U.S. show ‘Animal Magnetism’ takes part in Wuzhen Theater Festival

World Today

The Wuzhen Theater Festival has now kicked off in China. This year, there are more than a thousand performances, by more than 100 troupes and acts from all over the world. One New York theater, known for its avant-garde pieces, is getting ready to showcase their performance at the festival. 

CGTN’s Karina Huber has the story.

There’s a talking rhinoceros doing stand-up comedy in a thick German accent–this isn’t your standard theater fare.

It’s a rehearsal for an avant-garde performance called ‘Animal Magnetism’ that is about to get its debut in China.

The story about two unlikely lovers, a chimpanzee and a rhinoceros, was chosen to be a part of this year’s Wuzhen Theatre Festival.

“It’s about these two very, very different characters who are attracted to one another and they are dealing with forces that are far outside of their control, which is much the way our lives are,” said Terry O’Reilly, the director of ‘Animal Magnetism.’

O’Reilly wrote ‘Animal Magnetism’ 18 years ago. He recently adapted it for a puppet performance. He is also co-artistic director at Mabou Mines, an experimental theater company founded in New York in 1970.

Since then, it has staged more than 120 works and won upwards of 100 awards. It’s an integral part of New York’s experimental theater scene also known as the avant-garde, a genre that first emerged in the late 1800s.

It is still popular in many parts of the world, but not in the United States.

“I would say the average American has little to no tolerance for the avant-garde,” said Dodd Loomis, co-director of ‘Animal Magnetism.’

Loomis says that’s because American audiences largely want to be entertained, not challenged.

Another impediment is funding. In many countries, the arts are supported by government funds. In the U.S., the arts rely mainly on individual donations.

To survive, theater companies like Mabou Mines, are going to where the market is- places like China.

“There’s sort of a big rush towards accessing different types of cultural activity in China right now,” said Enrico Wey, a puppeteer at Mabou Mines. “And so I think it’ll be particularly interesting to see what that response is and see where that enthusiasm, where that cross-cultural exchange happens on the stage.”

Puppetry designer and director Jessica Scott is also looking forward to her first performance in China.

“I’m curious to find out what avant-garde means for China in terms of its political content,” said Scott. 

‘Animal Magnetism’ will have four performances at the Wuzhen Theatre Festival between October 25 and 28.