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In 1917–18, the new republican governments of Russia, Germany, and Austria nationalized their former court property. A monarchic-turned-national heritage of prestigious opera and dramatic theatres weighed heavily on national and regional budgets, prompting first attempts to create centralized forms of theatre governance. In a second wave of theatre reorganization in the mid-1930s, the Soviet government created ‘union theatres’ under a Committee for Arts Affairs; the German and Austrian theatres underwent the Nazi Gleichschaltung (1933–35 and 1938); and France, a ‘democratic outlier’, opted for nationalizing the Opéra and Opéra-Comique under the Réunion des théâtres lyriques nationaux. These conglomerates have so far been little studied as historically specific forms of theatre management, particularly from a comparative, trans-regime perspective. What balance can be struck between economic, political, and ‘artistic’ costs and benefits? How does ‘Baumol’s law’ of decreasing theatre profitability apply to these very different politico-economic systems, as well as to war economies? Dictatorships reveal an economic seduction power, while this essay argues for confirming a long-term ‘great European convergence’ of state-centred theatre management, internal structure, and accountability, both in peace and war. Here, the stated goals and short-term contingencies yielded to trends originating from the logic of theatre production itself, and the compromises that the state, theatre professionals, and the public accepted in exchange for the capital of prestige. Alexander Golovlev (PhD, European University Institute in Florence, 2017) is a senior research fellow at the HSE Institute for Advanced Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at the University of Moscow. His recent publications include, for New Theatre Quarterly, ‘Theatre Policies of Soviet Stalinism and Italian Fascism Compared, 1920–1940s’ (2019), and ‘Balancing the Books and Staging Operas under Duress: Bolshoi Theatre Management, Wartime Economy, and State Sponsorship in 1941–1945’, Russian History XLVII, No. 4 (2020).
In this article Gretchen Minton and Mikey Gray discuss an adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy Cymbeline that toured Montana and surrounding states in the summer of 2021. Minton’s sections describe the eco-feminist aims of this production, which was part of an international project called ‘Cymbeline in the Anthropocene’, showing how the costumes, set design, and especially the emphasis upon the female characters created generative ways of thinking about the relationship between the human and the more-than-human worlds. Gray’s first-person narrative at the end of each section reflects upon her role of Imogen as she participated in an extensive summer tour across the Intermountain West and engaged with audience members about their own relationship to both theatre and the natural world. This is a story of transformation through environmentally inflected Shakespeare performance during the time of a global pandemic.
Gretchen E. Minton is Professor of English at Montana State University, Bozeman, and editor of several early modern plays, including Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida, Twelfth Night, and The Revenger’s Tragedy. She is the dramaturg and script adaptor for Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and the co-founder of Montana InSite Theatre. Her directorial projects include A Doll’s House, Timon of Anaconda (see NTQ 145, February 2021), Shakespeare’s Walking Story, and Shakespeare for the Birds. Mikey Gray received her BA in Theatre and Performance from Bard College, New York, with a conservatory semester at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney. She has performed in four productions with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, while other actor engagements include Chicago Shakespeare Theater, American Conservatory Theater, Strawdog Theater Company, The Passage Theatre, and McCarter Theatre Center.
World-renowned for having made a totally new kind of theatre, director-designer Robert Wilson first astonished international audiences in Paris in 1971 with Le Regard du sourd (Deafman Glance) and then with his twenty-four-hour Ouverture at the first edition of the Festival d’Automne in 1972. He also refers in this Conversation to Einstein on the Beach, premiered at the Avignon Festival in 1976, as another example among more of France offering him a home before he eventually founded the Watermill Center in 1992 on Long Island in the State of New York. Watermill, a laboratory for multidisciplinary creativity, opened its doors to the public in 2006 and is a focal point of the Conversation as a whole. Wilson’s immediately pre-Covid-pandemic production of The Messiah by Mozart was premiered at the Mozartwoche Salzburg in February 2020 and performed subsequently in Paris during a brief Covid ‘lull’ in September of that year. Discussion of this pivotal work leads to reflections on the opera productions that he had staged not so long before it, emphasizing the elements fundamental to his compositions – light, time, space, architecture, and silence. The Conversation, followed by audience questions addressed to Wilson, took place live online and on Facebook on 4 December 2020 as a prelude to the Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil in Chile, which opened on 3 January 2021. This was the Festival’s twenty-eighth year, but in a significantly restricted form due to Covid-19. A sequel to the Santiago interchange, also online but this time located in Paris, occurred on 17 September 2021. It resumes dialogue mainly on the Watermill Center’s broader cultural and social goals in the present and for the future, noting as well Wilson’s then current activities in Paris: a heavy schedule of four productions from the beginning of September to the end of December 2021, and a sound installation planned for 2022.
