New Peter Pan show promises to immerse Beijing in different light

Updated 2016-11-28 12:33:24 China Daily
A workshop on Peter Pan conducted in New York last December.

A workshop on Peter Pan conducted in New York last December.

Randy Weiner calls himself a "conventional kid". He graduated from Harvard University, married his high-school sweetheart and is the father of two children.

At one time he dreamed of becoming a doctor. But today he is a producer, playwright and nightclub owner - a combination that hardly makes him conventional.

On a recent chilly morning in a gritty space of about 5,000 square meters in Beijing, the New York-based playwright is seen walking, with a group of people dancing, jumping and singing near him.

Weiner's attention is focused on Peter Pan, a new production for which he is the creative director. The play promises to offer audiences a fresh experience of "immersive theater", an idea Weiner has worked on in the past two years. After its outdoor premiere on Dec 10, the play will be performed every weekend until 2018 at Beijing's Xiedao Resort.

"What interests me is the relationship between audiences and the performers," Weiner, 51, says. "Traditionally, people sit in the darkness and try to be quiet while the performers play on stage in the lights. What if the audience and the performers were both in either light or darkness? ... I am just nervous and excited about the possibilities."

This Peter Pan is a relatively new idea in terms of the relationship between an audience and a performer. A show for families, the audience is encouraged to explore the sets and go on missions with the fairies and pirates.

The creative team also includes director Allegra Libonati, award-winning designer David Gallo, aerial choreographer Paul Rubin and choreographers the Kuperman Brothers. Rubin has been involved in more than 300 productions of Peter Pan in eight countries.

Weiner began to think of using the new technique for a production of Peter Pan sometime ago. Workshops were conducted for this in New York last December and in March before they moved to Beijing in September.

"It's really a challenge because we are making it happen in this enormous space. It's also because we are making it happen in Beijing like no one has ever done it before," Weiner says of the northeastern part of the city where the play will be first performed.

Randy Weiner, New York-based playwright.

Randy Weiner, New York-based playwright.

Along with China Broadway Entertainment, a Beijing-based company, Weiner decided to premiere the show in Beijing because when he visited the capital in 2014, the city's energy and the willingness to try big ideas reminded him of New York.

For Weiner, a theatrical experience shouldn't be limited to traditional venues. Plays can be staged at shopping malls, restaurants and outdoor locations that have some elements such as light, music and design, to make productions look attractive.

In 2013, Weiner produced Sleep No More, a hit "immersive" play that got New York talking. Later he created another piece based on the concept, Queen of Night, which was inspired by Mozart's opera The Magic Flute.

"My interest is in doing the opposite of what everybody else does," says Weiner.

He is the co-owner of The Box, a "theater nightclub" in New York and London, and The Box's sister concern, The Act, which currently has venues in Las Vegas and Dubai.

Growing up, Weiner went to theaters almost every night thanks to his father. He also fostered his other interests, including science.

"People said, 'You can't do that,' and I said, 'No, no, no, you can do that. You've just never done it before. My job as a 'theatrical scientist' is to have a hypothesis, test the hypothesis and see if it's true," he says.

Weiner, who has taught theater at Columbia University, Barnard College, New York University and Yale, encourages his students to think differently. "Art functions very well when it let you do things that you don't normally do," he says.

His wife, Diane Paulus, is an award-winning director, who is also a Harvard graduate. The couple first collaborated on The Donkey Show, a disco interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

About 15 years ago, Paulus started doing traditional theater works while Weiner turned to experiments. "We talk and we inspire each other. She reminds me of the high-quality shows besides my crazy ideas, and I show her something different in theater," says Weiner.

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