About the Festival

In 2013, a team of visionary artists and producers inaugurated a major new international theatre festival in the ancient Chinese town of Wuzhen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site candidate. The Inaugural Wuzhen Theatre Festival combined an exciting mix of international and Chinese theatre amidst the stunning background of the most beautiful ancient water town in China, only an hour away from Shanghai.

The 2013 Inaugural Wuzhen Theatre Festival kicked off on May 9, 2013, in the beautiful new Wuzhen Grand Theatre, with a performance of Stan Lai's monumental 8 hour epic A Dream Like a Dream. For 11 days and nights, rapturous audiences were treated to 7 theatre venues, 6 specially invited plays, 12 plays of the Youth Competition, over 120 teams of artists who put up over 580 performances in the Ancient Town Carnival, 15 Masters' Dialogues, Forums, and Workshops by masters of the world’s theatre. In all, 17,580 audience members, as well as 183,000 tourists and local people, took part in the inaugural Festival, with 139 members of the media covering this event that brought together more than 200 artists, scholars and celebrities from countries all around the world. In the words of the Inaugural Festival's Honorary Chairman Robert Brustein, writing in the New York Review, "Wuzhen has ambitions to become a major international theatrical event like Avignon or Edinburgh, and, judging from its first season, it will almost certainly realize them."

Wuzhen, a dreamy town with 1300 years of history, has been called "Venice of the East." In recent years, under the visionary planning of Festival Director Chen Xianghong, the ancient town has been transformed into one of China's major tourist destinations, with five star hotels and restaurants integrated seamlessly into the ancient architecture, along with charming bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels. Surrounded by water and ancient architecture, the town has undergone further recent transformation with the building of a brand new state of the art performing arts center, the Wuzhen Grand Theatre, designed on the water by internationally renowned Taiwanese architect Kris Yao. Five other stunning performance venues have been renovated and created from old riverside warehouses, ancient residences, plazas and theatres under the personal direction of Artistic Director Stan Lai, the most celebrated playwright and director in the Chinese world, together with the Producing Director, renowned actor Huang Lei.

One of the unique qualities of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival is the charm and variety of all of these theatre spaces. Within walking distance from each other, within the old town, there are seven indoor venues that sport widely differing characteristics -- all exuding the charm and beauty of the old town. There is also a large amphitheatre and many outdoor plazas suited for performance. These striking venues create a theatre cluster that is not only unique in China, but in any theatre festival in the world. To see great theatre in these special historic venues within the old town is the unique spell that the Wuzhen Festival casts on all its audience.

World class theatre in a world class tourist destination. Theatre in old riverside warehouses and ancient plazas. The charm of the old and the shock of the new. These are the delights of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival.


Mission of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival
Promoting Cultural Renaissance
Whether one is a casual visitor or a theatre lover who attends the Festival, or even a dream-seeker who enjoys life’s pleasures, one will leave the Wuzhen Theatre Festival enriched and satisfied.
For more than a thousand years, the little township of Wuzhen has been endowed with a rich cultural heritage. In the past, Wuzhen was home to dozens of cultural masters, each of whom made incomparable achievements in Chinese and world history. The time has come for Wuzhen to witness a cultural renewal.
The success of the inaugural Wuzhen Theatre Festival in 2013 was significant even for Wuzhen’s unique cultural landscape. Culture Wuzhen Co., Ltd. and Muxin Foundation aim to work hand in hand with artists from around the globe to transform Wuzhen into a theatrical paradise. The Festival was a sure step in the venerable town’s cultural renaissance.
Cultivating Local Talent
Wuzhen has its own Grand Theatre and Art Museum. The town now also has its own Theatre Festival and Art Exhibition. All together, these give the children of Wuzhen exceptional opportunities, exposing them to international-class theatre and art from a young age. Eventually, there will emerge from Wuzhen great playwrights, directors, actors and actresses, painters and artists. This is the future of Wuzhen’s cultural life.
Wuzhen Theatre Festival encourages the participation of young theatre directors, playwrights and performers. It gives them an opportunity to learn from and interact with international masters; it also gives them a fitting stage where they can showcase their talents. During the Festival, the Young Artist’s Competition allowed them to emerge from obscurity; the township’s environment gave them a perfect platform on which to engage in dialogue with established personalities. After the Theatre Festival, they also have the chance to foster their talents through the “1+1” Resident Creativity Project.
Perhaps years later, they will become acclaimed masters of the theatre – that is the aspiration of Wuzhen Theatre Festival. Suffice it to say that Wuzhen is realizing its dream. It is one that did not come about by accident. Rather, it is the fruition of thousands of years of history and glorious culture, meticulously crafted by renowned masters and passionately supported by young theatrical talent.
Cultivating the Public’s Cultural Aesthetics
Historically, many scholars and cultured members of the community in Wuzhen dabbled in business, and were flatteringly known as “town gentlemen.” They loved their township deeply and saw it as their duty to build local art and culture. This, in short, was the primary motivation for initiating Wuzhen Theatre Festival.
Appreciation of the arts by the public is something that needs to be cultivated. It is one that requires the right environment as much as it requires time. Wuzhen Theatre Festival presents the right opportunity, not least because the town has world-renowned theatrical performances, as well as street performances at the Outdoor Carnival. For 11 days and nights, one didn’t need to enter any theatre to enjoy dramatic performances. Whether a resident or a visitor, a theatre fan or a passer-by, one would encounter pleasant surprises in the form of theatre and art. Time passed with a joyful rhythm, and visitors from all across China, and from all over the world, spread the seeds of artistic creativity as if they were dandelions.
The dream will be fulfilled when art has become a way of life for the town’s residents, and their pursuit is of spiritual rather than material satisfaction.
Wuzhen’s dream is also a part of China’s dream.
Creating Wuzhen Culture
If stone bridges over delicate streams lined on both sides with wooden houses are the outward appearance of Wuzhen, then arguably an integration of traditional and contemporary cultural heritage is the city’s inner, spiritual landscape. Indeed, the Wuzhen Theatre Festival was not created for tourism in Wuzhen, but for Wuzhen itself. Nevertheless Wuzhen’s cultural vision is not limited to being a window through which one can observe, however briefly, its rich cultural heritage. Indeed, the town aspires to be a door through which one can participate in Wuzhen’s cultural future.
Wuzhen’s vision is to be transformed into a cultural town with far-sighted concepts, rich content and welcoming ambiance for tourism, holiday resorts and culture. In this way, it will have far more impact on the surrounding cities than if it were simply a tourist town. The hope is for Wuzhen Theatre Festival to be a theatrical feast of the highest standard in China, with the greatest influence. This will no doubt inject fresh vitality into this venerable town with over 1,300 years of history.
Wuzhen is like an enormous stage on which everyone is a performer who lives his or her dream, whether inside or outside the theatre.