The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
A China Impact in the arts performing in a privatizing
Zhang Jinyuan: A veteran actor who is active not only in stage performance but also film and television. As Assistant Director of the People’s Art Theater Tianjin, he is a hands-on educator of young talent as well as being active in improving the theater environment and infrastructure while working also as a stage producer and writer.

Zhang Jinyuan
Tianjin, China
Vice President, the People’s Art Theater Tianjin
The first class actor

The People’s Art Theater Tianjin was founded in 1951 and now has a proud history of 53 years of accomplishment as a national theater company. There are presently more than 200 specialized members in the company, comprising 56 actors, 42 stage technicians, 20 involved in production, plus some 108 writers and five directors. Up until now, the company has staged performances of over 280 plays, ranging from full-scale productions for large theaters to productions of contemporary and classic plays for smaller theater spaces. Particularly famous are the works of the playwright Tsao Yu, a native of Tianjin who is known as the father of modern Chinese theater. Among the plays in our company’s repertoire are representative works of Tsao Yu like “Lei Yu” (Thunderstorm) and “Ri Chu” (Sunrise) first performed in the 1930s. In our performances of these works we always attempt to introduce innovative new elements while preserving the important essences of the original work and its period.

Regional theater has long been a vigorous art form in China, and we find unique theater companies and plays in each of the country’s regions. Our People’s Art Theater Tianjin is one of the best known among these regional companies, and we proudly recognize the fact that in terms of influence on a nationwide scale, our company is second only to those of Beijing and Shanghai. It is probably a little-known fact that the modern Chinese theater that took root in the 1920s and ’30s actually drew its original inspiration directly from modern Japanese theater. As a port city, Tianjin had lively cultural exchange with Japan at the time. We are told that Tianjin thus became the port of entry for this modern theater movement, which subsequently spread to other parts of the country after taking root in Tianjin as modern Chinese theater. Once the movement spread around the country, we began to see original plays being written in each of the main regional cities. These works naturally drew their subjects from the traditions and culture of their localities. In addition to this, we saw the emergence of very popular theater cultures in the other major port cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (in 1949). However, the plays that were born in these large metropolises rarely had anything that could be considered a regional flavor.

At our company we produce two types of plays. One is plays written and performed in accordance with government policies. The other type is plays that we produce independently. Of these two types together we mount about five productions a year. It is our company’s independent productions that I would very much like to stage performances of overseas. Presently, Tianjin has Sister City Relationships with the three Japanese port cities of Chiba, Yokkaichi and Kobe, but in fact, there is very little cultural exchange going on. I was pleased to meet people from Chiba city here at the TPAM event, but without more mutual exchange of information there is little that we can do.

Tianjin is now in the midst of a construction boom, not only in the area of public cultural facilities but also in the general housing industry. I believe that the growing number of facilities provide an opportunity to present not only more theater but works in all types of art media in Tianjin today. One of the big advantages of a public company like ours is that it is easier for us to get government support. Also, since we have a large number of members, staff and the necessary performance facilities, I would like to see even greater use being made of them. Cooperation with the tourist industry is another factor that I think can be important in increasing the number of performances staged yearly. In China today, the government will give us directives to hold performances at times, but there is no government interference with the projects we initiate independently. Since we are a public company, it can be counter-productive to worry too much about generating income. I believe that our primary mission is to have an impact on the theater world here in China and also overseas if possible. To do this, I believe that we must make concerted efforts to nurture a young generation of theater-goers here in China. Ideally, we should try to win loyal theater-going populations in accordance with the population size of each regional city. There are still many college students who go through their four years of college without once seeing a modern theater production. Many may have some form of contact with traditional Chinese theater while growing up, but the audience for modern theater remains undeveloped. As we work to solve these issues, I believe that it is time for those of us involved in theater, both in China and Japan, to take the important first steps toward building real cultural exchange in the theater arts between our two countries.
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