Two Sides of the Same Coin
For Tufts' Claire Conceison, the production of Chinese director Meng Jinghui's "Heads or Tails?" is a unique opportunity to both enlighten and entertain.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.31.06] When she came to Tufts in 2004 and was asked which productions she envisioned bringing to campus, Assistant Professor of Drama Claire Conceison says, "One of the first things I thought of was how exciting it would be to introduce the work of Meng Jinghui to Boston audiences and to Tufts audiences."
As director of the upcoming production "Heads or Tails?" she is getting that chance. And not only is it the English-language debut for the play, but it is the first time that Meng, a major force in contemporary Chinese dramatic theatre, has allowed it to be directed by someone other than himself and performed by college students.
That's a lot of firsts. But breaking new ground is nothing new for Meng, a director of the National Theatre Company of China and a longtime friend and colleague of Conceison's.
"Meng is by far the most important and controversial figure in theatre in China today," she says. "He has his finger on the pulse of these rapid social and cultural and economic changes happening in his country."
› Claire Conceison discusses what "Heads or Tails?" is about (requires Flash)
And "Heads or Tails?" is no exception to those influences. The play-titled "On the Newest Ideas about the Destination of Love" in the original Chinese and "Head Without Tail" as translated to English by Meng-is what Conceison calls a "quirky, experimental, alinear, uneven piece," touching on the nature of relationships, communication and identity.
"The play taken as a whole is more like a puzzle," she explains. "There are several characters but there are lots of roles the actors jump in and out of."
And thanks to the input of a cast and crew of student actors, faculty and student designers, a student choreographer and a graduate student assistant director, Conceison's own vision of the play has evolved over the course of rehearsals.
"The director's vision is really important to have in place, but with that vision I'm very open to the creative impulses of everyone involved with the production," she explains. "It takes a team of actors creating really original work together with the director to make all these characters and situations come to life."
Meng and Conceison, 2003
But while Conceison, an expert on contemporary Chinese theatre, says that Meng has been a huge influence on her, she says this production of "Heads or Tails?" stands alone.
"The most 'Meng way' to do this play is to make it our own, to create with our actors a new concept of it," she says. "We're bringing out more of the humor of the play which I believe is very much in the text. It's a much less tragic interpretation of his piece."
The play's run is enhanced by the fact that Meng himself will be flying to Boston, not only to watch the performance but also to participate in a series of events at Tufts, including a film screening and discussion of contemporary Chinese theatre.
"We're trying very hard to make sure that beyond the production of the play, people have a chance to have a dialogue with him while he's here," she says.
Rehearsing for "Heads or Tails?"
And it has indeed been a group effort-Conceison secured both funding and support from the AS&E Diversity Fund as well as several programs across the School of Arts and Sciences, including International Relations, American Studies, Asian Studies and World Civilizations.
"I really do think that this play is particularly appealing to students who are interested in looking at the world from a global perspective, but on personal levels it's interesting and relevant to anybody," she explains.
As much as preparing "Heads or Tails?" for performance has been an adventure, Conceison is certain that viewing it will be, as well.
"It's a very hard play to explain because it is so unconventional," she says. "That's what makes it so exciting for the actors and for the audience."
"HEADS OR TAILS?":
8PM, Apr. 4-8, and Apr. 8, 2PM, Balch Arena Theatre, Aidekman Arts Center
Public Panel on Contemporary Chinese Theatre (1:30PM, Apr. 5, Alumnae Lounge, Aidekman Arts Center)
Public Lecture and Q&A (4PM, Apr. 6, CGIS South Building, Harvard University, 1730 Cambridge St., Cambridge)
Public Screening of Meng Jinghui's new film "Chicken Poets," with Q&A (2PM, Apr. 7, Pearson Hall)
Images courtesy of Claire Conceison