Theatre of Fantasy: Performing Chinese Drama on the Western Stage


Winter 2014 and Spring 2014 quarters

Taught by

China studies, theater
biology, Chinese cultural studies, molecular pharmacology

Classical Chinese drama, as a literary genre, evolved from a long tradition of poetry writing and storytelling. In Chinese theatre, lyrics combine with dance, music, singing, acrobatics and martial arts. For centuries, the poetic and presentational style of Chinese drama and theatre has helped nurture and highlight the fantastic and imaginative side of Chinese culture: the magical beings and their boundless power in folk tales; dreams, fantasies, mysticism and otherworldliness of the Daoist realm of existence, and roaming spirits and ghosts of the underworld: these ever-popular Chinese archetypes have been repeatedly invoked and embodied in poetry and on stage. Many of these fantastic images and stories will form the core of our program study; they will also be absorbed and chained together into a final musical performance piece with a coherent plot and overriding theme—a symbolic, stylized production in the form and spirit of Chinese fantasy for the Western audience.

The program will engage students in serious study of Chinese poetry and dramatic literature with a creative push.  The program will also serve as an ideal training ground for students who are interested in acting, performance, singing, music performance and composition, kinetic and vocal training in physical theatre, and skill building and implementation in technical theatre including set, lighting, costume, sound and stage management.  As the final performance is a meant to be an original and experimental piece bridging Chinese drama and Western theatrical sensitivities, and the performance style will reply on an innovative fusion of music and lyrics as well as creative collaboration between singing, movement and musical accompaniment on many different levels, the faculty of the program is seriously recruiting music students ready to engage in creative music composition and performance (including electronic music) to join the program.

In winter quarter, we will study select dramas and stories of fantastic imagination from the Chinese tradition which bear direct relevance to our final performance piece.  We will study their literary and creative qualities in general program meetings and workshops.  We will also work through sequential theatre exercises in workshop and performance projects to bring these literary qualities into staging possibilities and physical realizations.  A weekly music workshop will also be offered to prepare students for the unique musical creation and implementation for the final performance.

In spring, we will focus on rehearsals and technical theatre work in order to mount a full-fledged theatrical production bringing all the previous experimentations and innovations together into a fantastic and coherent production. This end-of-program public presentation will put to the test our collective understanding of Chinese mythology, poetry and drama, and help us convey this understanding in a complex form of the theatre of fantasy.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

Chinese studies, cultural studies, literature, poetry, drama, theatre and music.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


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Online Learning

No Required Online Learning: No access to web tools required. Any web tools provided are optional for students.

Required Fees

$40 in winter for theatre admission.


Date Revision
November 13th, 2013 Description has been updated (additional emphasis on music).

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Winter); 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 25% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 48


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 20178
So - Sr (16 credits): 20181

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Accepting New Students

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30139
So - Sr (16 credits): 30140

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