This is a competition and the participants are writing a script where no one lives happily ever after. No handsome prince will meet a beautiful princess. These are tales from a more realistic place.
"I have two sons," a mother says in her monologue. "They are twins. It's amazing that they sleep with exactly the same pose and their teeth look like the same. One day, my husband took them out and one was lost. Now I only have one son."
It's a scene from a play, titled Momo Wuqi (Silent and Endless), written by scriptwriter Fu Boshun, one of the 10 winners of an original scriptwriting competition for young Chinese.
Fu, 28, a postgraduate student of literature at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, where he also obtained his bachelor's degree, told a touching story with his script.
He bases the story on a family, which used to be happy. One of their sons was lost at the age of 6 and returns home 20 years later. The father, who was blamed for losing the boy, dies before his son finds his way back home. While the rest of the family celebrates the return of the lost son, the boy's younger brother feels ignored and alone.
"I read lots of real stories about missing children, which portray the family reunion," Fu says. "But I am curious about what happens after they meet up years later. How do they deal with their relationships? How do they move on with their lives?
"With the script, I want to explore the generation gap and people's changes after growing up. I wrote it as a tragedy, based on some real events."
The script offered originality in the eyes of Guan Bo, one of the judges of the Jindouyun scriptwriting competition, initiated and organized by Talent Organization, a Beijing-based cultural company.
"When I read Fu's script, I was surprised to see how a young man portrays a family with a missing boy. He is keen on observing life and displays his imagination thoroughly with this story," says Guan, also a scriptwriter and deputy director of the production team of the National Center for the Performing Arts. Generally such scripts end with a happy reunion, Guan adds, but Fu focuses more on revealing the subsequent emotional struggles and complexity of the reception among family members and how everyone adapts to the new situation.
According to Fu Ruoyan, founder and general manager of Talent Organization, the competition started this April, when theaters were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though all the performances were put on hold, the competition's organizers still want to encourage young scriptwriters to create new work.
In the month of script solicitation, the organizers received more than 600 works from both new and veteran writers. Ages ranged from 20 to 45. The first round of competition saw 30 scripts stand out, some of which were short, fewer than 500 words.
"We selected interesting ideas, and let the candidates expand their ideas into full scripts. The process was long but rewarding," says Fu Ruoyan, adding that the final 10 winning scripts will be published in Chinese theater magazine New Scripts and will be introduced to investors or film producers, who will hopefully bring them to life on stage or screen.
The selected scripts cover various styles and genres, such as comedies, crime thrillers and science fiction, and the judges have been impressed by the creativity of the young playwrights. To many business insiders, the theatrical market can give fledgling writers ample opportunities. "The market for plays and movies is big in China, and we are always looking for good scripts, which are the base and core of a good movie or a play," he adds.
Cheng Yirui, 20, is the youngest winner of the competition with his script, Kezhong Zhiren (Inside the Box).
It tells the story of a young woman who is recently married and pregnant. Her life is hard and there is conflict, resentment and unhappiness in her relationships. She finds solace, and eventually becomes trapped, in a virtual world where her parents and husband exist, but life is easy and idyllic. While she enjoys the peaceful, perfect existence in that world, it is marred by the nagging desire to return to the real world and face her problems head-on.
"Though I am not married, I've seen many problems existing in marriage," says Cheng, who's still a student at the school of physical medicine and rehabilitation of Beijing Sport University. "For example, couples are constantly stuck to their phones rather than talking to each other, while older people often seem confused about the lifestyles of the younger generation. Those are issues I want to discuss through my script."
And the young writer shows passion in sharing his ideas with future audiences.
"It's an exciting process for me to develop an idea into a script, which could be created and performed as a play or a film, and watched by many people in theaters or on the big screen," Cheng says. "I was alone when I was writing, however, when the story came alive, I loved having people discuss it and share their own ideas."
Among the 10 chosen works, Baba Laizi Huoxing (Papa From Mars) is the only script aimed at children. Combining physical theater and puppets, the story, written by Pan Ruijie, tells of a dying father with leukemia, who convinces his 6-year-old son that he is from Mars and will have to leave to save people who are in danger.
The father tells the son: "I might become an animal or a piece of furniture, because I use my special ability to save people. Don't worry if you cannot see me. I am always your dad no matter what I become."
Pan brings up the issue of life and death in his work. "It is challenging to deal with death in a children's play, but I wanted to give it a try," says Pan, a teacher at Guangxi University, who graduated from Yunnan Arts University and once worked with the provincial drama theater in Yunnan. "For both children and adults, we need to be brave and maintain hope when bad things happen," he adds.