NZ - China collaboration
on cutting-edge show

Writer Rachel Davies travelled to Shanghai late last year with the help of an Asia New Zealand Foundation grant to attend the opening of Duality, the show she helped create with the team from creative studio Storybox.

Rachel Davies (second from left) says the demanding nature of staging the show means a tight bond is formed by all involved.

Duality was adapted for the Chinese audience from Storybox's immersive work The Woman Who Forgot, which premiered at the Festival of the Arts in Wellington in February last year. Duality was part of RAW (Rising Artists Works) at the China Shanghai International Arts Festival (CSIAF).

Made in collaboration with the CSIAF and Shanghai Theatre Academy, the show is delivered via an app that converts the audience’s phones into the phone of the main character for the duration of the show. As they walk between locations, audience members receive social media, phone calls and texts, the inner monologue of the main character, as well as music and effects.

Davies worked as a script consultant on the collaboration, helping create a new version of the show specific to the location and themes relevant to a Shanghai audience. 

“It was such a blast to see the work realised,” she says. “I was walking with other audience members down the Shanghai streets, listening to the music and the opening of the show and my heart was pounding through my chest.” 

In Duality, the audience play the part of Bai, who is led into the winding corridors of the Shanghai Theatre Academy to uncover the mystery of her famous sister’s disappearance. Her sister has become dangerously enmeshed in the shallow world of internet celebrity and live streaming, a phenomena that is currently taking China by storm.

Davies says she greatly enjoyed meeting up with the Chinese team: writer Yanzhi, director Tong Tong, and producers, actors and support crew. She says the team had formed a tight bond due to the intense pressure of putting on such a demanding and innovative show.

“By the end of each day they were pretty exhausted. The same happened for us when we did the show in Wellington. It’s not like a regular play, because new audiences go through in time intervals throughout the day, with the actors performing each time.”

Duality was presented at the Immersive Theatre Forum at the festival, alongside Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More and Nian He’s Where is the Groom.

Davies says the forum provided an insightful context for immersive theatre both in China and internationally, helping to define and place this new and ever-growing medium in context among other theatrical art forms.

“It’s bold and visionary of the festival to scout and put on this work at RAW, especially in such a fast time frame."

Festival organises saw the work in February in New Zealand and by October it was staged in Shanghai, with a two month app build necessary in the production timeframe.

"CSIAF want to be at the cutting edge and will take risks to support this and innovate. It is a wonderful opportunity to be here and working with this festival.”

When Davies attended the show, she was filmed by Shanghai television, with the story opening the nightly news.

Davies says there has been strong interest in the show and the team at Storybox are currently figuring out how best to continue to grow and share the work.

They are looking at continuing to create bespoke versions of the format for various festivals, museums and galleries internationally, and in China specifically. She says Storybox are also excited to create a new version of the show, building on all their experiences in China that will be able to travel internationally and speak to audiences worldwide.