Finding dramatic respite
Despite their numbers continuing to rise, China’s 20 million domestic workers have few ways of making their voices heard. However, a small group of domestic workers in Beijing is attempting to communicate through drama.
Most of the members of the Viola Lactiflora Drama Club are domestic workers. They hope to tell their stories through the plays they write, which are basedontheir experiences.
“Drama is a good way to express emotions,” said Yan Chengmei, who founded the club in 2011. “Body language and good lines make it easier for people who know little about domestic workers to learn about the conditions they work in.”
Yan, who also directs the plays, has sought outside help. “I invite scholars who care about domestic workers to give lectures,” she said.
She recalled how a Chinese student from Harvard University contacted the group and introduced the members to a professor of performing arts from Duke University in North Carolina, and how the academicvisitedChinaandhelpedthem rehearse Shakespeare’s Night’s Dream.
Rehearsals are difficult to arrange, though, because most domestic workers only have one day off a week.
“Although we have nearly 100 members, only 10 to 15 can attend rehearsalsregularly, sotheactorshave to be changed constantly,” said Yan.
Alack of funds poses another challenge. “We try to get free rehearsal venues with help from friends and colleagues, and have to move constantly,” she said.
The club has staged eight plays in theaters, but a lack of funding and high costs mean they can no longer afford to rent professional spaces. “I bargained with a theater in a Beijing suburb. They gave us a good price because they knewwe were performing for a charity, but it still cost 7,000 yuan ($1,050) to stage a matinee and an evening performance,” she said.
The rent in theaters downtown is more than 8,000 yuan for each performance, even those staged during the daytime, although volunteers help with the lighting and other jobs.
In addition to giving domestic workers a voice, the club also gives A Midsummer
Thanks to the club, we have a place to go on our rest days.”
a member of the Viola Lactiflora Drama Club the women, most of them migrant workers, a sense of belonging.
Member Jia Huifeng has nicknamed the club the domestic workers’ niangjia, literally “the home of the married woman’s parents.” In China, women traditionally tend to turn to the niangjia for help when they encounter difficulties.
“We callYanour mother. Thanks to the club, we have a place to go on our restdays. Wecommunicate, shareour experiences and give advice to those who work for terrible clients. We can relax here,” the 55-year-old said.
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