Interview via email June 14, 2017
Photos by Li Li 李莉
KL: Let’s gradually hone in on the details. Start by giving me a background on the Nanluoguxiang Theatre Festival. Explain to me the intentions of a non-profit theatre festival? How long has it been running? Is it patron driven or funded by a government arts body?
RR: We are all idealists and enthusiasts that put art in the centre of all our considerations. Participating in such a non-profit festival you are aiming for getting the money that you invested back, no one can make any profits, however losing money is a constant risk. The financial pressure is enormous. More than any other form of theatre in China we are dependent on ticket sales.
The festival is mainly patron-funded but in recent years more and more artists become the patrons of their own art. That is why so many of us actually earn their living in the movie, television and advertisement industry while acting in a play is a thing of passion. From an actor’s salary, no one can survive in Beijing.
Only due to the generosity of the Austrian Embassy and the Austrian Cultural Forum we are able to grant the actors salaries. This is very important for me as I do not like the idea of extending self-exploitation to other artists. Only a scholarship from the German National Academic Foundation covering daily living costs puts me in a position to work for free.
It is the 8th year of the Nanluoguxiang Theatre Festival now. It was founded by Penghao’s owner Wang Xiang who made his fortune as a dentist and spends most of it as a patron of the performative arts. The ever-increasing rents in China make it more than difficult for the festival to survive. Wang Xiang and his team now put their whole life energy into saving the festival.
Many experimental forms of theatre had no home in China. Wang Xiang, Penghao, and the Nanluoguxiang Theatre Festival brought them into being. From the very start, they also cooperated with international artists, making it the biggest international theatre festival in China. They are the true creators of a theater without borders.
KL: Did you specifically choose to work with the Longfu Theatre or did they come to you? How does the relationship work between playwright and theatre?
RR: After the festival had chosen our production we were given a free hand in choosing a theatre. We had been searching for a suitable theatre a long time. We had rather contradictory expectations to the theatre building: We were searching a big stage that would grant enough space for dancing while also creating claustrophobic moments in the stage centre. The play is a lot about contradictions that appear logical the moment they are formulated. Intriguingly, a bigger stage can more vividly create the feeling of being at bay. For aesthetic reasons and because of the multinational nature of our production, this year we are the only production for a big stage within the festival.
When I saw Longfu Theatre for the first time I fell in love with it for another reason. The theatre is an old cinema with an industrial charm, apart from the big stage there are a couple of small cinema halls, the lobby exhibits old projectors and the popcorn machines are really ancient.
This ragtag interior fits the play perfectly. My idea is that the play does not start on the stage but when you enter the lobby of the theatre with the smell of popcorn and decades-old dust heated by projectors over and over again.
Longfu will be renovated soon and overworked completely. For the atmosphere of the play, we wanted to stage decidedly before the renovation. Our play is the last chance to see this industrial relict in its original form.
From the Subway Station Dongsi (Exit E) it is only 50 metres away, you will enter a Hutong and soon see the round arches of Longfu overseeing its district.
KL: What attracted you to the work of Ingeborg Bachmann? It's claimed she was perhaps the first feminist voice in German literature, is this part of her appeal for you? Are you trying to represent feminist voices in China?
RR: It is a shame! Ingeborg Bachmann was the female protagonist of the Group 47 that dominated post-war literature in the German-speaking countries. The men of this group like Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll or Peter Handke are widely known in China. Ingeborg Bachmann though, one of the most important poets of German literature and Austria’s most famous female writer is a household name only to a few experts in China. With events in context of the play, like exhibitions, readings and discussions that all feature Ingeborg Bachmann, we are trying to change this. But that is not the only reason why I appreciate Bachmann as a person. She also was a cosmopolitan figure at an early time living in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Egypt, incorporating all the different cultures into her work starting from the guts and not as an observer keen to exoticism. She created some universal characters with universal feelings that are like forerunners of a globalized world that at the same time does not lose its regional multicultural heritage.
KL: You mentioned that Bachmann’s stories lend themselves to Chinese adaptation, what particular aspects resonate between the German and Chinese? The depth of her characters is highlighted, is it easy to reflect the nuance of the original language in Chinese?
RR: When I read Bachmann’s later stories for the first time I was amazed how Chinese they appeared to me. More Chinese than Austrian or German actually. I went on a quest to find why I have this feeling, and what particularly makes a story “Chinese” to me. That is one reason why I wanted to put them on stage and at the same time bring them into discussion. These stories have never been adapted for stage and are as such not really adequate for it because they are rather static, they illustrate situations rather than telling a story. The depth of her characters is amazing, they are each as complex as Hamlet and Medea with a colorful background and a biography that is as detailed as a poem. Thus I decided to bring these characters together and forge them into a story through the means of a Five-Act Drama. I like to see myself as the midwife of Bachmann’s characters for stage. My play then is very far away from its inspiration but Bachmann’s way of constructing characters influenced me immensely through the whole process of inventing the play.
