Shanghai set design studio turns trash into puppets to support city’s recycling plans

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Yu Lei on stage with the bird Uwe Photo: Courtesy of Yu Lei

The Nonsense Factory is a stage puppet creation studio launched by young creators in Shanghai. Although all of their creations were made from everyday waste, they are nonetheless gems that have not only been used in live plays across China, but have also gained support from the Shanghai Municipal Government and the local community because they represent a creative solution that adapts with the “green” plans of the megalopolis.

In the wings

The studio was founded in 2022 by Yu Lei, Yu Weiyi and Wo Dele, three creative individuals from different walks of life who came together with the common goal of using discarded everyday objects such as shampoo bottles and feet table to design characters for their own scene. rooms.

Before they met, Yu Lei, the central figure in the team who graduated from the Shanghai Theater Academy with the aim of becoming a professional stage designer, had long focused on using waste in art because he had noticed the inefficient use of stage props that only be used once, Yu told the Global Times.

The insider’s green thinking inspired the other two members and in 2020, the three presented their ambitious ideas as an entrepreneurial project at Yu’s school. Not only did the school like their project, but he got support from the local government and, in Yu’s words, ultimately led to the birth of their studio.

The studio is located in an entrepreneurship incubator park in the city’s Jing’an district. The rent for the 30 square meter space is subsidized by the local government.

“I can’t estimate the number of rooms, but yes, our studio is completely packed,” Yu noted.

Even though their work seems to be freewheeling, it clearly takes vision and experience to be able to turn trash of all shapes and kinds into puppets, some of which can be over two meters tall.

Uwe is one such creation. The giant bird was constructed using a variety of latex buckets. Its long neck is shaped by strips of sponge, and its head is made from a can of bean paste generously donated by Yu’s mom. The Uwe bird is also flexible. The mechanical design of his wings allows performers to move the character in a way that brings him to life. These little tricks were mainly designed by Wo, a former computer expert.

“Like 10 tiny alcohol spray bottles that can make a necklace, our inspiration comes from seeing such things.” Yu explained.

“Such things are also collected at the local bird and flower market as well as at waste stations.”

Prior to establishing the studio in Shanghai, Yu also gained experience teaching “garbage art” at a primary school in Chengdu. He also acted as an external teacher at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts, teaching the subject of waste research and puppet making.

“It was the idea of ​​recycling waste into practice,” Yu explained.

“When teaching children, it’s best to teach them how to make things, but for college students, the focus is on artistic expression and the materials themselves,” Yu noted.

“Implementing such environmental ideas into a curriculum is no longer a novelty. But the underlying philosophy has changed. It was like a theme, but now it becomes a course itself. This is related to the ‘changing social value of the environment in education today,’ Xiong Xinyi, an educator in Beijing, told the Global Times.


Yu Lei will take his designs to the streets Photo: Courtesy of Yu Lei

Yu Lei will take his designs to the streets Photo: Courtesy of Yu Lei

On stage

While Yu noted that these handmade props can sometimes be quite flimsy and therefore may unexpectedly malfunction on stage, their performances with such puppets can still win the hearts of the audience even after seeing such issues.

“We improvise each show, so the lines and the performances are always different. Of course, there were problems with the props on stage, but what we saw the most was the love from the audience and the questions interesting,” Yu said.

Since the studio’s first show, Nonsense Production Factory, which debuted in 2021 at the Cairo International Experimental Theater Festival in Egypt, they have produced several other dramas such as the show directed by Uwe Bosa and Uwe and City Myth: 18 -Facing Knight.

Their shows tell humorous and magical fantasies that attract audiences of all ages.

The creative team revealed to the Global Times that they are currently working on two projects heavily inspired by Chinese culture.

Born in China’s northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Yu revealed to the Global Times that the team is writing a new script for a production related to the mysterious “devil” character Mang Gu Si that they hope to direct. by the end of 2022. .

In addition to their own projects, the team also made props for a client’s new show based on Chinese popular folk history. The Legend of the White Serpent. As Yu explained to the Global Times, this is the team’s very first time working on puppets inspired by Chinese culture and they are eagerly awaiting the results.

“We always think positively when making props and don’t worry much about the results,” Yu noted.

“We appreciate the social value that people have given them and so we want them to get back that childlike freedom of youth.”

Photo studio: Courtesy of Yu Lei

Photo studio: Courtesy of Yu Lei

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