Mei Lanfang, the subject of an episode of Century Masters, will have his legacy showcased in a screening at the 2021 Beijing Documentary Week. The program, Century Masters is a 15-part cultural history TV program that focuses on a different historical subject each airing. This particular episode was written and hosted by NYFA’s very own Chair of Broadcast Journalism, Bill Einreinhofer.
The Beijing Documentary Week is a film festival that attracts leading documentary producers and production companies from across China. This year’s circuit was held between August 14th and August 21st, 2021.
Einreinhofer’s Century Masters episode featuring the subject Mei Lanfang follows the story of his upbringing, influence, and global recognition as a great master of Chinese Peking Opera. Mei Lanfang’s untraditional adaptation to historic stories reinvented them for new audiences and modern times. Fun fact, it would take you a calendar year to watch every Chinese Peking Opera if you watched one per day. That’s how many productions the theatre group created over its 100-year history. You can watch the full episode of Century Masters featuring Mei Lanfang, written and hosted by Bill Einreinhofer here.
Bill Einreinhofer with the camera team of Century Masters filming in ChinaMei Lanfang’s story begins as a young child, growing up in a tumultuous, war-torn China in the early 1900s. Born into a family of privilege and Opera talent, Mei Lanfang’s grandfather is one of the originators of Peking Opera theatre. His father and uncle, both top performers and musicians of the Opera, had high expectations for their son and nephew. Unfortunately for Mei Lanfang, his youth and happy personality were a deterrent for teachers of the art.
Considered lazy and untalented, Mei Lanfang’s family extinguished their hopes the child could continue their family trade. After experiencing financial hardship, Mei Lanfang received help and support from a family friend. Very grateful even until his last day, he paid this generosity forward by treating his family’s Opera troupe with dignity and flexibility during economic hardships.
Mei Lanfang became an apprentice to this family friend and his talent blossomed into the internationally recognized art we know him for today.
Peking Opera, now a popular subject for study in many Chinese theatre schools, has four subjects for which its young student population, between the ages of 11 and 12, must master. These subjects include singing, monologues, acting, and martial arts. For young students, training for Peking Opera is a six-year-long endeavor.
Mei Lanfang is most famous for his adaptation of the popular Opera, Spring of the Jade Hall, the story of a prostitute falsely accused and charged with murder. His performance on Broadway in 1930s New York won him acclaim across the United States. Now recognized on an international stage as a great writer and performer, Mei Lanfang earned an Honorary Doctorate in literature from the University of Southern California.
His success while in the United States was of great national pride for China and contributed to his long-lasting legacy.
This episode of Century Masters aired in China during the Lunar New Year celebration (also known as the Chinese New Year), where the country witnessed its highest TV viewings.
The episode also aired throughout the Middle East. With time, influential figures like Mei Lanfang will have their legacies broadcasted around the globe. Their influence and impact continue to live on, thanks to filmmakers and documentary journalists like Bill Einreinhofer.
New York Film Academy congratulates Faculty Chair, Bill Einreinhofer for his well-deserved recognition.