That I had to write the play from the scratch without employing any of Bachmann’s original words made it easier to transfer them into the Chinese cultural context. However, there are some details that are so different that you cannot completely translate them into the Chinese culture. These missing links are vital spots and in my opinion some of the most interesting moments of the play. We don’t polish these lost-in-translation moments but decidedly use them as material for our play.
KL: What can audiences expect? What’s the nature of the story and how will it be presented on the stage?
RR: It truly developed into a suspense drama. We play around a lot with the expectations of the audience. Our producer keeps repeating that what she sees now is a “Hitchcock movie on stage”. When you see our play you will never be sure what happens next. We mix tragic and comic elements, music from all over the world and dance, it shows the whole spectrum of human emotions.
Not yet one year ago the 21year old Xiao Ruan married a man 40 years older than her, the world famous psychiatrist Qiao Li. Slowly Xiao Ruan begins to realize that her workaholic husband does not seem to care about his own mother at all. So Xiao Ruan decides to help both of them and take care for her stepmother. But when she sees under which terrible circumstances Old Mrs. Qiao lives – in an old hutong flat full of rubbish – Xiao Ruan starts to question what kind of man she has married. Old Mrs. Qiao seems to hallucinate dogs barking at her. She is terribly afraid of these noises. For her own sake and for the sake of Old Mrs. Qiao, Xiao Ruan has to find out what kind of secrets surround her new family. In this quest, she is supported by her older brother Ruan Mading, who recently came back from his studies abroad. Back in Beijing Ruan Mading leads a life no one but Xiao Ruan can understand. From the first moment on he questioned Xiao Ruan’s motivation for marrying Qiao Li.
KL: Can you tell us a little about the players? Who are they and how have they engaged with this project?
RR: Our actors are highly-skilled professionals that know the ropes of how to thrill, surprise or amuse an audience. Born from 1976 to 1992 they are really diverse ensemble with completely different views on life and on the art of acting. They show immense dedication. We rehearsal full days, till 10 pm, every day, no weekends. Choosing the right actors took us half a year, but I am glad that we invested this time. I have the feeling that we have the perfect ensemble for this play.
Longfu Theatre (Subway Dongsi, Exit E)
23rd 24th 25th JUNE 19:30
Interview on May 23rd at Ramo, Fangjia hutong (with piles of bricks in the gutted doorway) 5月23日于方家胡同RAMO餐吧采访（在布满一堆瓦砾的门前）
KL: Tell me about this new project. Is this an ongoing thing or a once off charity event?
ET: It is an ongoing thing. Artists Abroad is a non-profit arts organisation I started last year. I would say, the birth of it was last Summer and I've been building it ever since. Our mission is to promote and advance the arts focusing on cross cultural exchange and collaborations.
One of our flagship programs is the Artist Spotlight series. We’re creating a collection of videos giving a look inside the studios and thoughts of artists from around the world. Everyone should check it out at artistsabroad.org/artist-spotlight. This is one of major things we're fundraising for next month. This summer we’ll be interviewing artists in Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. I’ve already spoken to artists from China, Korea, South Africa, Costa Rica, the UK and the US. This is just the beginning of a network of artists that has a global reach. It’s an opportunity to celebrate some of the best contemporary artists and get an inside view of their experiences as working artists in their respective countries.
