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Book Wings Collaborative Theatre: Iowa and China stages unite for joint performance

“Tell them you claimed his body off the mosque floor. Tell them you hear voices hissing in your cell phone accusing you of defiling young women by teaching them the Internet." –Excerpt from American playwright Dan O’Brien’s new 10-minute play, KANDAHAR TO CANADA, commissioned by Book Wings China.

Six new plays, two stages, and playwrights, translators, actors, directors, and new media specialists 7,000 miles apart come together Tuesday, March 12th at 9pm (10am Wednesday, March 13th in Shanghai) to present Book Wings China, a free evening of collaborative bilingual theatre.

The International Writing Program (IWP) and the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre(SDAC), working in partnership with the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, the Virtual Writing University, Information Technology Services, and UITV will use the latest high definition videoconferencing technology to link the twin stages—one in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building and another at SDAC in Shanghai. Together, they’ll present—in English and in Chinese—six never-before-seen plays by distinguished young playwrights in the U.S. and China. The plays were all specially commissioned by Book Wings, a 3-year collaborative theatre initiative funded by a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Dept of State.

In September 2012, the playwrights, who include recent Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History winner Dan O’Brien, Whiting Award winner Naomi Iizuka (who also a heads the MFA in Playwriting at the University of California, San Diego), and Chay Yew, Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, were asked to write 10-minute plays on the central theme of “migration.” Their counterparts in China—Qian Jue, Wang Haoran, and Xu Yaqun—did the same and, in December, the newly written plays went to the Book Wings translators. Once translated, playwrights in both countries worked to refine the translations of their counterpart’s work for the stage.

In the meantime, new media specialists in both countries began conducting test calls and experimenting with software to ensure a high quality connection, with two-way talk back ability between the two stages, allowing Iowa City and Shanghai to switch back and forth between their respective live streams and converse with each other seamlessly in real time, producing one unified performance.

Actors and directors in Shanghai and Iowa City then began rehearsing the plays and working with production teams to develop lighting and set designs that will translate to the live stream.

When the house lights go down Tuesday night, from the comfort of their theatre seats, audiences in Iowa City and Shanghai will experience a kind of teleportation, bouncing back and forth across 8 time zones, experiencing plays that explore what IWP Director Christopher Merrill refers to as “the many dimensions of migration—discovery, flux, hope, nostalgia, and reinvention.”  The scripts, in Chinese and English, are printed in the program, now available on the Book Wings website, and English supertitling will allow the Iowa City audience and live stream viewers to follow the Chinese sections of the performance.

The live audiences will be joined by viewing parties around the world who will tune in to watch the performance live via the free live internet stream hosted by the Virtual Writing University. In the U.S., viewing parties are scheduled at Bennington College, Pacific Lutheran University, The University of Hawaii—Honolulu and elsewhere.

During the live talk-back session to follow the performance, audience members and viewers can tweet their questions for the actors, directors, and new media specialists who make Book Wings a reality by using the hashtag #bookw.

The live stream will be archived online for later viewing (available beginning March 19th, 2013) and paper copies of the program containing the full texts of the plays are available to educators by emailing a request to ashley-r-davidson[at]uiowa.edu.

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