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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Gender and Theatre: Portrayals of Women Characters on the Chinese Stage
4: Embodying the Public Sphere: Critiquing the Gendered Obligations in Youth-Centered Urban Theatre in Contemporary China
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Whitman College, United States
With its entangled intricacies and usually lengthy development, extra-marital relationships frequently play out in television drama and popular novels to attract the middle-aged audience and satisfy their imagination and curiosity. Experimental theatres for young urban intellectuals, on the other hand, rarely dipped into this plotline mix until the summer of 2018 when the experimental-branch of the National Theatre of China and the Beijing People’s Art Theatre presented three stage works with an exclusive focus on extra-marital relationships – one by Beijing People’s Art Theatre’s in-house playwright Ren Min and two adapted from American playwrights. Tailored for youth-centered urban theatres in Beijing, these works form what may be described in theatrical terms an avant-gardist critiquing of gendered relationships. What separates these works from popular media culture presentation of identical themes is their dashing caricature of women characters, who are identified and confined within the domestic or office spaces, in contrast to their male counterparts who are both socially and professionally mobile. Leveraging the satirical distance from characters as well as the expected audience response (predominantly younger consumers than the characters themselves), the plays deploy gendered space and obligations while also critiquing their status quo. The discussion raises questions concerning their subversion as well as unintended endorsement of gendered divisions in social and psychological space in contemporary China.