Interview by Tiffany Tsay, based in Washington
Standing next to a group of 17 year-olds on stage, Jin Ran, in her jean shorts and cardigan, totally fits in. The empty theatre can accommodate an audience of a few hundred people. Jin Ran seems tiny on the stage. But when the 25 year-old speaks, you can hear her from the last row.
Jin Ran is teaching drama to high school students while completing her Masters degree in theatre directing at China’s prestigious Central Academy Of Drama. She has already directed three plays, two of which were originals and has written and acted in a few other award-winning plays in Beijing’s art circle.
Jin Ran joined a drama society in her undergraduate years to brighten up her university life. “I married theatre before I fell in love with it.” Soon after joining, Jin Ran was captivated by drama because of the atmosphere on stage.
She calls herself a non-traditional director and she certainly seems to teach unconventionally. “Call me Jin Ran. This is your show, let me know what you want,” as Jin Ran introduced herself to her students.
She does not like to use a microphone while teaching because it creates barriers. “I need to be as involved as the students – we jump, scream and sweat together,” Jin Ran says.
Art Zeen joined Jin Ran in one of her drama classes in Southern Beijing. We talked about her career, Chinese theatre and even touched on homosexuality in China.
Art Zeen:Has anyone warned you that working in Chinese theatre does not make much money?
Jin Ran: That is common knowledge. A director friend spent 30 minutes on the phone with me, trying to talk me out of it. Even my academic advisor said that I would be better off with any other degree to make money. Other friends also threatened me that if I became one of the few female theatre directors out there, I probably wouldn’t find a husband and might end up turning gay.
Art Zeen: It seems ironic that a director tried to talk you out of the same profession that he is in. Why is he still in it then?
Jin Ran: It is more like self-mockery. When you make a living from your dreams, you face many brutal realities. He is still doing it, which is a testimony to theatre. I take my friends’ bitter words as an expression of care.
Art Zeen: How did you feel about the view that female directors must be tough like men to survive in this business?
Jin Ran: It is discriminating to think that only men can be good directors. A female director offers a different perspective.
Art Zeen: Why are female directors stereotyped for being lesbians?
Jin Ran: Gay stigma is still a problem in China today. Some people tend to judge women for being tough and masculine. And they still associate these traits with lesbians. I think China only removed homosexuality from its book of mental disorders (the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders) 12 years ago. That’s like 20 years behind the WTO.
Art Zeen: So it takes time for people to accept this group and understand that they are just like everyone else, with diverse interests and personalities.
Jin Ran: Yeah, many homosexual people are still afraid of coming out. Personally, I don’t see the difference between homosexual and heterosexual love.
Art Zeen: What inspired you to adapt Romulus Der Grosse for a Chinese audience and how is it relevant to them?
Jin Ran: I really like this script so it is difficult for me to sum up the themes in a few sentences. The author questions heroism, individualism and nationalism. Romulus has a famous line, which I agree with very much. ‘You should not love a country more than you love yourself.’ A nation is just an abstract concept. It makes more sense to love an individual. The script explores war, history and the world. That’s why it interests those thoughtful university students in China.
Art Zeen: What kind of drama do you want to produce in the future and what needs to be done to realize your vision?
Jin Ran: Creative and experimental drama. I hope my audiences can always get some ah-ha moments from my work, either through learning new perspectives or learning new ways of having fun. To realize this, you need a lot of supportive producers and scriptwriters. Working in theatre is like burning money. To make an inappropriate comparison – using drugs to escape from real life also costs a lot of money. Why not spend that money on escaping into drama, which is both thought provoking and entertaining.