Maria Shevtsova gratefully thanks the Fundación Teatro a Mil and its General Director Carmen Romero for their initiative in inviting Robert Wilson with her to converse publicly as part of the Festival a Mil, and for permission to edit the transcript for publication in New Theatre Quarterly. Thanks are due to interpreters Margit Schmohl and Jorge Ramirez, and to Maria Luisa Vergara for organizing the audience participation included below, as well as to Alfonso Arenas, former Coordinator of the Education and Communities Area at the Theatre Foundation a Mil. Warmest gratitude is extended to Robert Wilson for his generosity in all sorts of ways, and not least for finding the time to continue the Conversation in Paris. Thanks for their kind support to Nuria Moreno, Production at Teatro Real Madrid, Christof Belka, Executive Director of RW Work Ltd, Clifford Allen, Director of Archives of the Watermill Center, and Leesa Kelly and Noah Khoshbin, curators of the 2021 outdoor exhibition Minneapolis Protest Murals at the Crossroads Summer Festival held at the Watermill Center. The exhibition presented 190 public artworks from the 900 boards of the Minneapolis Protest Murals which were created organically in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020. Special thanks for their gift of images are given to photographers Lucie Jansch, Javier del Real, Kristian Kruuser and Kaupo Kikkas, Lovik Delger Ostenrik, and Martyna Szczesna. Kunsang Kelden and Maria Shevtsova transcribed this Conversation in two parts. Shevtsova, Editor of New Theatre Quarterly and author of Robert Wilson (Routledge, 2007; updated edition, 2019) edited and annotated the combined transcript for publication.
The recent barbaric murder of an investigative journalist in Malta who was looking into corruption at the top echelons of power sparked off a civil society movement, Repubblika, spurring ordinary citizens into participating in collective protest action. The movement also incorporated a loose grouping of women calling themselves ‘Occupy Justice’. Different forms of protest against government corruption have resulted in the resignation of various senior politicians and high-ranking officials, including the Prime Minister. Taking as a point of departure the struggle against the unequal distribution of power as defined by Michel Foucault and Jacques Rancière, the empowering force of civil protest is here examined in relation to how power is appropriated and how institutional power is resisted. Micromobilization and mesomobilization are seen as two means of staging protest and creating a common force with which to confront corrupt power structures. Protest, power, and resistance are viewed in the light of theatrical events; the creative means deployed to stage protests are discussed. The aesthetic qualities meant to transform perception and move people to action for bringing about political change are highlighted in relation to both sensory and symbolic dynamics. Vicki Ann Cremona is Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Malta and the author of Carnival and Power: Play and Politics in a Crown Colony (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), as well as a co-editor of Theatre Scandals: Social Dynamics of Turbulent Theatrical Events (Brill-Rodopi, 2020).
This article re-examines Krapp, ou La Dernière bande (1961), an opera adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (1958), which was a collaboration between the playwright and the Romanian composer Marcel Mihalovici. Beckett’s changes to the libretto give new insights into the writer’s developing concerns around form and his aesthetic of failure. In the programme for the Bielefeld production of the opera in 1961, Beckett supplied a sentence from the German translation of his Texts for Nothing, although inverting its first two clauses. His inclusion of this line in the programme affords us greater insight into Beckett’s ever evolving conception of the play. Shane O’Neill’s doctoral research on Samuel Beckett’s self-translated drama is funded by the Irish Research Council. He teaches at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, and has published essays in Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui and the edited volume Samuel Beckett and Translation (Edinburgh University Press, 2021).
