'Thunderstorm' of Huju opera drenches Shanghai university students
Huju Opera, the unique traditional theater performance genre in Shanghai dialect, is trying to appeal to the younger generation by entering university campuses to directly connect with college students.
One of the latest attempts was a visit by the Baoshan Huju Opera Troupe to East China Normal University, which attracted more than 200 Chinese and international students. The event, held last Friday, was also part of the university's efforts to immerse its students, both from China and abroad, in an experience of Shanghai culture.
The troupe brought to the university a short episode of its innovative performance of famous Chinese playwright Cao Yu's masterpiece "Thunderstorm" in Shanghai's local tongue and invited the students to watch the full play at Wanping Theater next month.
Hua Wen, director of the troupe and lead actress of the drama, introduced to students details of the play that centers on the blood relationship and entanglements of two families from different social classes and which is recognized as one of the most influential works of modern Chinese drama.
She told the young audience that the play had been a repertoire of the opera troupe, which involves singing and dialogues, but this time, they had adapted it into a modern drama with only dialogues to make it more accessible for young people and easier for them to understand.
"There are strict pronunciation rules in traditional Shanghai dialect but the language is becoming more flexible now. So we've also changed the pronunciation of the words for some characters to show the difference between generations in the play, so that it is easier for the younger generation to grasp," explained Hua.
Wu Wencong, director of the Shanghainese version of "Thunderstorm," said the troupe had set up stage settings with unique Shanghai elements.
"Traditionally, the play features a background of a mansion in the north, but in our play, we use a huge floor-to-ceiling window, a common feature in mansions in Shanghai," she noted.
"And also we use Maillard-inspired fashion colors, which involves creating layers of various shades of dime and pale hues that's been popular among young people recently," Wu added. "The hues are also perfect to indicate the coming of a thunderstorm."
Zhu Kang, an associate professor of international Chinese studies at East China Normal University, told the students that the play was created in 1933 when Cao was only 23 years old and modern drama had only about 15 years of history in China. It became a canon for later playwrights to pen modern dramas.
"It is recognized as one of the most influential works of modern Chinese drama as it includes very exquisitely designed plots and lines and can be interpreted by different generations of audience with their understanding of life, such as class struggle and awakening of female consciousness," he said.
The troupe players invited some students to learn how to say some of the drama lines in Shanghai dialect during the event.
"The dialect in Yunnan is quite different from Shanghai dialect. So for me, saying the lines in Shanghai dialect took me back to the 1930s," said Ke Yifan, a student from southwest China's Yunnan Province.
Nawanan Woraditnitiwaraatorn, a doctoral student of International Chinese Education from Thailand, learned about the play when she was an undergraduate at Xiamen University.
"I have seen other plays in mandarin," she said. "It's the first time that I watched 'Thunderstorm,' and it was in Shanghai dialect. I found it very interesting as the pronunciation in the play is different from that spoken by my teachers and schoolmates in daily life. Some of the words sounded like their equivalents in mandarin but some were quite different. But it was not a big problem as the lines were displayed on the screen.
"I was really hooked by the performance and I would like to watch the full version, if possible."