Wuzhen is a fantastic small town, just a two-hour trip by bus from Shanghai. It's part of the so called "Water Towns",built between canals and small rivers, and very similar to Venice but without the urban structure that has made a success of the Italian City. All these water towns keep a traditional Qing architecture, but their charm is marred by the masses of tourists (mostly Chinese) going there and the consequences of these visits reflected on the dirty water and the bad conditions of the buildings. Zhouzhuang is the most famous of all of them, but we didn't visit it as we were trying to avoid the masses and pollution, and so we decided to go to this one, a little bit farther away and smaller, called Wuzhen(1). It was a fortunate decision, Wuzhen was full of surprises for us.
Wuzhen is divided in two parts of touristic interest: Xizha (West Wuzhen) and Dongzha (East Wuzhen). Xizha has a special charm, it has just been rebuilt and converted in a huge resort; the whole place is closed during the night and only hotel guests are able to enjoy its charm from 5 pm till next day.
Wuzhen Xizha Theatre
Halfway through the long and narrow main street of Wuzhen, a big gate with a sign marks the entrance to the theatre, then, further inside, a nice stone square opens to us, and at the end a simple building, inside of which is the hall of the theatre; a few steps more and we discover, facing us, one fantastic wooden structure, magnifiscent but simple, decorated but not excessively like other theatres (beautiful, of course) we find in Beijing.
There is no information about this Chinese province’s jewel, nor signs, nor brochures, nor guides who know something about the place, no books either or any Internet site talking about it; even so, the theatre speaks for itself. Because of the conditions of Xizha, just rebuilt and no masses of people walking everywhere any day, there are no regular performances, so there was no hope of seeing anything on stage those three days I stayed there.
At the time I visited (March 26th, 2007), the theatre had been open for just one month; many details could be seen without problem, while in other theatres they have been almost erased by time. There is a big open area in the middle, just for the public, with no roof, though three sections around it are spectator zones similar to "box seats" in western theatres; the wood had been recently varnished, and there were many carvings about Chinese Opera scenes, Buddhist and Taoist passages or simple fortune animals; I have to accept that even the golden carved figures were in good balance with the whole.
The Theatre, following a good practice usual in China's performing spaces, has a small museum where many costumes are in exhibition. As I mentioned before, there is no information about what is exhibited.
I visited the place twice, on different days, and because of that you see some part of the video with a raining ambiance and the other part with a sunny day.
The Small Theatre in Wuzhen Dongzha
Xizha is pretty much more comfortable and nice for any touristicinterest, however it doesn't have the life Donzha has. With a very nice (but also in a bad condition) traditional area ,Dongzha is situated in the middle of the current city, populated, polluted and noisy like any other Chinese town. This is the most visited area with dozens of restaurants, souvenir shops and public buildings which are packed full of people. Such movement brings on much entertainment offers: museums, a colourful temple and two theatres with performances all day long. One of these theatres is for Shadow Puppet performances (I will have a special post for it), and the other one is what we’ll talk about here, the small Chinese Opera Theatre.
This is not a theatre itself, we could say it is an open air stage. In one part of the central square, surrounded by the temple, commercial and public buildings and next to the main canal, there is a small stage decorated as many Qing Dynasty Opera theatres(2). Small, but big enough to have two floors with make up rooms and one stage of about 4 x 6 meters. What’s remarkable is its roof, with some Chinese mythological wood sculptures and drama characters.
I didn't have the chance to see anything there, the performance schedules were the same in both theatres, and I preferred to see the Shadow Puppets (3). I didn't regret it and you'll see why when I post about my experience later.
(1) Not to visit Zhouzhuang had risks of course. First of all, I missed the best of traditional Water Town architecture in the region.
(2) I'm not a scholar and I can make mistakes. In my point of view this small theatre is similar (in different scale, of course) to those in the Summer Palace and The Forbidden City in Beijing, Qing Dinasty’s best examples.
(3) I had the intention to record that shadow puppet performance; there was the chance to record the same performance facing the stage and from behind the stage.