This article explores the role of theatre in the strategies of cultural diplomacy that developed in Italy between the last years of the liberal state (1919–22) and the rise of Benito Mussolini. It covers the period until 1927, when the establishment of the Istituti Italiani di Cultura (Italian Cultural Institutes) and the approval of a new regulatory framework for migration marked a new era for fascist soft-power ambitions. The article draws upon unpublished sources of the Historical Diplomatic Archive of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and offers a new perspective on the use of theatre and the performing arts as a tool for cultural diplomacy through the testimony of such flagship authors as Luigi Pirandello, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Alfredo Casella, and Pietro Mascagni. Matteo Paoletti is a Senior Assistant Professor in Theatre Studies at the University of Bologna and part of the research project ‘Historia y patrimonio de la Argentina moderna’ with the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, Buenos Aires. He was a Cultural Attaché at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and oversaw the 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage for the Italian National Commission for UNESCO. His recent publications include ‘A Huge Revolution of Theatrical Commerce’: Walter Mocchi and the Italian Musical Theatre Business in South America (Cambridge University Press, 2020)
This article uses historical-ecological insights for a re-reading of two little-known mid-twentieth-century Australian plays, Oriel Gray’s The Torrents and Eunice Hanger’s Flood, which highlight developments relevant to the environmental disasters of today. In particular, the article focuses on the significance of key cultural assumptions embedded in the texts – and a revival of The Torrents in 2019 – including those to do with land use in a period of accelerating development. This approach offers new insights into the dominance of mining, irrigation, and dam-building activities within the Australian ethos, landscape, and economy. One of these insights is the framing of development as progressive. The article thus also examines how development projected as progressive takes place amid the continuing denial of prior occupation of the land by First Nations peoples and of knowledge systems developed over thousands of years. The intersectional settler-colonialist-ecocritical approach here seeks to capture the compounding ecosystem that is modern Australian theatre and its critique. The intention is not to apply revisionist critiques of 1950s plays but to explore the historical relationship between humans, colonialism, and the physical environment over time. Denise Varney is Professor of Theatre Studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Her research is in modern and contemporary theatre and performance, with published work in the areas of ecocriticism, feminism, and Australian theatre. Her most recent book is Patrick White’s Theatre: Australian Modernism on Stage 1960–2018 (Sydney University Press, 2021).
This article explores the history of the German theatre in St Petersburg in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a subject forgotten for a hundred years due to historical reasons. Svetlana Melnikova uses cross-cultural research methods, which, as she has discovered, appeared in Russian criticism concerning the arts as early as the nineteenth century. The ideas of Russian scholars turned out to be concordant with modern findings in cross-cultural dialogue and comparative research methods, because the process of establishing Russian culture was influenced by earlier cultures in a variety of ways. The German diaspora in the capital of the Russian Empire at the turn of the nineteenth century, and the artistic qualities of the German theatre (the activities of its managers, the company, the repertoire, theatre buildings, as well as the target audience) described in this article, are here presented as the expressive elements of intercultural communication that provide theatre history with a sense of actuality. The author introduces unique archive materials from the Russian State Historical Archive, as well as from publications preserved in Russia-focused departments of major Russian and German libraries. Examining these materials, she reconstructs the history of this rare phenomenon in the context of the mutual influence between German and Russian theatres. Svetlana Melnikova is Professor of Art at the St Petersburg State University of Film and Television. She is the author of six books, including Kotzebue in Russia (2005), and ninety-six articles on the history, theory, and practice of theatre in Russian and German.
