At 7:30 p.m. on December 9, the third anniversary performance by the Three Oranges, got underway in Beijing's Haidian Theatre. The theme of the play by the only theatre troupe of professionals from China and France was love.
The performance was for free and used very simple props. But the audience was moved by the actors' unique style.
This avant-garde club has made a name for itself in Beijing's art circle. While the co-founder and director from France Xavier Froment is unfamiliar to Chinese audiences, another club member French actress Laetitia Zeppellini is known to Chinese TV audiences through her cross-talk or Chinese comedy appearances, a skill learnt from one of its masters, Ding Guangquan.
The club has performed at various events organized by embassies of European Union countries and staged many plays such as The Zoo Story of Edward Albee, Feu la Mère de Madame of Georges Feydeau, East Palace West Palace of Wang Xiaobo, Les Mamelles de Tirésias of Guillaume Apollinaire and Les Diablogues de Roland Dubillard, all in Chinese.
On December 10, Xavier Froment and one of the earliest troupe members Liu Yang sat down for an interview with Beijing Review journalist Yang Jiaqing at a little café in downtown Beijing.
"All actors and actresses are working together for their goals, and not for money. If that's the case, they would have left long ago."
Beijing Review: How was Three Oranges founded? Tell us about its growth.
Xavier Froment: Four years ago, when Laetitia Zeppellini-a founding member of the troupe-was still a student at the Central Academy of Drama. I started to direct some plays that were part of her homework. The experience gradually brewed the idea of starting a theatre troupe. Today is the third birth anniversary of our theater. The first play we put on stage was The Zoo Story, which lasted for more than two hours. This was also the first play I directed in China. One last-minute change was that Laetitia was unable to act because of her involvement in the shooting of a TV series. I decided to go on without her and give the lead role to a Chinese actor Fan Jinxuan.
Does the theater troupe have stable income?
Xavier Froment: Of course, no. Our plays are sometimes with tickets and sometimes for free. We have made money on rare occasions, but very little money. All actors and actresses are working for their goals, and not for money. If that's the case, they would have left long ago. They share a passion for drama and also don't have to wait long for a big role in a play. For example, young actors and actresses, who have to start by playing small roles elsewhere, can play big roles in our group. We tend to choose plays without small roles. I doubt Liu Yang can get the role of Confucius elsewhere. (Confucius is one of the productions of the club.)
Liu Yang: We support ourselves. Although some companies have shown interest in making an investment, Xavier Froment said no when some companies make staging the company's plays as the prerequisite.
Have you ever considered staging a commercial performance?
Xavier Froment: We have thought about that. East Palace West Palace is our first real commercial production owing to the reputation of its author Wang Xiaobo. This novel has also been put on the big screen by the famous director Zhang Yuan. Our next play is also a commercial one, Ma femme s'appelle Maurice of Raffy Shart. Liu Yang will be the lead role in this play.
"My Chinese beans with 'I wash myself' (Wo Xi Wo in Pinyin)."
How do you get to know the Chinese language and the Chinese culture?
Xavier Froment: I started to study Chinese in the fall of 1989 in Paris at the age of 13. I came to China for the first time in the summer of 1993 with my Chinese teacher. We stayed in Beijing for a whole month. The second trip was in 1998, traveling with a friend. I came to China for the third time in August 2001 and decided to stay in Beijing. It was in the same month that I got to know Liu Yang. He can tell you about my Chinese level back then.