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Immersive theater and opera in China


10-13-2016 18:13 BJT

Imagine a stage performace where you don't have to stay put in your seats, but instead are encouraged to stand up, move around and even interact with the characters. Well that's what immersive theater is all about and it has been gaining popularity across the globe. So how is this new form of entertainment being recieved in China?

CCTV reporter Shen Li was at the premiere of the immersive opera "Giovanni" in Beijing and brings us this report.

Many people go to the theatre to lose themselves in a story, to forget about their everyday worries and be transported into another world. However, no kind of theatre transports an audience quite like the immersive theatre. 

As a highlight of this year's Beijing Music Festival, London's Silent Opera has brought "Giovanni", a digitally re-mastered version of Mozart's ultimate bad boy Don Giovanni to Beijing.

Audience members can literally follow Giovanni in his last hours as he hides out in a warehouse.

"Because you're so close, you're more involved, we can tell the story of a more intense and emotional way," said Daisy Evans, founder of silent opera.

The idea of offering more freedom to audience members already exists in many industries. And live performance is just catching up.

"This kind of development happens in so many different industries, we have a bigger environment and a more exploratory powers, but that doesn't seem to happen so quickly in live performance, and especially in opera, so we want to bring that element of, sort of freedom of choice and agency into opera, which traditionally hadn't had any. What we want to do is really to give people a way to access the opera, to be really inside it, like they did in their films, their games, to give them a real environment, to really transport them for a moment. Just for the hour that they are here, we want them to be in a truly different place," said Ziggy Jacobs-wyburn, technical designer of"Giovanni".

The immersive experience has also been gainning populary in China over the past few years.

Last year saw the debut of the Shanghai production of "Sleep No More", which has been a smash hit in New York for five years.

The play was staged in a five-story building with a hotel-like setting where visitors can visit different floors to watch 30 performers presenting Shakespeare's "MacBeth".

Something the Bard might never begin to fathom.

In immersive theatre, the audience are not merely passive bystanders. They are part of the story, however small their role may be, and they are in the middle of the action.

And one of the advantages of immersive theater is that you can always take a step forward if you can't see things clearly enough.

"We very much encourage people to stand up and walk around, if they can't see something, don't just sit there...you should want to craft your own experience as much as it's being crafted for you," said Daisy Evans.

And with this immersive opera "Giovanni", Beijing Music Festival is certainly pusing the envelolope.

"The Beijing audience always craves something new to stimulate their senses, and this special version of "Giovanni" could be a good start for them to get to know opera, which is often seen as a high-brow art form. And this kind of avant-garde troupe abroad will certainly inspire homegrown art troupes to innovate and evolve," said Zou Shuang, associate program director of Beijing Music Festival.

And Chinese artists are responding to this trend.

"Mermaid Besides Still Water" by Chinese stage director Meng Jinghui, which debuted earlier in June, is often regarded as the first immersive theater in China. 

Although critics point out that the play felt experimental rather than fully-formed, one can only imagine a world of less-inhibiting options for future productions.

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