Since 1988, Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt has been performed outdoors in the summer at Gålå in Gudbrandsdalen in Norway. Peer Gynt is particularly connected to Norwegian national culture and identity, and this connection becomes particularly poignant at Gålå. The event focuses on giving the audience a celebratory national-romantic experience of the typical Norwegian landscape, traditional Norwegian culture, and Peer Gynt, the most Norwegian of all plays. The question is whether a production here necessarily has to be subjected to the celebratory atmosphere of the event or whether it is possible for a production in these circumstances to question the hegemonic, national-romantic ideology that pervades the event. This article uses Chantal Mouffe’s concept of ‘critical art’ and Louis Althusser’s reflections on the relationship between theatre and ideology to discuss this question in respect of how the productions at Gålå are marketed. The article argues that, whatever critical potential there is in performing Peer Gynt at Gålå, it can be found by directly staging and questioning the expectations that the event creates and that audience members bring with them. Sigrid Strøm Reibo employed such a strategy in her 2017 production, which is the focus of attention here. Lars Harald Maagerø is a scholar and director whose research is concerned with the political and cultural impact of contemporary theatre. His productions include A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night with Thesbiteatret in Norway, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Opera Østfold.
Literary scholars and linguists have argued extensively that language is not simply a purely representational vehicle of thought but its determining medium, whose ordering powers not only shape cognizance of reality but are also actively involved in processes of imperialism and cultural erasure. It is the determinative yet slippery quality of language, prompting the loss of meaning in attempts at translation, that colonial powers manipulated to violent effect and which, as enacted in the plays of Nyoongah Indigenous Australian playwright Jack Davis, continue to haunt history and the present. This article considers how a history and culture made unspeakable by colonialism through the erasure of Indigenous Australian oral traditions, languages, and historical perspectives is translated on to the Anglophone stage in the plays of Davis, one of the first Indigenous playwrights to be published and performed internationally, and how this was received by the witnessing audience. Davis achieves this theatrical translation not only through the negotiation and manipulation of colonial language and verbatim history alongside Indigenous languages, enacting a kind of linguistic double consciousness, but also through physical theatre and dance. The latter are the central means of communicating meaning and knowledge in Nyoongah culture. Jacqueline M. Brown is a graduate student at Worcester College, University of Oxford, studying for a Master of Studies in English (1900–present). This article received first prize in the 2022 TORCH Reimagining Performance Network Graduate Essay Prize competition run in collaboration between the University of Oxford and New Theatre Quarterly. For more information on the Reimagining Performance Network, see <https://torch.ox.ac.uk/reimagining-performance-network>.
Provincial touring companies of the late Victorian period, comprising mostly unknown actors and actresses, have received minimal scholarly attention until recently. The sheer number of ‘on-the-road’ artists who were employed in such enterprises from the late nineteenth century onwards increased to such an extent that to establish a framework for their individual and collective study presents significant challenges. This article addresses this problem by proposing a method, grounded in genealogy, that records the male and/or female artists of a given touring company over its full term without selective bias in order to establish a cohort of subjects for further examination. It tracks the touring companies of actor-manager Lawrence Daly, an individual unheard of today, between 1887 and 1900, the year of his death. One hundred and twenty-five female artists employed by Daly during this period are recovered, and their careers, family histories, and personal identities are subjected to statistical analysis. The conclusions drawn here not only contribute to the better understanding of the social history of non-elite female provincial artists of the late nineteenth century, but also afford the opportunity to shine a light on figures whose names, lives, and achievements are long forgotten. Further, a case is made for the method as the basis for a wide-ranging database of provincial touring companies and artists. Bernard Ince is an independent theatre historian who has contributed several articles on Victorian and Edwardian theatre to New Theatre Quarterly.
This article explores the revival of Palestinian indigenous performance practices that were part of the Sufi Nabi Musa festival. Focusing on the 2018 and 2019 government-sponsored performances, it examines how the different sociopolitical changes that took place in Palestinian society, following the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land in 1948, have led to the marginalization, politicization, and eventual revival of indigenous performance practices, which are an important part of Palestinian theatre history. Exploring Sufi rituals as indigenous performance practices shows that theatre forms not based on appropriations of European-style theatre existed in Palestine in the twentieth century. It also raises important questions as to why many of them have been neglected by Palestinian non-governmental theatre organizations (NGOs). Dia Barghouti is the Arab Council for the Social Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow at the Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Morocco. Her research focuses on indigenous performance traditions in the Levant and North Africa. Her work on theatre and Sufism has appeared in New Theatre Quarterly and Jadaliyya.
