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Scrapping IT for the stage

ABOUT a decade ago, Shao Zehui was an information science graduate from Peking University with a good job. But he turned down even better jobs at giant firms such as IBM and Compaq - he chose theater instead.

Shao entered the theater-directing graduate program at the China Central Academy of Drama. Today the Beijing native is arguably one of China's most promising directors.

He created the "Haibao" play for children at the Expo.

Shao was in Shanghai recently to attend "Expo Season for Young Directors," organized by Shanghai Modern Drama Valley to introduce innovative works by directors from Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

Shao brought "Sun, Kill," a historical play adapted from renowned Chinese poet Hai Zi's namesake work, which was staged as the festival's opening play.

Prior to that, he premiered in the city "Haibao," a children's play starring the mascot of the Shanghai World Expo. More serious was "Leave Before Getting Old," a small-theater production created by Shao in memory of a schoolmate who worked as a teacher in a poor village in Shangri-la, Yunnan Province - before he died in an accident. The versatile director himself performed the leading role.

Q: How did you come up with the children's play "Haibao?"

A: I was asked to create "Haibao" with the team from Beijing Children's Arts Theater, who worked with me back in 2008 on "Fuwa," a children's play featuring the Beijing Olympics mascots. I have only worked on two children's plays but they were all very well received. Haibao in the play knows how to control a robot, understands the global impact of melting snow and ice in the North and South poles and leads an environmentally friendly, low-carbon life. These are the things I'd love to let the little audience know. I tried to communicate with children as if I were at their age, instead of telling them what they should and what they shouldn't do from an adult's point of view. I used special lighting to create vivid scenes in which the trees and flowers seemed as if they were talking to each other. In the past, Chinese children's plays often featured trees and flowers performed by real actors, which are easily be recognized as fake. I treat all my audience with honesty and passion, whether they are old or young, adults or children.

Q: You studied information science before turning to theater. When did you realize your passion for the stage?

A: I was a member of drama club at Peking University. It was just a hobby at that time. After I graduated, I worked in IT for a year and to be honest, I was bored. So when I found out about an opening in the directing post-graduate program in the Central Academy of Drama, I was very interested and applied. However, I do think that my first major, information science, has helped me greatly in my directing career. A play usually contains a lot of information, and my job is to "pick out" the useful, valuable information from the scripts and present it to the audience. My background helps me to be more logically prepared compared with others.

Q: You are very productive and your plays are quite distinct from one another. How do you choose a play?

A: I only do plays that touch or interest me. Some of my plays were created based on real stories. For example, the countryside teacher in "Leave Before Getting Old," was actually a school friend of mine. I promised him that one day I would stage his stories in the barren village, and he promised that he would perform himself on the stage. However, he died in an unexpected accident and couldn't keep the promise. But by creating the play I have kept mine.


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