From the people who brought Yale Gatsby and BlowUp, The Shanghai Life is a party and interactive installation performance that will transform Commons, Woolsey Hall and the President’s Room into the American consulate in early 1930s Shanghai. Yale University’s campus is the American concession. The 1920s and ’30s saw Shanghai’s rise as a world city right before Japanese troops invaded in 1932.
The party’s pretext is an engagement between a Shanghainese debutante and the son of the American consulate general to China, both played by actors. Members of the Viola Question will play prominent characters from the era, such as Victor Sassoon, a crippled Jewish real-estate tycoon, who, on being denied membership to the American Club, established his own luxurious entertainment complex to rival it.
Commons will feature a spread of Indian, Chinese and European gastronomic delights alongside performing cabaret dancers; Woolsey Hall will have a screening of Shanghai Dokument (1932) by Soviet filmmaker Bilokh; the President’s Room will be the dance floor, centered around live music performed by the Yale Jazz Ensemble. In the Commons Rotunda and lining every entrance to Commons and Woolsey Hall will be visual depictions of street life from the era. This will convey a sense of the atmosphere outside the American Concession during the early 20th century.
Our event is a historical reminder of the last time America was so significantly involved in China. More specifically, it reverses the century-long Yale-China relationship. Yalies are persistently bombarded with information on “Yale-in China,” China’s growth and consumption potential and its rising geopolitical position on the world stage.
We explore what it means for Yale to be “in China” by bringing a performance of “America in China” to Yale. Shanghai’s international demographics then and now parallel the diversity of Yale’s student body. Rather than design an event that appeals to only one subgroup of undergraduates, The Shanghai Life relates unilaterally because it accesses our shared experience at Yale.
Our previous productions, Gatsby and BlowUp, give us valuable background and a chance to improve upon past successes that combined theater, visual arts, dance, music, film and food through parties. Admission will be free.
Su Ching Teh is a senior in Branford College. She is the project leader of The Shanghai Life.