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'Drift' - Tales of Chinese migrants

AN international cast from the Shanghai Repertory Theater (SRT) will stage the English-language version of "Drift," a play about three generations of Chinese migrating to Singapore.

The play, by local playwright Nick Yu, will launch the company's fall season from September 7 to 12 at the Shanghai Drama Arts Center. It will return for a second, two-night run in November.

Yu, who "migrated" from Anhui Province to Shanghai as a young man, has written more than 33 plays.

The active theater company, which attracts some of Shanghai's most accomplished foreign actors and directors, plans a full calendar of performances for the rest of the year.

The Gothic horror story, "The Woman in Black," will be staged in October and Hans Christian Andersen's "Snow Queen" in December.

The production of "Drift" marks the return to Shanghai of Canadian director Jonathan Geenen who has directed a number of successful plays for both the SRT and the East West Theater.

The cast is drawn from France, the United States, Slovenia, Canada, Spain, Britain and China.

Yu wrote the play as part of a collaborative project between the Shanghai and Singaporean international arts festivals. It was first performed in Shanghai in 2007 in Chinese and English; then performed in Singapore in 2008 and in Macau in 2009 for the island's own arts festival.

Yu says the play looks at the challenges and pressures faced by people moving around the world to live in different cities and alien cultures.

"Singapore and Shanghai share a common history with people migrating there from around the world," he says. "When people move to a new place, they try new experiences and get involved in new things but they still have their hometown values and culture. So even though they have this behind them, they are still drifting from one place to another."

Yu is one of the city's most prolific playwrights, joining the theater in 1996.

He had previously worked in physical rehabilitation in a local hospital but decided to develop his love of theater, first through management and then later through writing.

Yu wrote his first play in 2000 and since then has worked in management and programming at the Shanghai Drama Arts Center, bringing a number of international theater company productions to Shanghai.

The latest cast of "Drift" shares experiences similar to those of the play's characters - they have relocating their lives to a foreign city.

SRT founder and director Rosita Janbakhsh says the theater company had previously performed works like Shakespearean plays in which interpretations are fairly standardized.

But this latest project has allowed the director and cast to work closely with the playwright on the creative direction they wish to take.

"Having an author who is so completely open and part of the collaborative process, like Nick, is amazing," Janbakhsh says.

"There are certain themes and concepts in the play that start along certain trajectories, but then they are left open, and it's up to the artists to finish that, so it's a unique chance to do that."

Janbakhsh says they hope to perform "Drift" next August in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which attracts applicants from around the world and where places are highly sought after.

"The play is a very contemporary project and is constantly evolving," she says.

"Drift" will be staged on November 9-10 at the Asian Contemporary Theater Festival in Shanghai.

Shanghai Repertory Theater is in its second season and has performed a range of plays, including Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and Shakespeare's "King Lear." The company's most recent performance was Noel Coward's "Private Lives."

Dates: September 7-12, 7:30pm

Venue: Shanghai Drama Arts Center, 288 Anfu Rd

Tickets: 180 yuan (200 yuan for Friday and Saturday)

Tickets available at and at the venue or at the Ke Center for the Contemporary Arts (613-B Kaixuan Rd) Sunday-Thursday.


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