Scoping out show venues

I wasn’t going to post a blog until the end of this week as it’s heads down on music and costume-making at the moment, and there is a lot to do.

But it was an exciting day and I couldn’t not.

Until today, a couple of venues had been mooted for the final show- both beautiful old buildings, one the Confucius Institute, the other the venue adjoining the leafy courtyard where I’d performed with the improvising guqin player and his friends on Saturday evening. Either would have been beautiful and both are set up well for shows.

However, I’d asked my host Kerun at the beginning of my residency whether there might be a possibility of finding a non-traditional setting in which to perform the final show. Spaces like these do come with complications of course- a PA needs to be installed, potential audiences need to be able to access it easily en masse at showtime and so on. But I was keen to explore options. Performing in these kinds of settings undoes the usual expectations of what a show will be, and can transport audiences (and performers) in suggestive and wonderful ways. Based on discussions with those I’d met, I knew that whatever I was likely to make show-wise might be (in Kerun’s words) ‘a step on’ from what Guiyang audiences were used to. Changing the setting, I hoped, might let a bit of something new through the gaps and I really wanted to explore that.

And today, thanks to another of my hosts, Mr Zhi, I found the perfect space!

It’s a large warehouse space not far from my apartment in the Jinyang district of Guiyang and is set amidst several of the brand new hi-rises so characteristic of this rapidly developing city.

It houses an exciting tech start-up called C Zone Hackspace whose strapline reads ‘Design, Make and Share’. Immediately as we walked in, I felt the place had a buzz, and a lovely sense of openness and play.

We were met at the entrance by CEO Andrew and Designer Nancy who proceeded to show us around. And it was great- a hive of creativity and great ideas from robotic coffee-making booths to smart make-up mirrors. There were 3D printers, voice recognition devices, and desks overflowing with ideas-in-process.

A small team developing virtual reality headsets let me have a go in their virtual workshop and it was fantastic! I used a virtual lathe to make a table leg! What doors you open, MIRChina! As I navigated my way around the world inside the headset, the others gave me instructions as to which buttons to press to use my virtual hands. They could only see a flat computer screen whereas I could see all around myself in 360 degrees. “We can’t see what you can see,” Nancy said- and it felt like a really significant statement. 

Technology is a big passion of the Chinese it seems- people freely use devices to faciliate everyday activities- paying for a bill, hiring a bike, buying train tickets, playing evening street games, connecting with friends through social media and so much more. There’s no need to carry cash here- you can use your smartphone for pretty much everything.

The Hackspace team seemed like part of a new generation of Guiyang residents who were catching the tide of new development and championing creative thinking and collaboration. This was music to my ears and I liked them all immediately. One said “We are all victims of the Chinese education system- it’s like a factory and we are all just tin-cans, all identical. We are taught to know facts in order to make money, get married, have a baby. But we are no different here from anywhere else in the world, we are the same- we are human, we have needs, we need to create”. He described progressive education and arts intiatives from his previous home in Beijing, and hopes to spread some of that positive creative energy back here in Guiyang. The world needs more people like you, I thought.

I scoped out the space a bit more, imagining how the performance could work there. There seemed to be so much potential. The team said it would be fine for me and the performers to come and devise in the space in the days leading up to the show too, which was both really kind and really exciting. “There might be a bit of noise as we’ll be making music…” I said. “That’s ok- it will be pleasant and inspiring for us to hear it in the background!” they replied.

Afterwards we all went for lunch, and talked about all sorts of things from writing a journal to the halal traditions of the Mongolian people. Everyone agreed on the importance of learning about and understanding each other’s cultures and values in this increasingly small and globalised world.

Lovely people and a lovely day!

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