24 Nov Blog | ‘MISSING’ IN CHINA – Part 1
So much mystery surrounds any trip to China, so much excitement, oodles of preparation, hours of waiting in line for Visas, millions of emails sent back and forth across time zones and above all so much good will and positivity for the arts. There is a genuine desire on both sides of the team to produce the best possible work for audiences who have often never seen anything like a Gecko show. Four cities await us over three weeks: Shanghai, Wuhan, Nanjing and Shenzhen all play host to MISSING.
Sitting on the plane from Paris to Shanghai it’s clear that our team (consisting of 5 performers, a lighting designer, a production manager, 3 stage managers, a producer and me) are all really up for it. We mean business. We want the show to be the very best it can be and despite Gecko having a long standing relationship with our Chinese collaborators (via the British Council) we still don’t really know what to expect from this trip.
I am nervous about the tour. I have read so much about China and tried to prepare myself for the experience, but I know that there will be surprises around every corner. I must – as is always the case when Amit is not with the show – make sure the work is as powerful as it can be and as I think about the team we have now, I feel more confident than ever that we are ready for anything… We will be introducing two new crew members into the MISSING team in Matt and Emma which is a great opportunity to go over every detail of the show again. I have worked on MISSING since the very beginning (three or four years ago) and we are still constantly finding new ways to make the show work smoother, stronger and with even more emotional impact. I am keen for that to continue in China.
The plane touches down in Shanghai, after about 10 hours and a brief stop-off in Paris we are greeted with a video demonstration of Tai Chi exercises designed to help us with our circulation after the flight. It’s not long before most of us are doing the moves in our seats and actually feeling much better for it (I did feel a bit of an idiot at first but then I thought, “Dive in, its the only way!” That will be my mentality for this whole trip).
At the airport we are met by our Chinese support team – in Shanghai Maggie and Echo are with us the most as well as a technical manager, a producer and various other lovely support people. We have a Chinese technical crew too which is just fantastic. We will learn later that Echo chose her ‘Western name’ when she was a child; as a proud book-worm, she took the name from her favourite author. She tells us that most Chinese children acquire a more western sounding name in school, often as part of English lessons. In her class, a list of names was written up on the wall and the class were invited to choose their favourite. I think this is fascinating: imagine the excitement of being able to choose your own name as a child. I would have definitely ended up as a Thunder Cat, or a Jedi or a Goonie… Hang on… perhaps it is not too late? Later we learn that there are loads of ways of getting a non Chinese name. Lincoln (a student we met) was named by his father because the name means ‘leader’ and he wants great things from his son.
After a bus to our hotel we are straight out exploring the city. Shanghai is awesome – if you haven’t been I really recommend it. It’s easy to navigate, with a super cheap and clear metro system fully prepared for english speakers. Having recently braved the underground in Moscow (which by comparison is totally incomprehensible) it is a joy to jump on the metro in Shanghai.
Checked in. Roz (producer) heads straight off to the French Concession to meet an old friend. Francois (performer) has a friend here too – Francois has friends everywhere we go! Some of us head straight to the Bund (a touristy area along the river with views of the financial district and the epic sky scrapers) which is probably my least favourite part of central Shanghai. It’s great to see the city lit up and the cityscape along the river is very cool, but it’s the part of Shanghai that feels most like London to me… perhaps it’s the western influence in the architecture. Later, everyone meets up for our first (of many) taste-tastic chinese meals. We order about 15 dishes of Chinese cuisine and as many beers, and I am amazed when the bill comes in at about £35 – for 12 of us to eat and drink like kings! We are stuffed and head back to the hotel to sleep. The streets are packed with people, tiny stalls on every corner; in a car park two restaurant employees are playing badminton in a break, further along a woman collects leaves into a pile and sets them alight – perhaps to keep warm? Outside our hotel music is booming from an amp and about 40 people are doing what can only be described as a kind of gentle line dance. They all know the routine, and in fact as you walk further you see other groups dancing different routines. It appears to be a kind of social gym. Echo tells us that is popular all over China as a form of exercise and fun. I love it. I notice that some people appear to be wearing PJ’s in the street. Maggie tells us, “In Shanghai, some people like to wear PJ’s in the street.” I love this too…
After a day of get-in, Roz and I go to visit the crew at the venue. I can honestly say that the Shanghai Grand Theatre is one of the most amazing buildings i have ever been in or even seen. As I approach the building I am overwhelmed with a sense of how lucky I am that this is my job. Later in the bar we talk about how lucky we all feel to be able to take our work around the world to such extraordinary places. Gecko work extremely hard for such privilege, across the entire organisation, but the perks of this job are particularly perky. Don’t get me wrong, this is no holiday. I’m shattered after the tech day, and even fall asleep mid conversation on one occasion as the jet lag finally beats me (imagine how tired the crew are on very little jet-lagged sleep going straight into three 12-hour days). The performers are working very hard in challenging conditions and the tech team are working epic amounts to provide foundations for the work and the story to exist upon, but I think the whole team would agree that it is very special what we get to do for a living.