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Wuzhen Theatre Festival Brings Fringe-Style Performances to an Ancient Canal Town

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For the past week, a small town in eastern China criss-crossed by canals and lined with traditional old buildings as been at the center of the country’s performing arts scene. While there are bigger, more commercial events held regularly all over China, the theater festival that takes place every October in Wuzhen, around two hours from Shanghai, is one of the most vibrant gatherings of its kind in the country.

Founded in 2012 by Chinese theater luminaries Stan Lai, Meng Jinghui, and Huang Lei together with Chen Xianghong, the Wuzhen Theatre Festival hosts dozens of performances over ten days.

There are major stage productions from both Chinese and international directors — this year’s schedule includes a rendition of Dancer in the Dark by Hamburg’s Thalia Theater, Romanian group Radu Stanca National Theatre’s version of Waiting for Godot, and a startling interpretation of the Lao She-penned classic Tea House helmed by Meng. But the festival is also notable for its attempts to build a Edinburgh Fringe-like atmosphere by inviting in students and amateur troupes to put on shows beside its picturesque canals and alleyways. As the official slogan has it, “all of Wuzhen’s a stage”.

It can make for a mixed bag of performances with everything from mime and crosstalk (Chinese wordplay stand-up) duos to, well, this:

But whatever you end up seeing, the festival is always an entertaining, atmospheric experience. Here are some photo highlights from RADII’s visit to the watertown last weekend (click the thumbnails for larger images):

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