Dec. 5, the University of Wisconsin’s Saying Theatre will present the Chinese play “Red Rose, White Rose” in a new way, both artistically and challenging the limitations of the pandemic.

The play, “Red Rose, White Rose” (红玫瑰与白玫瑰) is an adaptation of the novella by Eileen Chang. The novella and the play focus on two women in the successful man Tong Zhengbao’s life. His “Red Rose” is Jiaorui, a beautiful and passionate woman, and the wife of his friend Wang Shihong. Later in the story, he is presented with his “White Rose,” Yanli, a respectable woman that lacks any excitement.

A new method of storytelling offers the viewer meditation on love, desire and dissatisfaction. The play’s adaptation uses two performers for each of the main characters to show the duality of their inner psychology and different ways to interpret their characters. A feat for actors who must simultaneously be the same character and not the same character. 

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Eileen Chang, herself born Zhang Ying and also known by the names Zhang Ailing, Chang Ai-ling and Liang Jing, was neither a simple person nor had a simple life growing up. Much of her work contains traces of her own life. Having the opportunity to experience a beloved story of hers told in an innovative way is not an experience to miss.

Yet, as spring bloomed this year, the production of “Red Rose, White Rose” by Saying Theatre had to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. Having to suddenly change their performance date and manage the conflicts of moving rehearsals online, on top of the existing difficult nature of preparing a play has not been easy, but the show must, and will go on. 

On having to move rehearsals online and an uncertain future, Director Qinjun Jiang and actors Yisen Wang and Youjia Mao gave their perspectives.

“Online rehearsal means performers cannot see and interact with each other physically, which made it harder to get into characters,” Jiang said.

Yijie Li, Saying Theatre

Many productions across the world have been cancelled, so for these students, having the opportunity to share their enthusiasm for the arts and their hard work has not been taken for granted.

In order to allow their performance to be seen, Saying Theatre chose to move their performance online to YouTube and Bilibili. This is new ground for all involved and it is filled with both challenges and advantages. Saying Theatre, a UW organization that has been creating theatrical productions since 2015, has been able to provide English captioning for their Chinese language performances.

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Faced with the change in medium, this has provided captioning challenges. The current solution is providing a translation of the play in English, which anyone making a reservation in advance can have access to. While not an ideal solution, these changes help navigate the pandemic’s impacts on theatre. 

Since the performance is broadcasted, those that are time zones away from campus have the opportunity to view the play. Students that have either stayed home for their health or been unable to obtain student visas can take part in supporting their fellow students. Even those on campus, stuck in their dorms, will be able to experience the ephemeral nature of a theatrical performance. 

For those who would like to enjoy “Red Rose, White Rose” performed by Saying Theatre, it is recommended to make a reservation at this link.