All the water is a stage

… and once a year in the town of Wuzhen all the tourists can be audience members

Picture an entire town turned into one grand immersive theater: huge marionettes walking through a narrow, flagstone-paved lane, mother and daughter sitting leisurely in a “paper” boat that floats along a river, young couples whispering under a night sky lit up by florescent kites.

No matter where you go in the town of Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, during its annual theater festival you are likely to run into performances-and some in the unlikeliest of places, such as at the corner of an otherwise quiet square, under the roofs of a moss-carpeted dock, and even on rowing boats.

Even tourists unaware of the festival will find themselves immersed in plays, dance and music, everybody being invited to roam the 1,300-year-old town’s alleys, riverbanks and theater venues. Again this year, from Oct 25 to Nov 3, the festival transformed the town into a stage for performance and expression.

They can, for example, step into the “home” of the Italian director Eugenio Barba as he throws a “dinner party”. Before the performances of The Tree he stood outside welcoming members of the audience and showed them where to store their personal belongings.

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“This is a very creative way of thinking theater, that the spectators are my guests to share a dinner, and food are sounds, images, words, poetry,” said Barba, founder of the Odin Teatret of Denmark.

But forget about private box seats with a glass of champagne in hand. Those who wanted to watch The Tree were required to hand in their phones before performances. When the show began they sat facing one another, celebrities and dilettantes alike, not knowing what the evening would bring.

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