Wen Ling’s Dialogue with Chen Shi-Zheng
Time: April 2010
In Western Critics, the New York-based Chinese American director Chen Shi-Zheng is regarded as a “genius”, a “master”. Chen moved to the US in 1987 and since then has embarked on the path of theatrical creation. He’s been active in Western opera and theater. In his own words, he is a “bridge builder”, who has adapted classical Chinese stories such as Peony Pavilion, Monkey: Journey to the West, the Orphan of Zhao, and more, for the stage, bringing Chinese classic to the Western world. This has created a singular phenomenon where Chinese and Western culture meet.
In the spring of 2010, curator Weng Ling spoke with Chen Shi-Zheng in Beijing in an in-depth interview for the magazine “Art China”. Weng Ling believes that the high degree of cultural integration presented in Chen’s productions are inseparable with the hardship and vagabond life experience the theater-maker has had. Weng Ling’s gently probing and perceptive questions provided a space for Chen Shi-Zheng to reveal his inner world and share untold stories. Chen shared the turbulence he experienced in his mother country at a young age, his formative experience learning traditional Chinese opera, and studying in New York in adulthood. Under the influence of Western opera and pop culture, Chen was inspired and committed to bring the charm of Chinese opera to a wider audience.
The interdisciplinary thinking advocated by IDEAS can be seen in Chen’s early stage productions. In his theatrical adaptation of “Monkey: Journey to the West”, he invited the animation studio for the video game “Street Fighter” to create character designs, and invited the lead singer of Blur and Gorillaz songwriter Damon Albarn to compose the music. These cross-cultural collaborations are pioneering experimental drama that involve classic Chinese stories. In his film debut “Dark Matter”, a feature based on a series of social events triggered by the story of the Chinese student Lu Gang, the Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep appeared and waived any fees. Chen Shi-Zheng hopes to discuss the plight of Chinese students in the United States. An artist must first care about human beings and concerns around him before he engages in art creation. Chen Shi-Zheng’s thoughts are influencing a generation of drama practitioners, and the impact is long-lasting and profound.