German film artist Jan Speckenbach ingeniously contributed to the development of live video on the stage, and this discussion focuses on his education, as well his as experimental collaborations with director Frank Castorf at the Volksbühne Berlin, starting in 2000. Speckenbach’s background in film and media studies facilitated his explorations of uncharted territory in the theatre, going from a set of fixed cameras on the stage to the use of a camera crew with live-editing for augmented images as part of the whole directing concept and process. His first-hand insights into how actors have interacted with this new technology and how filmmaking can be an integral part of the theatre indicate clearly that filmmaking has played an invaluable role in recent theatre history. Speckenbach here also speaks of his collaborations with other directors, notably Sebastian Hartmann and René Pollesch, and about the future perspectives of this technology, which has changed the theatre altogether.
Jan Speckenbach studied art history, philosophy, and media in Karlsruhe, Munich, and Paris during the 1990s. At the beginning of the new millennium he participated in the development of video theatre with Frank Castorf and, now a successful filmmaker, he also continues to work in the theatre. His short film Gestern in Eden [Yesterday in Eden] premiered at Cannes in 2008, while the full-length feature film Die Vermissten [The Missing] was shown at the 2012 Berlinale and Freiheit [Freedom] at the 2017 film competition at Locarno. In 2020 he directed the live-stream of Der Zauberberg [The Magic Mountain, after Thomas Mann’s novel] at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin (premiered online in November 2019), which was subsequently invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen. Thomas Irmer is the editor-in-chief of the Berlin-based monthly Theater der Zeit. He has co-edited two books on the work of Frank Castorf – Zehn Jahre Volksbühne Intendanz Frank Castorf (2003) and Castorf (2016). During the last forty years he has authored, among other significant writings, numerous analytical articles and interviews on Castorf’s creative output.
At the 2021 Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM), Southeast Asian dramatists presented new works that combined personal histories with the overarching political struggles in the region. One presentation, Deleted Scenes in SEA: Ownership Under Censorship, not only took up the issues of censorship and self-censorship but also entangled the distinct cultural identities of three countries – Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand – by reprising scenes formerly banned in them. The new versions were directed and performed in a language of one of the other countries. Adapting each other’s censored scenes, and re-enacting their similar experiences in countering political repression, required empathetic imagination, and could be a new theatrical platform for creating a sense of regional solidarity. Catherine Diamond is a Professor of Theatre and Environmental Literature at Soochow University, Taiwan. She is the author of Communities of Imagination: Contemporary Southeast Asian Theatres (University of Hawai’i Press, 2012) and the playwright/director of the Kinnari Ecological Theatre Project (KETEP) in Southeast Asia.
This study discusses the potentials and challenges of Zoom theatre performances during the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It examines the utilization and applicability of videoconferencing software Zoom, and other streaming software compatible with it, in creating a viable performance option for theatre practitioners and audiences during mandatory social distancing. Such software can be a strategy for social inclusion, alleviating the adverse effects of extended quarantine. The article also discusses the technical and performative aspects of Zoom theatre, pointing out its pros and cons. It uses a critical and analytical approach to performances of two Zoom plays, Pandemic Therapy and Corona Chicken (Part Two), revealing how the playwright, dramaturg, and actors manage to present a live theatrical experience capable of engaging audiences and promoting social interaction. Khaled Mostafa Karam is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at the Suez University in Egypt and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Cognitive Science, Case Western Reserve University, USA. He has published eleven articles on the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science and drama. Galal Mohamed Naguib is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Suez University and author of several articles in the fields of demographic analysis and the sociology of art.
