We have all been eager to change a character’s fate while watching a film or sitting in a theatre. Only this time, please sit tight and turn on your phone. Game Café encourages its audience members, whether in the theatre or watching this live performance online in their own space, to vote multiple times on their phone to decide a character’s next move, creating an interactive theatre experience.
The performance takes place at the New Space Theatre inside Shanghai Theatre Academy’s campus, a fringe theatre rebuilt from a German country club back in the 1920s.
Characters include two gangsters (or Bai Xiang Ren in Shanghainese’s description). A female Chinese opera singer owns the café. A fashionable secretary works for a foreigner and her classmate, now a primary school teacher. They all fit the typical impression of a play set during the ROC. Then we find a robotic stranger wearing a pair of sci-fi glasses and a black trench coat: he is the host of tonight’s performance. Our adventure starts here.
There are seven opportunities to vote throughout the play, and this becomes the basic structure of the audience’s interactive involvement in the performance. When it is time to vote, the stranger will appear on stage, pause the show and then present two choices. While waiting for the result, delivered by the stranger later, actors will sing a Chinese opera or a hip-hop-style aria about the choice. After knowing the result, the cast will go back into the story and continue the performance.
Game Café tells the story of a gangster in a rage physically abusing a young lady outside the store after he tried to hit on her but was refused and humiliated. Characters inside the café try different approaches to settle the dispute.
The audience only get the chance to enjoy some of the possible plots based on different vote results. Finally, a man appears on stage pretending to give closure.
The first choice is the gangsters planning to hit on the ladies. The only reason for using the word ‘plan’ is to let the audience make a choice. They can make their moves, hence turning this story into a play; or, all of a sudden, these gents decide to be real gentlemen for once, and let the ladies go. Different choices lead to different paths. This is the first step, and more will follow until we reach the end. Interestingly, even though the ending has two sides, namely a happy ending or a tragic ending, the audience is always the crucial part of this performance. As insiders, we’ve been given the right to decide which emotional outcome we want to experience after leaving the theatre.
The playwright/director William Huizhu Sun, a celebrated Chinese theatre practitioner who is also a professor at this academy, recreated the idea of a chorus into hip-pop and traditional Chinese opera singing during the voting sessions – a brave and visionary transcultural attempt.
It is rare to see a play that allows the power of media to affect its development after the curtain has already opened. William’s visionary experiment should be introduced further to this industry and I hope to see Game Café’s next round at The New Box Space of The Shanghai Grand Theatre.
Summary of the above in Chinese by Yiming Wang
- By William Huizhu Sun
- Director: William Huizhu Sun
- Cast includes: Fangzhou Hu, Xiaolin Huang
- New Space Theatre, Shanghai Theatre Academy
- Running time: 1hr 30mins with no interval
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