feature stories

Selena Lu

Selena Lu in Annata, Not a Real Drag Show, courtesy of Selena Lu.

This is Selena Lu writing from Shanghai.

When working independently, I use documentary theatre as a means of investigation into social events which cast a strong emotional impact on me: Quiet (2016) visited the significant others of the missing flight MH370 incident while it was under strict surveillance and press ban, The Way to Walden (2015-18) followed a group of students from a bankrupt bogus art college, R.I.P. Papa (2021) explored the spiritual world of the dying and the unspeakable family dilemma based on recordings/videos collected in hospice service.

R.I.P. Papa, courtesy of Selena Lu

For me, theatre is an event, an action, a rite-of-passage that is demanded by a particular situation/ community, yet cannot be fulfilled otherwise but from within the time-space of theatre. For example, in The Way to Walden, the students were abandoned by the school, and the performance was hosted as a graduation ceremony with the audience attending as their families. The school was coincidentally located in a housing estate called Walden, and I decided to use “Walden” as an overarching metaphor for storytelling, encouraging the students to reflect on their state-of-being through a heightened perspective. The “rehearsals” involved reading Walden (Thoreau, 1854), reiterating journeys to Walden, and drama-therapeutical workshops using the empty chair technique. For the students, it was a process of reconciliation with all the socio-psychological complexities involved, whereas for the audience, it was controversial. Some called it cultish/manipulative while others grew attached to their assigned “kids”.

Way to Walden, courtesy of Selena Lu.

For the last 4 years, I’ve devoted myself to ensemble practice (aoaoing.com), and we make site specific performances. Ensemble practice is an urgent response to the institutionalization of theatre in China and the lack of creative freedom in public spaces. We are like a guerrilla flashmob, inserting invisible performances in soon-to-be gentrified districts (Here We Wu-er, 2019-), rejuvenating long-lost rituals in the modern countryside (Future Fest, 2020-), dragging up and touring parties in a truck (Annata, Not A Real Drag Show, 2019-) etc..