BWW Interviews: Joseph Graves Talks REVEL'S WORLD OF SHAKESPEARE, AVENUE Q and More
Joseph Graves is a western theatre actor and director who has been living in China since 2002. He is the Artistic Director of PKU Institute of World Theatre and Film, playwright and actor of RAVEL'S WORLD OF SHAKESPEARE, and director of the upcoming musical AVENUE Q.
BroadwayWorld China recently chatted with Joe about his plays and his stories in China.
We know Revel's World of Shakespeare was brought to stage in 2005. It has been 8 years now and we can see you're still very passionate about it. What's so special about this show?
I wrote it here when I was living in China, and I first performed it at People's Artist Theatre in Capital Theatre. Since then, I probably performed it for 250, 300 times in different cities all around China, Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. But never in the West, I'm hoping next year (we can bring it to the West).
The play is autobiographical, so it's based on my first introduction to Shakespeare when I was 9, living in London. It's just a story I want to tell, mainly about how mentors affect our lives. So even though it's a particular story about a young boy in a private boy school in London in 1960s, it has a universal residence of stories that all of us have been affected by some person, for better or worse. And because I'm inextricably fond of Shakespeare, my life has pretty much spent on Shakespeare since that time, and a lot people in China seem to be really interested in hearing that, I wrote this play.
You've been in China for over 10 years now. I think most of our readers are curious about what made you come here in the first place and what made you stay?
I came here to direct a Shakespeare play, then I met Professor Cheng Zhaoxiang, who is the Dean of School of Foreign Language in Peking University, and also a Shakespearean. He has been teaching Shakespeare for many years, but never felt he can teach Shakespeare completely because he didn't know much about theatre. He asked me to come to do a workshop for students. We decided to do The Tempest. We posted an audition notice on the website and 4000 kids came to audition. It took me a week to interview 800 of them and then I put 80 of them in The Tempest. It was just the kind of life changing experience for me because all of them were passionate, intelligent and some of them were really gifted. Then I discovered when talking with Professor Cheng that there weren't any theatre department in higher education in China. There were art departments, but they were mainly academic, so there weren't many opportunities for talented, creative young students to experience the creative side of them. So (I stayed to change that).
Now when I go back to the West, I get home sick for China. I'm just a Beijing boy who speaks Chinese really bad.
Most actors are always dreaming about performing on big stage, in big theatres. But most of your plays in China now are on small theatres like Penghao and Donggong. Do you miss performing in theatres like Heymarket Theatre in West end?
No. There were actually some gigantic theatres in China where I've performed. The idea behind play which is so different from TV and film is that it's a much more intimate experience, so the size of the theatre and audience are not so important, but the communication is. Sometimes for more intimate plays it's much better when there're fewer people, so you can have much more direct and intense contact with audience. The theatre (Dong Gong Theatre) I'm gonna doing Revel in now can seats about 500 people, which is really about as big as I ever want for this play.
It has been announced lately that another musical directed by you, Avenue Q, will open in Shanghai later this year. I think it's a rather interesting production choice for Chinese theatre, considering the amount of adult content it contains. Could you tell us something about this production and why chose this show.
It's a show I think will be popular with young people. In America, it was so popular mainly because of a child show that's still on called Sesame Street. All of us grow up with Sesame Street, and these little puppet people would say if you work really hard, if you do your homework, and if you're a very good person, then when you grow up will be very successful. Avenue Q was written to say, well, that's not necessarily true. So when American went into the theatre, saw the puppet talking, saw how the puppets were doing, they immediately identify the Sesame Street show. It will be a little bit difficult for Chinese audience, but the story about young twenty years old people searching for meaning of life, love and success, so it's very easy to be related to. And we're setting it, rather than in New York City, in Shanghai, so our set design is very Shanghainese and Beijingnese .