Church Basement Bomb Shelter


Church Basement Bomb Shelter, 2009

Bertolt Brecht said he was inspired to write his essay “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting” after seeing a performance of the famous Beijing Opera star Mei Lanfang, in Moscow on April 14, 1935.  Famous directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Konstantin Stanislavski and Bertolt Brecht were present at the performance and following discussion.  A transcript of the meeting was published in a Chinese Opera Journal in Beijing.  This transcript was believed to be ‘documentation’ of the event, but was later discovered to be a fictional play.  I am interested in the idea of a fictionalized account being misappropriated as real and how this may affect people’s understanding of themselves.  I am staging this ‘documentation’ as a play with Peking Opera actors performing the roles of the famous directors.  In posing the Peking Opera actors as Brecht, Eisenstein, and other directors, I am playing with subverting the roles of the creators and the performers of cultural symbols.  

The re-enactment is based on portions of the play Starfall by Lars Kleberg, which imagines the conference after the performance of Mei. Chinese Peking Opera actors perform all roles, coming in and out of Peking Opera performing style.

The location alternates between a staging in a church basement in New York’s Chinatown and a bomb shelter turned social club/community center in Hangzhou.  It is decorated with flags and banners to look like a Soviet government meeting hall- red stage curtain, black and white portraits of Lenin and Mao/Chiang Kaishek, garlands of red fabric along the perimeter of the room, Chinese and Russian flags hanging in center.  The light is bright fluorescent, very non-theatrical and the effect is more like a high school play in a cafeteria.