This is a guest blog written by Cao Xi, Director of Jian Xue and Drama Rainbow, based in Beijing, China. Cao Xi is a long term friend of The GAP and we have previously collaborated on a large drama research project named Facing the Gap.
Driving on other side of the road to what you are used to, is not a difficult thing, but the first drive is always quite strange to me and I needed to adapt lots of habits, and quite frankly bad habits from driving in China, as I drove to the The Gap in Balsall Heath. It’s like suddenly some of your senses don’t work, and by the time I arrived at The GAP premises, I was quite disorientated.
A good drama usefully allows you to enter a similar space, a gap, for meaning to be made, usually through a process of disorientation that challenges your perceptions. But it’s not just drama, any art at its most useful form challenges your ‘sense’ of being your-self and at the same time being in society and hopefully relocates you in relation to the binary that is self and society as well.
The GAP is a place like that. It’s immediately evident when you are invited to pin down where you were born and have lived on a world map when you walk into the space. A comfortable and welcoming space I know the young people and their mentor who run it have long craved for.
Jian Xue is a new organisation who’s vision is to create an international Chinese speaking centre for creativity that offers artistic and educational experience to children and young people, and training and research opportunities for artists, educationalists, and cultural and social activists. JX aims to develop the imagination to stimulate independence of thought and action with human values, specifically focusing on children and youth in order to prepare the next generation for global citizenship, mainly through play, drama and theatre. Our mission is to create an centre that puts the teaching, through drama and in particular theatre, of children and young people, and the training of young teachers and artist educators at the heart of its practice, facilitating participants artistic practice and engagement in research, projects, conferences, publications and partnerships. We are proud of having a partner on the other side of the planet that shares the same values and principles to guide practice. Being able to actually work in the The GAP thanks to support from the British Council, was an unexpected and very much appreciated bonus. I was able to visit the UK to work with my fellow director of Jian Xue, Chris Cooper, for two weeks in Birmingham.
This included rehearsing and running a workshop on our new monodrama Breathe at The GAP on 5th February. We worked during the day together on the piece which we hope will be be first seen by the public in a pilot performance in the autumn in Shanghai. The workshop, however, was our first opportunity to share the play thanks to the The GAP which organized a fabulous group of young people who read the play with us and then practically explored its content. The play has a very strong Chinese context, but it didn’t stop the young people from connecting to its universal themes and concepts. The young people were able to connect the dramatic imperative in the play with their own personal experience. The impact of Breathe on the participants in the workshop play was in large part due to how it is constructed and written, by Chris Cooper, who has been developing writing in this very particular dramatic form since 2014, when he wrote Benched, performed in Hungary and China, and which was also produced by The GAP, directed by Artistic Director Arron Gill.
Jian Xue’s plan is that I will perform the play on the mainstream stage as well as taking it into unconventional spaces in China. The GAP couldn’t have been a better place to launch the play’s rehearsal process, both in terms of the space, our shared values and the reading and interpretation of the text that the participants created for us. The meanings and connections being made provided Chris and I with great food for thought moving forward with our process. The response of all the participants and their enthusiasm gave Jian Xue real confidence in Breathe. And thanks once again to The GAP for offering us this invaluable chance to share our experience with young people in the UK, as well as to strengthen our partnership.