06 Dec Blog | ‘MISSING’ IN CHINA – Part 6
From Wuhan we take another bullet train at 300 km/h across misty hills and paddy fields for five hours to Shenzhen. If I’m honest I am kind of glad to leave Wuhan. I think it was my mid-tour slump, perhaps. I know that Chris Evans and Solene and Chris Swain really enjoyed Wuhan, but for me it was too cold and grey. Everyone has their favourite places, and I knew there would be colder places ahead, but Wuhan got into my bones…
Shenzhen, however, is a barmy 22 degrees when we arrive. The city is almost tropical; gone are the jumpers and wooly hats, we’re in a new climate here in the south. If you haven’t heard of Shenzhen there a couple of facts that are very important to know before we I go on: 1) It’s right on the border with Hong King and is pretty much the technology capital of China (if not the world) 2) The city wasn’t there in 1978. In 1979 the Chinese government wanted to create a new, vibrant, modern city. They created a series of zones which could enjoy tax-free trade – special economic areas. What happened next was incredible. The city is now a vibrant, often very beautiful combination of skyscrapers and street markets.
The warm weather is a nice boost for everyone, and whilst this is the first time that a few of us have found creepy crawlies in our room everyone is excited to explore another city. We suss the metro out pretty quickly and it’s not long before everyone is able to find late night noodle bars and pool halls and coffee shops. The theatre is within walking distance of the hotel and we have workshops there this week so we go in search of it. Here is a video I made of the walk from our hotel door through the backstreets to the theatre…
This is the first city we have been to where trees and foliage have really been included in the design. There is greenery everywhere, and whilst it still feels like a monster of a city it’s nice to see some colour. Shenzhen is remarkably different to Wuhan.
On our days off Roz (producer) and I attempt some site-seeing but in Shenzhen there isn’t really too much to see. This city was a village as late at the mid-seventies. I think about how places in England have changed. Cambridge where I grew up has had masses of development in my life time, but the whole of Cambridge would fit into one of the small regions of Shenzhen. There are now about 30 million people living here. It’s amazing what you can do when you buy most of the world’s concrete and invest a few trillion into a place. Shenzhen is home to China’s technology markets. Every iPod ever made was manufactured here apparently. Every person in the modern world probably has components made in Shenzhen in their pocket, if not definitely in their house.
Gecko have been here before. I had heard of its huge technology markets but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw here. On a morning off we head out in search of shopping and find the usual Chinese mega-malls, and expensive western shops (Gap, Levi’s etc.), but what we are after is the technology market. When we eventually find it my jaw hits the ground and pretty much stays there for the rest of the day. The first building we find (the size of John Lewis on Oxford street, maybe bigger) is just selling LED lights. That’s it. A thousand odd people sit at tiny booths tightly packed together over 5 floors, each booth selling a slightly different size, or shape, or quality LED light. Some are selling 1, or maybe 10 as a set. Others are doing deals for a million. Everywhere you walk there is a tea ceremony celebrating a deal struck or a fine bottle of wine being opened to impress clients who are buying in bulk from the factory. As we walk around I realise we are inside eBay – This is what eBay would look like if you could see it as a market. Flabbergasted we leave the LED world and go next door. This time there a four floors of different computer monitors and the components for them. Next door there is a megastore just selling different types of USB cables. And so it goes on and on. We buy a few cables and bits (knowing that they probably wont last long but are worth a punt). I find a few bits for about 10% of the UK RRP. Outside it is clear that this market goes on quite a long way. We pass Mobile Phone World, Camera World, Speaker World, Headphone World… it’s endless and it’s completely overwhelming. We stop for a coffee and take stock of what we have just seen. We all agree it’s an amazing experience just being there and a must for anyone visiting this infant giant of a city.
It’s the day before our first show in Shenzhen and Chris, Solene and I have a workshop booked with local students and theatre makers. Workshops (especially internationally) are always really eye-opening on tour, they provide a perfect way to connect with people and often lead to fruitful friendships between Gecko and teachers/students. I love them. I think they are at the heart of what Gecko do and at the centre of all great art for all companies and styles of work. Our first group is 25 people, the maximum for a Gecko workshop. As the students arrive it is clear that they mean business. There is no messing as they instantly find their own space and begin to stretch. Everyone is in theatre blacks, all clearly ready. We make several breakthroughs with the first group. We have very little time to work out what sort of work they are used to and therefore where we can push them, but soon enough Chris and Solene have them questioning their own comfort zones and suddenly the Gecko language is working beyond the language barrier. The time flies by and I tell the group very honestly at the end of the session that they are the most focused group I have ever encountered for a workshop. These guys take their theatre (especially their acting and dancing) very seriously.
They know what it will take of them to get to the top in China and it is clear that this group have a great deal of training. It also strikes me how attractive they all are. Both male and female students were clearly very ‘good-looking’, in great physical shape and had an open, pleasant manner. I wonder if this is more of a necessity for training in China (I didn’t really know how to ask them after without sounding like a freak)? Do you need to be pretty to have a career in theatre? Are we still in that pit? I think we probably are… The second group was much harder for us, the group had somehow swelled to 35 people and was made up of a mix of professional actors and students. The energy was amazing – they were on the front foot from the very beginning, but the session wasn’t as exciting for them or us I don’t think. It’s tricky… in the UK we would probably have refused to do the session with so many people but when you are are a guest in a country like this it’s important to be flexible. Either that, or turn 10 people away. Because the group was so big we couldn’t push the individuals as hard as we would have liked. I think of Amit’s upcoming 5-day workshop as part of the London International Mime Festival in January – those guys are going to have such a brilliant time because Amit will really get to know them and push them as individuals.