In 2018 we will be launching our two fellowship programmes. The first is arts education based, placing an art teacher in an underserved community overseas for one year. The second fellowship places emerging artists with a career artist overseas to act as an intern, collaborator, and studio partner. Both programmes are scheduled to launch next year and this summer is the ground work for that launch. We’ll be researching and surveying the communities we want to work with, forming partnerships, and meeting with schools and community organizations. We'll also be running student workshops and interviewing artist for the Spotlight Series. These next three months are important for us to create sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with schools and with artists. Myself and Lisa, the Director of Outreach at Artists Abroad, will be heading up the project and every dime of the fundraising we do will go toward flights and accommodation as well as materials for the workshops we’re teaching. We’ll be traveling to Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
ET：这是个长期项目。Artists Abroad是我去年创办的一家非盈利艺术机构。我们正在纽约注册的过程中（我来自纽约），以后想带领它走向国际化。其实这个机构大概是在去年七月份成立的，自从那时起我便一直忙于公司的事务，其中一项是和来自不同国家、带有不同文化背景的艺术家们洽谈，并且做了一系列视频，你可以在我们的网站上看到，该系列名叫Artist's Spotlight，这也是我们筹款的主要原因之一。另一项是我们准备明年发起奖学金计划，主要针对两类群体，一类是以艺术教育为基础，为海外学校提供艺术老师。另一类是针对那些想要在海外艺术家们工作室里实习的艺术家。这些都是明年实施的计划，今年夏天主要是做实地调研。为了这个项目，我们将举办教学研讨会，采访一些艺术家，并且走访一些当地学校、非营利机构，寻求建立伙伴关系。这样一来，我们就能在2018年开展这个项目了，这个夏天只是项目的序幕。调研是很重要的，因为你也许知道尼泊尔的艺术项目的情况，但如果你不亲身到访尼泊尔并且和当地的艺术老师和学校洽谈，你不会知道他们需要什么。你要想从一个行业里获取信息，就要去采访他们，了解他们。这就是我和公司的外联部负责人在做的事，而且项目筹款的每一分钱都用于机票、住宿上了，同时还用于正在教公共艺术和壁画的工作室上，我们在尼泊尔已有一间工作室了，现在正准备在越南办一个，以后还会在泰国办一个吧。
KL: Run me through the process of how you actually started this up. Was this something you started solo?
ET: Yeah, I’m the director of the organization but I’ve had a small team around me from the very beginning. I remember exactly where it started. I was at The Local in Sanlitun having a burger with a friend and he asked me, “If you could spend next year doing anything, what would it be?” and my answer was that I would be a full-time artist but travel and collaborate with artists from different cities and communities around the world. If I could set up this relationship where you arrive and work in an artist's studio who was already established and create a collaborative project together. And that's where Artists Abroad started. Then I designed the fellowship programme and it's morphed and grown from there. I studied art education in my undergraduate and that’s what ultimately brought me to China. I have a passion for arts education and doing it well. That's how the educational fellowship came about. I see a need for a reimagining of art education in the 21st century. I see this as a need here in China, and I saw it as a need back in the US. So, I've designed a curriculum for the fellowship programme to that end; to integrate technology, to make collaborative projects, to focus on public display, to teach contemporary art making processes.
So, everything started very selfishly with what I want to do then grew into - how I can make that available to other artists and educators? Studying and teaching overseas has been the most transformative experiences of my life and I think that is not unique to me. Removing yourself from your culture, and your own understanding of the art world in your culture, and putting yourself in a new art world in a new culture is something that is…profound. Allowing that opportunity for other artists, especially young artists like myself, is something I’m excited to be involved in.
ET：我仍依稀记得这个项目的起始之地，那是在三里屯的The Local 餐厅，我和朋友正在啃汉堡，他突然问我：“你的职业生涯规划是什么？你明年有想做什么？”我说：“我想要做一个全职艺术家，这三个月在这儿，另外三个月在另外一个地方和另外一个艺术家合作，如果我能在所在的地方或者艺术家的工作室搭起联系，那么我将可以飞到一个地方就能找到一起合作的人。接着你便能开始下一个合作项目，然后不断往复。”这就是此项目开始的地方。接着呢，我开展了这个奖学金项目，但由于诸多原因，这个项目从那里开始演变和发展。我是一名美术老师，这也是我本科专业，我搬来中国也是因为艺术，所以我对艺术教育饱含热忱并且希望可以把它做好。我认为核心技巧很重要，但同时我想让艺术与人合作与互动，并且融入当代画法，这能将当代元素融入技巧里，这是教育奖学金想法的来源。这是我在中国教学时何在国际学校教学时看到的需求，当我回到美国时，我也能看到这种需求，不论到哪，特别是对于中高学教育来说，这都是一种能提高我们艺术教育的一种需求。所以，我通过融合科技，通过一些合作项目、关注一些艺术展览和研究一些当代实践理论，设计了相关课程和奖学金计划。所以，我从一开始的“我能做什么”转变到现在“如何把它提供给其他艺术家”。其实在国外以一名艺术家的身份去留学和教书是我这辈子带给我最大改变的经历。同时我相信不只是我一个人有过这种经历。 离开一个熟悉的文化环境和艺术氛围，来到一个陌生的环境和新的艺术世界有很深刻的意义。给一些艺术家机会，特别是给像我这样的年轻艺术家机会，能以一种令人兴奋的方式开启你的职业生涯。如果你是刚毕业的美术硕士生，你无地可去。就算你有住所，你还得缴纳昂贵的租金，工作几个月也就3-5千美元，还要因为旅行花掉一大笔费用，靠你的艺术品根本赚不了几个钱，同时你还要给艺术品投资，购买材料，付画廊入场费和其他费用，比如房租，找工作室。这是一场艰苦的拉锯战。
KL: Are you mainly concentrating on people from the US going to study and teach in developing countries?
