The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Cultures link up via video streaming at international theater performance

Performing arts have long been viewed as a way to bring people together and entertain the masses, and now the University of Iowa International Writing Program and the Theater Department are taking that idea to the extreme with the event Book Wings.

“We are collaborating to share live performances with Russia [Moscow Art Theater] and China [Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center],”  said Carol MacVey, a lecturer in acting and the director of two of the Book Wings presentations. “Each of these three countries has commissioned plays for the event, and these scripts will be performed and shared live through videoconferencing technology.”

China and the UI shared performances from Tuesday evening, and Russia’s shows will be streamed live in the Theater Building’s Theater B at 10 a.m. today.

“We commissioned six American plays [three for each country],” said UI Professor Alan MacVey, the director of the Division of Performing Arts, who helped arrange the program last year and this year. “These were to be 10-minute plays with three to four characters, and Russia and China were doing the same thing. All the Russian and Chinese plays were translated to English and ours to their languages.”

Iowa will produce the three American plays for both Russia and China, along with one play from the country with which they are sharing — each country will perform four shows. The event was held last year, but only Russia and America were involved.

“The idea for Book Wings originally came out of Culture Sub-Working Group of the U.S.-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission,” said Ashley Davidson, an IWP program coordinator. “The idea was to commission literary works on a common theme from young, distinguished writers in the U.S. and Russia, translate the commissioned works, and have two partner stages collaborate to stage one unified dramatic performance to increase cultural exchange between our two nations.”

A grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department pays for the Book Wings event. Following last year’s show, the grant was increased to expand the project and include the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center in China. Everyone involved considered the event a success and believed they gained much from the experience.

“At the end of last year’s program with Russia, the last thing someone said was, ‘We’re going to the streets to protest the election.’ That came home in a very real way,” said Alan MacVey. “These people that we just spent two and a half hours with artistically were out for something completely different. We’re sharing artistic experiences. We’re learning from each other in terms of content and what the plays are about.”

The shows all revolve around a shared theme between UI and each country; “Contact” with Russia, “Immigration” with China.

“The directors have done a great job of arranging the plays so that they build on each other thematically, and the audience [and Internet viewers] will come away feeling satisfied by the way the plays, taken collectively, offer complete explorations of the full range of emotions and ideas associated with the chosen themes,” Davidson said.

While choosing a theme and preparing the performances is work enough, there is also the technical aspect to consider; live-streaming videos thousands of miles apart requires a great deal of care.

“These things [technical aspects] aren’t easy to arrange,” Alan MacVey said. “Then you have to arrange the actual program. We’ll start with what’s going on projected on a screen in Theater B, and they’ll will see what’s happening here. There’ll be a live audience, of course. And then we’ll have a conversation following all the performances.”

The performances and the conversation allow members of the Iowa City community to form connections and bonds with those in Russia and China, allowing them to experience another culture.

“I daresay all of us working on this project — technicians, stage managers, actors, designers, writers — are thrilled to be involved in a technological sharing on this scale and of this scope,” Carol MacVey said. “We all believe theater cannot be static, and we’re excited to be experimenting with new ways to share our art and our craft.”

“International connections are made one person at a time, small groups at a time,” Alan MacVey said. “Inch by inch, we begin to understand each other.”

What: Book Wings

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