Since the 1990s, there has been a large number of ‘how-to’ manuals published in English for aspiring playwrights. By and large, these texts treat the pedagogy of playwriting as a recent phenomenon. However, a series of relatively unknown books from the mid-nineteenth century were written with the purpose of teaching the craft of dramatic writing, emphasizing the importance of a hands-on understanding of the theatre and the individual roles within it. This article argues that, while these books are representative of the historical context in which they were written, they also contain advice which is still useful for playwrights, along with fascinating individual characteristics. Texts featured include one of the earliest manuals discovered, written by the anonymous ‘A Dramatist’; a text by the first (known) woman to write a how-to manual in English; and a book which uses a mathematical formula as a foundation for writing a script. Karen Morash is Lead Academic Tutor on the BA Theatre Studies at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. She is a playwright and poet, and works as a dramaturg with the theatre company Head for Heights.
The story of Medea’s murder of her own children to gain revenge against their faithless father has been tackled from many angles by playwrights and directors from Euripides’ time to the present. In recent years, due to highly sensationalized, real-life cases of mothers murdering their children, it has become fodder for sociologists, criminologists, psychologists, and feminists. Many recent productions (both original plays and directorial approaches to Euripides’ original) have avoided tackling the difficult questions raised by Euripides’ ending, which demands an answer to the following question: how could the gods send down a dragon-drawn chariot to rescue a woman who murdered her own children? Many contemporary authors and directors prefer to eliminate Euripides’ ending in order to focus on more immediate issues, such as the psychological or social damage resulting from patriarchy, colonialism, and misogyny. After considering several such productions, this article analyzes three plays that directly tackle Euripides’ troubling ending: two original scripts, by Heiner Müller and Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei respectively; and a production of Euripides’ original by Japanese director Miyagi Satoshi. Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei is Professor Emerita of Theatre at UCLA. An expert on postwar Japanese and cross-cultural performance, she is also a translator, director, and playwright. The author of Unspeakable Acts: The Avant-Garde Theatre of Terayama Shūji and Postwar Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 2005) and co-author of Theatre Histories: An Introduction (third edition, Routledge, 2016), she has published over a hundred articles, chapters, and reviews. She is an Associate Editor of Asian Theatre Journal and a Fellow of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.
This article examines the meaning of the ‘impolitical’ regarding cases of impolitical theatre and associated critical discourse, with reference to Rodolfo Usigli and Raymond Williams, among others. It is argued that ‘impolitical’ theatre represents social relations from the standpoint of the ideal of culture. The analysis starts with Richard Schechner’s critique of the original Broadway production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and discusses this play, segueing into The Performance Group’s Dionysus in 69. The author indicates the differences of theatre practice between the examples chosen, and shows that these theatres nevertheless participate in the same form of theatrical representation as they broach similar social questions of moment in the Unites States in the 1960s. John Yves Pinder has recently received his PhD from the University of Leeds. He is currently teaching at Leuphana University of Lüneberg.
The Chinese actor Mei Lanfang and his retinue prepared several documents for his visits to the USA in 1930 and the USSR in 1935. Using these primary sources, this article explores the reasons why Mei presented traditional Chinese theatre differently in each context. One reason was winning popularity among specifically targeted audiences, as indicated by the carefully selected programmes, explanatory discourses, and illustrations from promotional materials. Through a comparative examination, this article argues that, for the American tour, Mei made traditional Chinese theatre an emblem of ancient Chinese art, while, for the Soviet tour, he endorsed the Soviet Union’s social and artistic enterprises, labelling traditional Chinese theatre a modern art. Both images, one static and the other dynamic, were authentic representations of the multifaceted contemporary Chinese theatre as it underwent modernization. Wei Feng received his PhD in Theatre Studies from Trinity College Dublin and teaches in the School of Foreign Languages and Literature at Shandong University. He is the author of Intercultural Aesthetics in Traditional Chinese Theatre: From 1978 to the Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). Ye Pi (corresponding author) teaches in the School of Foreign Languages and Literature at Shandong University, specializing in Russian literature.