Red opera, Mongolian singing and some epic improv

Backstage: Red opera, Mongolian singing and some epic improv

Backstage with Elyse Ribbons: Bringing you a roundup of the all the best theatre shows this week – because variety really is the spice of life.

This cheeky monkey is very happy to be back, hunting out all things theatrical in our fair city, from wonderful to wacky. Due in no small part to the recent clam chowder-like weather, this has been a great summer for performance art in Beijing. This upcoming weekend is no exception.

After celebrations for the Chinese Communist Party’s 90th anniversary this month, we’ve seen many revivals of Maoist classics, several with surprising modern twists. For those who want to stick with tradition, I recommend Sister Jiang (江姐), which has been adapted for Peking Opera. This revolutionary tale of “red” martyrdom is full of gory details. Starring famed diva Wu Qiong, who utilizes her spectacular Huangmei Opera style to bring the story to life, the show is on for two nights and is a great way to experience some revolutionary fervor in a pre-revolutionary way.

Sister Jiang
@ Chang’an Grand Theater, July 29 to 30; 100-800 yuan; visit or call 6510-1309 or 65101310. In Chinese.

Continuing on with the theme of patriotic passions, Golden Huyang exhibits similar themes but comes from a very different corner of the country. Created by Don Frantz of Broadway’s Town Square Productions and produced in part by authorities in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, this musical is atypical of the genre in that its not just a song and dance piece but also gives Beijing audiences a rare opportunity to enjoy some eerily beautiful Mongolian singing. Long-tone and throat singing are otherworldly arts, and instantly transport the listener to the grasslands to the north. Don’t go expecting only yurt-inhabiting characters, though; the third act is devoted entirely to China’s space program. Warning: actual arrows are shot across the stage, and while I’ve been told that the actors are well-trained and amazing shots, you might want to avoid sitting in the front row.

Golden Huyang @ Poly Theater, July 28 to 31. In Chinese.

If unplanned interactivity with arrows is not your favorite form of entertainment, fun and games with BJ Improv might be a welcome alternative. While BJ Improv has a standard monthly English improvised show that’s been playing for a couple years now, this Saturday’s show is something a little different: long-form improv. Produced in association with Beijing’s Drama in Education Conference, Epic Improv will weave together recurring characters and larger themes. Along with raising a smile, the show is an intended to help the audience and performers explore their thoughts more deeply.

Epic Improv @ Penghao Theater, July 30. In English.

This weekend offers a collection of challenging, revolutionary and interactive opportunities, so it looks like you don’t have an excuse to stay inside. Fear not the soupy air and celestially high temperatures, as the air conditioning in the theaters works perfectly fine and each show is guaranteed to transport you to another place and time. Sure, taxis are harder to find and subways are jam-packed, but stop complaining: Sister Jiang suffered much worse torture in the hands of the KMT.

Got a show coming up? E-mail Read more from Elyse on her iheartbeijing blog.

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