Curtain goes up on new theater bookstore

Ke Jiayun
The new Douban theater bookshop invites readers to explore the history, personalities and works of the stage.
Ke Jiayun
Shot by Hu Jun. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Subtitles by Yang Yang and Andy Boreham.

Theaters and bookstores dedicated to the stage arts have been popular dating back to the London of Shakespeare’s time, and now Shanghai has its own version.

Duoyun Books, a local bookstore chain with four outlets, has already dedicated one to focus on poetry. Its new theater bookstore, which opens today, is located near the Lyceum Theater on Changle Road in Huangpu District, the earliest European-style theater in China, dating back to 1867.

Curtain goes up on new theater bookstore
Hu Jun

The “Pavilion of People” section features books recommended by Chinese directors, scriptwriters, performers and researchers. 

The new bookshop is stocked with books about theater and its development — books about theatrical genres, personalities and works spanning from ancient times to the contemporary.

There is a special section of scripts and original drama works. The “Pavilion of People” provides biographies and recorded interviews with renowned playwrights and performers. There are also shelves dedicated to books on recommended lists provided by Chinese directors, scriptwriters, performers and researchers. The lists are a guide to some of the best books on various aspects of theater.

Meng Jinghui, China’s avant-garde theater director, brought his favorite books to the new branch of Duoyun Books, including “Postdramatic Theater” by German researcher Hans-Thies Lehmann, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez and “Dialogue” by Salvador Dali.

To Meng, reading is neither a staircase to ascend nor a bed for relaxation. It’s “water that is essential to life.”

Meng has been exploring the field of avant-garde theater for three decades, since his directorial debut with Harold Pinter’s “Dumb Waiter” in 1990.

The books he read become his library of scripts and an endless source of inspiration. Classics from both home and abroad were presented in turns on his stages, such as Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” Zweig’s “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” Lao She’s “Teahouse” and Yu Hua’s “To Live.”

“The classics are a rich ore that deserves to be dug up again and again, in more layers,” Meng said. “A director should disassemble a work and then put it together again with his own unique interpretation. The most important thing for each play is the director’s view toward the world and himself. We never aim to damage the classic. We provide a rereading of a classic and try to expose its inner energy.”

Curtain goes up on new theater bookstore
Ti Gong

The Douban section holds a collection of 300 books that have won top ratings on the bookshop’s website.

Another booklist provider is Chen Xinyi, 82, a director and scriptwriter who has directed more than 100 plays in her 60 years of theater life.

According to Chen, although theater and bookstore are independent of each other — one being spatial art and the other for reading — both can help people understand life and society. A theater bookstore links them. On a bookshelf called “Coming Soon,” readers can find scripts and original works of films, television dramas and stage plays that will be presented in China and overseas. These items can give readers a prior understanding of the works to be watched.

The London Review and Douban sections, which are two brand products of Duoyun Books, feature in the new store as well. The London Review part covers more than 600 books related to theater and film, while the Douban section is a collection of nearly 300 books that won top-rated scores on the bookshop’s website.

Books from fields such as animation, theater buildings, theatrical psychology and photography are also offered in the bookstore.

It’s the first time Duoyun Books has included a section on animation and comics, both in Chinese and original versions.

More than 1,000 types of merchandise themed on theaters are exhibited on tables around the store, including more than 200 items from overseas. The store will also host theater-related exhibitions and events.

Curtain goes up on new theater bookstore
Curtain goes up on new theater bookstore
Ti Gong

The bookstore’s state-of-the-art canteen and its cultural products. 

‘Theatrical book rack’

The design of the bookstore conveys the theater theme. It took the designer Lu Yongzhong two years to create what readers call a “labyrinth” because of its complex structure and small surprises at every corner.

From across the street, the bookstore looks like a large “theatrical book rack.” Inside the store, there are scenes reminiscent of the stage, like a spiral staircase, a chimney, arched doors, a bookshelf in the shape of a train and an underground “pond” made of mirrors.

Lu said he wanted the bookstore to be a big stage for all visitors, where they can even perform impromptu plays without scripts.

“You enter the bookstore, wandering and seeking,” said Lu. “Unexpectedly, you ‘fall into’ a space where you meet a metaphor or a conflict. Here you can enter into a theatrical world from different angles and in different ways.”

The windows display famous stage lines from plays and films, such as Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and Feng Tang’s “Ever Since We Love.” Even the restroom mirrors have stage lines.

China has a long history of theater. While ancient Greece produced tragedies and comedies, and ancient India had Sanskrit theater, China was performing operas that told stories through music and dance.

In modern times, Shanghai has been a leader in the development of theater. It has set itself the goal of becoming the “theater capital of Asia.”

Ling Yun, general manager of Duoyun Books parent Shanghai Century Cloud Culture Development Co, said that was the reason behind opening a theater bookstore. “It will attract not only drama lovers, but also those interested in learning about theater,” he said.

The bookstore can also help people connect with professional theatrical organizations and resources, such as specialized publishers, universities and performing groups.

Ling told Shanghai Daily that today’s bookstores are evolving into multiple facets.

“They will serve as places of study, exhibition halls, conference centers, lecture rooms and reading nooks,” he said. “They will catch your eye with appealing architecture and décor and provide high-quality content for readers.”

He added, “In the future, we will have more themed bookstores, maybe for music, design, philosophy or business.”

The new theater bookstore has a vintage-style cafe and a fashionable underground Japanese restaurant.

Through the end of January, the bookshop will celebrate its opening with lectures, concert, reading events and courses about art education.

Duoyun theater bookstore

Address: 398 Changle Rd

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