Text by Zhao Yue and Juliette HuPhotographs by Juliette Hu
As the curtain dropped on the classic playThunderstorm, the theater burst into thunderousapplause.
Created in 1934, Thunderstorm wasthe first work of the renowned Chinese playwrightCao Yu. Publication of the play also symbolized thematurity of China’s modern drama. The four-acttragedy relates the events of one day, involving eightcharacters from two families. The twisted relationsbetween characters are focused on torturous affairsspanning decades. Early in 1954, the Beijing People’sArt Theatre (BPAT) successfully staged the play. Thisyear marks the 60th anniversary of the theater, andthe drama is already enjoying a second revival. YangLixin, currently the captain of BPAT’s actors, plays thelead character Zhou Puyuan, a greedy and mercilessbusinessman. “It’s my most challenging role ever,” heremarked.
Growing Up on Stage
We interviewed Yang in his dressing room at BPATon July 1, three hours before Thunderstorm would beginits final performance. He gave us an hour, whichseemed generous with an impending performancelooming. According to the theater’s tradition, actorsand actresses spend the two hours before performancerehearsing in their heads in dressing rooms.
In 1975, 17-year-old Yang walked into BPAT carryingonly simple luggage. “Starkly contrasting today’syouth who are well prepared, I knew nothing aboutdrama at the time,” recalled Yang. Before acceptance asa trainee, Yang had only seen a single play. “I couldn’tremember any of the storyline of the play, and my onlyfeelings then were: how could plays be so boring?”One year after enrolling at BPAT, Yang finallymade his performance debut. His first role was nonspeaking.His only function, according to the script,was to run from one side of the stage to the other. Fiveyears later, the young actor finally scored his first lead.In today’s entertainment industry, five years is a longtime. However, for Yang’s generation, it was natural.