Thoughts of Liu Libin on the trip to Budapest for the 10th Theatre Olympics

Great anticipation precedes the Chinese performance of Faust at the 9th Madách International Theater Meeting (MITEM) taking place within the framework of the 10th Theater Olympics. The performance will be presented on the main stage of the of the National Theater (Budapest) on May 10. The director of the production, Professor Liu Libin, is a member of the international organizing committee of the Theater Olympics, who shared his thoughts with us on his way to Budapest about his interpretation of Faust and about the Theater Olympics itself.

More than a century ago, Johann Wolfgang Goethe and his poetic drama Faust were introduced to China. Ever since then, both the great German writer and his work have widely influenced this country, becoming one of the favorite works by many Chinese literary researchers and readers, and a popular play for artistic adaptation and creation, despite its impenetrability and obscurity. Faust is a classic literary work that is conceived against a grand backdrop, with sophisticated content and rich structure, written in constantly changing styles. With realistic description, wild imagination is combined; with contemporary life, ancient myths and legends are fused. Its scenes and characterisation feature variety, quirkiness and witticism, which constitutes part of the work’s artistic altitude and charm. This brilliantly organized poetic drama that blends realism with romanticism, comprised of 12,111 lines, starts with the gambling between God and Mephistopheles, a devil, and the agreement between Faust and the Mephistopheles. God believes that, despite their weaknesses, human beings will always guard their integrity, and will not stray away from the right path; Mephistopheles, nevertheless, despises human beings and sees them as scum. At odds, the two turn to Faust, a mortal man, and bring forward a bet on him. To prove his assertion, Mephistopheles visits the mortal world and makes a deal with Faust, in which the devil is at Faust’s disposal as long as the latter wants, but Faust’s life will come to an end once he feels satisfied, and his soul will then belong to Mephistopheles.

The drama is not coherent when it comes to the plot. Inspired by German folklore, it unfolds as Faust’s ideas change, telling the five tragic stories in the heroin’s life: his hunger for knowledge, his yearn for love, his endeavor for power, his aspiration for supreme art, and his ambition for success. The image of Faust in the play reflects Goethe’s profound insight and understanding of human nature and spirit. The play has applauded the positive meaning of life, highlighted pragmatism and creation, and showcased the courage of refusing wrong doings and thinking. It also eulogizes the striving for strength, the pursuit of progress, the alert of self-satisfaction, as well as optimism, which altogether boil down to the universally acknowledged ‘Faust’s Spirit’.

This ‘Faust’s Spirit’, however, has been interpreted in multiple ways from various perspectives when it’s set against different times and cultures, everything but the German way. In China, the eponymous character of Faust (1832) was once bracketed with the Monkey King from Journey to the West (1592), as they were both from fantasies derived from folklore, and had been most popular targets for creation and adaption, which then were staged in diverse forms of folk culture. In another example, the two stories were compared from the perspective of the differences and complementarity between Chinese and Western cultures. They were believed to be representing the civilizations from which they had been born. Faust is regarded as a complete but dichotomous human being, while the Monkey King as a half-human, half-monster figure that links the mortal world with the immortal one.

With its plot of separating the subjectivity and objectivity, “Faust” is a reflection of individualism, which is different from the notion of harmony between man and nature in Journey to the West, a symbol of collectivism. While these two cultural concepts are totally different, they are not opposite but complementary to another. Faust is a heroic individual who combines the divinity and demoniac. He expresses the spirit of exploring constantly human values by” Where we are at the end of unremitting self-improvement, can save”. And Monkey King in Journey to the West is also a heroic protagonist combining the animality, humanity and divinity. He knows the ceremony, hates the rascality, while sometimes becomes self-satisfied or impatient, which is typically the character of human. With the lead of Tang Monk, he managed to get to the West and become a Buddha with the other two junior, realizing his personal and social value.

In the original plot of poetic play Faust, Faust regained his youth after drink the potion from the witch. Then he went out from his study room, experienced love with Gretchen. He went back to Ancient Greece with his student Wagner as well as the robot they made, met Helen, fell in love with her and had a child. With the passion to his career, he led the people to reclaim land from the sea by building dykes, trying to benefit human by remolding nature. By the end of his life, he said “how beautiful you are, please stay for a while…” as an enjoyment. When Mephistopheles was going to take Faust’s soul, the God sent an angel leading Faust back to heaven. The whole story reflects five periods of Faust’s desire in his life: to knowledge, to love, to power, to beauty of art and to his career. But all his pursue gets failed in a tragical result.