ET: Anyone can apply from anywhere. It is based in New York but our team is spread out and applicants can absolutely apply from anywhere and go anywhere.
ET：我关注的是来自五湖四海的人，它总部在纽约主要是因为我必须得在自己的国家和所属的州注册公司。虽然我的公司入驻在纽约，但我的团队分散在世界各地，并且可以接受来自四面八方的申请。因为课程是英文授课，所以唯一的要求是申请者会说英语。 The Artist's Spotlight 这个项目现在已经开启了，你可以从我们的网站上看到，我们正在建立一个艺术家库，迄今为止，我采访过的艺术家有来自韩国，中国，英国，美国，南非，哥斯达黎加，今年夏天希望能采访一些东南亚的艺术家，明年夏天是非洲，再接着是南美的采访。在这些艺术家职业生涯的不同时期，通过所有媒介，创造更多内容和资源，从而能整合到艺术教育的课程里，为来自世界各地的艺术家们建立一个广泛的社交网。
KL: It seems like it has grown really rapidly, how did you put those plans into practice? You mentioned you have an office in New York, you’ve got a team.
ET: We have a small team. There are five of us, three board members including myself, and two more team members that help me with day-to-day operations.
KL: Is it all voluntary?
ET: Everything is voluntary. Everything for this summer is voluntary. My partner and I are going and it's all on our dime.
KL: How did you push it forward from your initial idea to where it is now?
ET: I had a lot of help from my two board members in designing the programmes, and together we dreamt up how we could make it happen. It's just tossing out all this stuff and getting some things back and then saying let's get started. It's all self-funded, all volunteers working on this, it's a big dream that's just getting started and this summer is the launching pad for all of it.
KL: So what’s the deal with the event?
ET: We have three events, the first one is June 9th at Hot Cat Club (if it’s not bricked up).
ET：我们即将有三个活动，一个是6月9号，在Hot Cat Club，如果它没被拆的话。
KL: There’s always a back door.
ET: Yeah, through the back door of Hot Cat Club we are throwing a big arts party. We’re featuring a few different artists, dancers, video artists, and every attendee will be asked to actively participate in art making. It’s a music-listening, drinking, creating, celebration and display of the arts. Everyone should come, It’s going to be a lot of fun.
The second one is that Daniel [Rothwell of Loreli] has volunteered to help us by contributing the proceeds from his birthday event at Four Corners on June 17th to Artists Abroad. We’re really grateful for their willingness to do that.
Then we will be working with the Loreli team during the Affordable Art Market at Yue Space on June 25th where we will be running an art raffle for an original painting. [note: This was arranged with another member of Loreli so KL was not being disingenuous when asking for details. Also, the art raffle is going to be excellent so come to the art market!] Each of these events will go towards the costs of sending Artists Abroad through South Asia from July-September. AND each event is also promised to be great fun, so show up!
ET：可以通过Hot Cat Club后门进去，我们即将举办一个大型的艺术party，我们会展示许多不同的艺术家，有舞者、视频制作家、来自中央美院的学生和他们的作品。我们还会邀请所有参与者来亲自参与艺术创作，并且现场所有人一起制作壁画。我和我一堆同学会提前设计好一切，然后在当晚和所有人一起现场完成这个作品，同时现场还会有音乐、饮品、一些艺术作品的展览；第二个活动是在Daniel [Rothwell of Loreli] 的生日派对上，他将为Artists Abroad这个项目捐款，我们非常感激他的善举；最后一个是6月25日，我们会在乐空间承办的 Affordable Art Market 上和LORELI合作，那时候我们将会为一副原创绘画作品进行抽奖活动。（注意：此次对话是在KL不知情抽奖活动的前提下进行的，所以KL不是在刻意宣传的哦。此次抽奖环节会很精彩，所以一定要来噢！）这三个活动所筹集的款项将会作为维持公司做这些活动和未来活动的开销。
ARTISTS ABROAD is nonprofit organization using the arts as a catalyst for change around the world. We provide visual artists opportunities to immerse themselves in communities abroad and to work side by side with local artists and students. We empower artists to leverage creative projects as a means of cross cultural collaboration and exchange.
Our team of artists and art educators believes that multicultural awareness is integral to 21st century artistic practice and are committed to equipping the next generation of creatives to be global citizens.
Find out more at: http://artistsabroad.org/
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