prominent founders, including the playwright Cao Yu and the director Jiao Juyin, wanted to make it the flagship of Chinese drama companies on a par with the Moscow Art Theatre.
The development of BPAT over the past fifty years may be divided into three periods. The first period (1952–9) marked the formation and maturation of this theatre’s unique style of performance. Under the guidance of its director Jiao Juyin, BPAT developed a system of performance that combined Western realism with China’s own theatrical tradition and produced a number of plays that employed the methods of the Stanislavsky system and the techniques of Chinese opera. During these eight years, BPAT mounted seventy productions, including such modern classics as Cao Yu’s Thunderstorm (Leiyu], Sunrise (Richu) and Peking Man (Beijing ren), and Lao She’s Teahouse (Chaguan).
During the second period (1960–76), BPAT’s output declined in the quantity and quality, as art became a victim of political campaigns. The impact of the Cultural Revolution was devastating. From 1967 to 1972 not a single play was performed. Lao She committed suicide; Jiao Juyin died from persecution and cancer.
The third period (1977 and currently) brought revival and new developments to Beijing People’s Art Theatre. Teahouse was restaged in 1979 with its original cast and toured Europe the following year. Several new ‘Beijing flavour’ plays in the style of Lao She’s masterpiece were also performed. More important was the emergence in the 1980s of an avant-garde/experimental theatre that challenged the dominance of socialist realism and the Stanislavsky system. Collaboration between playwright Gao Xingjian and director Lin Zhaohua in the production of Gao’s plays Alarm Signal (Juedui xinhao, 1982) and Bus Stop (Chezhan, 1983) led BPAT in a new direction—its tradition of realism infused with theatre of the absurd and Berthold Brecht’s epic theatre. The government’s ‘open door’ policy also enabled BPAT to stage a large number of Western plays (see Western theatre), providing Chinese dramatists with models and inspiration. The Western influence manifested itself in the adaptation of foreign plays as a method of dramatic creation. Many of the young director Meng Jinghui’s works produced in the 1990s belonged to this category.
During the fifty years of its existence, Beijing People’s Art Theatre has fulfilled the vision of its founders in becoming the leading company of spoken drama in China. Several factors account for its pre-eminence. First, it has developed its own theory and system of performance. Second, it has trained a group of top actors. Third, it has produced a body of works that exemplify its style and spirit. Last but not least, BPAT has continued to grow, absorbing new theories and techniques in the creation of a new Chinese theatre that is both modern and rooted in the Chinese tradition.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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