The five-act play The Tragedy of Faust, adapted from Goethe’s Faust. The text was written to show human being’s blindness for desire and introspectiveness from the failure of Faust’s intention to conquering the nature to the collapse of his political ideal; from the disillusion of Faust’s pursuing for classical aesthetics to the failure of his seeking for real love. Till at last, he felt despair in the hunger for knowledge, Faust’s insatiable desire drives him to experience the ups and downs of life with the help of Mephistopheles, the devil, leaving him only the pain of failure. Under the encouragement of Gretchen, Faust finally recognized the situation, and fought with the devil. Faust’s life of constantly self-examination and exploration of the meaning and value of ‘human’ existence brings out the good in humanity

Selling one’s soul to satisfy his own desire is Faust’s tragedy, also human beings’ tragedy. If the glory civilization self-praised was built on the base of human being’s desire, then, our progress and development were nonsense which must be full of mental sufferings.

Thus, we pose the question: What should it really like to be “human”?

Faust is a wise and knowledgeable character in German folklore who knows divination, astronomical phenomena, magic, alchemy, etc. He signed a contract with the devil: The Devil shall serve Faust when Faust is alive, and can process Faust’s soul after his death.

The legend of Faust is actually a story of moral education, by this story, people was warned to get rid of desire and trained to be a devoted person, or else, ghosts will put their feet in hindering human beings from cultivating personality of rightness. Thus, no matter from the distant past, at the moment in 21st century or in the future, to getting rid of desire and not to obsessing over materials and benefits are always practical questions faced by human beings. And moral discipline is unavoidable which is needed to be guarded unceasingly.

“Mutual Understanding”, “Friendship”, “Unity and Fair Competition” is Olympics’ spirits, they are also the rules and directions complied by all participating countries, in the Olympics’ spirits of physical contests, the important element is the cultural element. In 2013, Mr. Terzopoulos, the Chairman of Theatre Olympics’ International Committee emphasized on the press conference of the 6th Theatre Olympics held in Beijing that theatre was a crucible part in culture. This concept was proposed for calling on integrating more cultural elements into the whole Olympics’ spirits, and fully exhibiting the mix of theatre, culture and art in the spirits. Theatre Olympics aims to combine traditional and contemporary culture in multi-faceted ways with social varieties, that’s why the Theatre Olympics is extended widely around the world.

In the Forum of implementing the 6th Theatre Olympics in Beijing, the committee proposed the theme of this event with “Dream”. It’s very interesting that in English words, “Drama” and “Dream” are very similar in spelling. The Committee believed that, theatre originated from life, while this life was not the real life, its nature was dreams on stage made by human beings. In the history of Chinese theatre, many well-known dramatists wrote about dreams. There were many playscripts described dreams or named by dreams. Theatre is a way of expressing people’s dreams, by this, they could express emotions, longing for the future and lighting up the heartful hope. The 6th Theatre Olympics aimed to show the dream of China’s theatre and step into the stage of the world theatrical centre. From November to Dec 25th 2014, the 6th Theatre Olympics was held successfully in Beijing with 45 plays of 22 countries and regions participating into this grand event. Among those plays, two thirds were foreign dramatic works, one third were China’s local theatrical plays. The art forms were including theatre, opera, dance theatre, Chinese traditional theatre and other major theatre calories. This event has won highly praise and comments from the field of drama, art and audiences.

The chief creators and credits of our play, The Tragedy of Faust, are all teachers from teaching positions, including the scriptwriter, director, actors and stage designer. Among them, there are professors with much teaching experiences, and lively young teachers experienced much teaching work. In our group participating the 10th Theatre Olympics in Budapest Hungary, there’s a graduate student in the major of Theatre Management. We are glad to share The Tragedy of Faust, a joint creation works adapted from Goethe’s Faust to this event and audiences. 

Here, we sincerely hope a complete success of the 10th Theatre Olympics.

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