Jo Riley

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Jo Riley
Born Josephine Riley
(20th century)
Occupation writer, translator, theatre actor, schoolteacher
Citizenship British
Education PhD
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Subject Chinese theatre, theatre arts
Notable works Chinese Theatre and the Actor in Performance (1997)
An example of Huangmei opera performance.

Josephine Riley is a British writer, translator, theatre actor, and schoolteacher. Dr. Riley has written and translated several books about theatre arts, especially Chinese theatre. She currently teaches film and drama at Munich International School in Germany.

Riley reads, writes, and speaks Mandarin Chinese, and is better known for having in the early 1980s widely traveled in China and learned to act in the Chinese theatre[1] as one of the first foreign students at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing,[2] eventually writing Chinese Theatre and the Actor in Performance (1997, Cambridge University Press), a reference book that "gives an 'inside' view of Chinese theatre and the actor in performance for the first time [...] from her personal observations of, and dialogue with, Chinese actors and her first-hand experiences of the theatre world of China in general, none of which was possible before 1980."[3] She also made the first English translation of The Other Shore by Nobel Laureate in Literature playwright Gao Xingjian.



An example of Chinese theater.

Jo Riley graduated from the University of Cambridge.[2] After working for a number of small touring companies, she went to Asia to explore a different kind of theatre. In the early 1980s, after learning Mandarin Chinese, she was one of the first foreign students at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing,[2] where she learned to act in the Chinese theatre (example pictured at right).[1]

She has since then helped teach and direct traditional Chinese theatre in Salzburg, Mainz, and Bayreuth.[2] She's also been at intercultural workshops with Cardiff Laboratory Theatre and Pan Projects at Goldsmiths College, London.[2] In addition, she has written articles and books on Chinese theatre, especially Chinese Theatre and the Actor in Performance (1997, see Works section), and has edited or translated several plays or books on European and intercultural theatre.

She currently teaches drama at Munich International School[2] in Germany.


An example of male performer of jingju, the Beijing opera.

In 1997, Cambridge University Press published Riley's Chinese Theatre and the Actor in Performance, a book often cited on the topic of Chinese theatre. It covers not only jingju (Beijing opera or Peking opera, example pictured at right) but also Chinese puppet theatre and shadow play, as well as Chinese exorcism and ancient animation rites at the tomb, to explore how the Chinese create presence on a stage.[3] In a 1999 review for the Asian Theatre Journal, China specialist Prof. Colin Mackerras (author of The Cambridge Handbook of Contemporary China, brother of Malcolm Mackerras) noted how the book "looks at the skills of the Chinese actor from the insider's point of view – not that of the Westerner or the student of China."[1] Indeed:

Jo Riley is one of the few people in the West qualified to undertake such a study because she not only knows Chinese but has learned to act in the Chinese theatre. She has traveled widely in China and examined the various styles of regional theatre that are so abundant and important in China. Although nobody can really divorce himself from his own culture, nor is it sensible to try, Jo Riley does speak as an insider of the Chinese theatre in a way few non-Chinese can match.[1]

Riley also made, under the title The Other Side (1997), the first English translation of the controversial play The Other Shore (1986) by Nobel Laureate in Literature playwright Gao Xingjian.


As editor[edit]

Edited or co-edited publications include:

As author[edit]

Publications include:

As translator[edit]

Translations include:



  1. ^ a b c d Mackerras 1999.
  2. ^ a b c d e f ISTA 2008.
  3. ^ a b Publisher description for the book, archived at the Library of Congress,


Main sources used for this article: