DAS KAPITAL – THE MUSICAL!

Posted on 25 August 2010

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DAS KAPITAL – THE MUSICAL!

JDM090312kapital.jpgAccording to Xinhua

When Karl Marx famously said “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” he might well have added “…or as a musical.”

One can only guess at what the great political and economic philosopher might have thought of his best-known work, Das Kapital, distilled into a song and dance production — but Shanghai audiences have been flocking to see it since it opened last week.

Broadway musical elements have been adopted in this black humor story, which involves the audience in a critique of modern capitalism and the social realities of 21st Century China.

“Confronting current social realities, how to reinterpret Marx’s masterpiece became the mainspring for producing the stage play,” says He Nian, who directs the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center production at the Shanghai Majestic Theater.

While it may have borrowed the most famous title penned by Marx (1818-1883), He says the performance taps into and reflects a renewed interest in the work.

“Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ has run out of copies in some Western countries since the financial crisis in 2008, and a ,” says the 30-year-old director.

High housing prices, second generations of the rich, and the financial crisis are the modern phenomena interpreted according to the theories of Marxist economics.

The production tells a story of an actor who plans to raise 10 million yuan (1.47 million U.S. dollars) to invest in a stage play. However, it turns into a capital operation after China’s most successful real estate tycoon and most popular comedian join in.

The actor becomes the performance company’s boss and the company is soon listed on the Nasdaq exchange. Standard and Poor even creates an “applause index” for it — the more applause the higher the share price.

Danwei reported the conception of the play back in March 2009:

Yang Shaolin, general manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, told the with English subtitles of the TV version)

He Nian combines elements from animation, Broadway musicals, and Las Vegas stage shows to bring Marx’s economic theories to life as a trendy, interesting, and educational play. As Danwei reported:

Laughing at the doubters, Yang Shaolin said that more than a decade ago, when [Chinese theatre] was dominated by [the classics] and the Stanislavsky system, it certainly would have been difficult to imagine Das Kapital adapted into a play with “main characters, major dramatic elements, and profound educational meaning.” However, as drama has flourished in many different forms that make use of a variety of different ideas, the stage has opened up to the point that turning a profound theoretic work like Das Kapital into a play is no longer an intractable problem.

To director He Nian, Das Kapital and the theory of surplus value are serious issues, yet he wants to make them fun to watch. He will set the play in a business. In the first half of the story, the employees discover that their boss is exploiting them and learn of the “surplus theory of value.” However, they react differently to the knowledge of their exploitation: some are willing to be exploited by the company, and the tighter they are squeezed, the more they feel they are worth. Others rise in mutiny, but this ruins the company and leaves them out of work. Still others band together and use their collective wisdom to deal with the boss….He Nian said that due to the different points of view held by the boss and the workers, he would borrow the structure of to show things repeatedly from different viewpoints.

He Nian has always dreamed of making a musical, and music can be found in his earlier works, The Deer and the Cauldron and My Own Swordsman. Das Kapital brings his dream one step closer to reality. This time, he will bring a live band on stage, and the actors will sing and dance in addition to speaking their lines. Scenes from Zhu Deyong’s comic strips will show up in Das Kapital, too. “The particular performance style we choose is not important, but Marx’s theories cannot be distorted. We’ll have professor Zhang Jun and experts from Beijing act as academic advisors for Das Kapital to ensure that this theoretic classic is performed correctly.

The Xinhua story reports how Yang Shaolin, general manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center and production designer, believes that profit-driven capital needs to be regulated, controlled and supervised. After each performance there is a debate about current financial regulations and surplus value allocations in modern China. Yang says neither the government nor the public have challenged the production and he is confident that tickets will continue to sell well.

As bizarre as this may sound, a theatrical Das Kapital is not an unprecedented undertaking. Japanese writer, translator, and civil servant Sakamoto Masaru (阪本勝) wrote a mammoth stage adaptation of Marx’s masterpiece (戯曲資本論, 1931) that was translated into Chinese by Fei Mingjun and published in 1949 as A Dramatic Capital (戏剧资本论). Sergei Eisenstein had also planned to make a film version of Capital on his return to the USSR in 1932, but this project never reached a conclusion.

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