Meet The Playwrights: Ruoxin Xu '19
BY Paola Alexandra Soto, May 9, 2019
Chinese Opera and a Modern Drama by Ruoxin Xu ’19 (Playwrighting) and directed by Miriam Grill ’19 (Directing) will be the fifth play presented as part of the New Plays Festival 2019 featuring seven new plays by the graduating MFA playwriting class.
The play is about Kiki, a New York-based stage manager who is hired to work on a new Beijing Opera that tells the story of Madame Huarui, a Chinese woman who was a concubine but wanted to be a poet. Kiki’s professional and personal life is deeply affected by her uncertain Visa status. Chinese Opera and a Modern Drama explores patriarchy in both historical and modern times, as well as new immigrants living under the current political climate between the US and China.
Chinese Opera and a Modern Drama has three performances scheduled; the first on May 10 at 8 pm, the second on May 11 at 2:00 pm, and the final on May 11 at 8:00 pm, at Lenfest Center for the Arts. For more information and to make reservations click here.
Xu spoke to us about her upcoming production.
How did you get the idea for this play?
First, I wanted to incorporate the Chinese language in an English play. Second, I was fascinated by the situation that Chinese theatre companies like to invite white male directors who don’t understand Chinese to direct Chinese shows, as if a white director can bring a show level up a lot. Third, I've been obsessed with this historical woman, Madame Huarui, since I was in middle school. I always wanted to write about her, but I couldn't find a narrative to put her in. When I decided to write a Chinese Opera for my thesis play, she became the perfect character for the part.
Who was your mentor for this piece and how has it been getting to work with her/him?
My mentor is Diana Son. She is accommodating and caring. She has been working in television for years, so the way she thinks and mentors me is different from many playwriting professors. She asked a lot of questions about my characters’ backgrounds and histories and made me write extra scenes that are not in the play but helped me develop my characters.
How did you become a playwright? What was your first play about?
I wanted to be a writer when I was very young, and I became a playwright after getting into Central Academy of Drama in Beijing. My first play was a family drama. When the son of a family believes that August 18th, 1999 is the end of the world, he unravels all his family secrets the day before because he doesn’t want to lie untill the end.
What is your process for starting a new play?
I usually come up with characters and their relationships first. Then I start to think about what will happen when these characters come together under different circumstances, which gradually leads to the main storyline.
What do you hope the audience gets out of your play?
Laughter, since it's a comedy. But fundamentally, it's a tragedy to the main character. I hope audiences see and feel the world, the system from a perspective they never had.
How has the playwriting program prepared you for the creation of this piece?
I wrote a short play in Collaboration 2, which was bilingual. So I started to think about how I could embrace my culture and my language more, then I thought what is more typical and extreme than a Beijing Opera when it comes to Chinese culture? Later, I started to bring scenes in Playwriting Class with Charles Mee, which were the original concepts of Chinese Opera and A Modern Drama.
How is the collaboration process with your director and team? What have you learned from working with a full creative team?
I've worked with Miriam Grill, my director, several times. I pitched this idea to her before I even started to write. She asked me many questions which were challenging to me and my writing, so to answer these questions, I needed to prepare or provide better writing. Another member of the creative team is Annie Jin Wang, the dramaturg, whom I've worked with several times too. I feel every time I work with her, I know more about dramaturgy; she's so smart. She helped me a lot in my early writing.
Who are some playwrights that you admire and why?
David Henry Hwang. M. Butterfly was the play that introduced me to a whole new world, it was revolutionary to me. Julia Cho. I had never read her works before I came to the States. There is a Chinese idiom, 相见恨晚, and it means the wish of having known each other earlier, and it's exactly how I feel about Julia's plays. Her writing is both gentle and fierce, reading her plays can soothe me and break my heart at the same time.
How is being a bilingual playwright and working with two languages strengthened your work?
I love the feeling that when a new idea comes to me, I immediately know which language I will use to write it. Different languages fit different stories. I’m also translating. So if you have a play that you want to have a production in China, hire me.
Now that your time in grad school is coming to an end what are you most looking forward to?
I will continue to revise my thesis play. I also look forward to writing films and TV shows. But most of all, walking into the world without a student Visa and having no idea what will happen.