The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Re-established as a stronghold of contemporary theater in Shanghai Creative efforts of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre
Drama Salon Arts Theatre
Arts Theatre
Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre Drama Salon
Drama Salon
Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre Studio D6
Studio D6
Asian Contemporary Theater Festival
The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre organizes the Asian Contemporary Theater Festival every September. In 2005, Gekidan Dougeza participated in the Festival from Kobe, Japan.

Asian Contemporary Theater Festival
Gekidan Dougeza
Will you tell us about the Centre’s theater?
The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre is located in an 18-story building with an overall floor space of 15,000 m2. The building was completed in December of 2000. In the building there are three different theaters, as well as three meeting rooms and two rehearsal studios of 200 m2 each and a 400 m2 sports club.
Of the three theaters, the one on the 1st floor of the building is called the Arts Theatre and it has a theatrical type stage with entrance wings hidden from audience view and a seating capacity of 530. On the 3rd floor is a small theater called the “Drama Salon.” It has a floor space of 450 m2. In order to accommodate a full range of performances, the space has been finished primarily in black. It has sound-proofed walls on all four sides and the audience seats are movable. Because of this design, the space can be set up for a variety of uses, with an end stage or a central stage and a maximum seating capacity of 288. The third theater is a multipurpose hall called “Studio D6” that is located on the 6th floor. It has a floor space of 500 m2. Besides small- and middle-sized performances it is also suitable for conferences. The audience seating is movable and it has a capacity of up to 300. In the building’s lobby there is a bar corner and two semi-open meeting rooms. These are used for exchange with the audience before performances, as a lounge for guests and for smaller scale meetings.
As for the performances given in these three theaters, they are used for about 20 Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre productions a year as I mentioned earlier. Besides these, the theaters are also lent out to about 40 to 50 domestic and international productions annually, either on a rental or full-purchase basis.
In terms of rate of use, the Arts Theatre and the Drama Salon are presently used more than our Studio D6. It seems that this is because everyone is more used to performance formats that have the stage at one end of the hall. Since the Studio D6 is a multipurpose hall there are fewer restrictions on how it can be used. The reason that we created such a space in our facility is because we believe that in the future theater should be used more for communication with the audience and allow audience participation. What is necessary for that kind of theater is not large stage sets but performance spaces that can be used more freely in a variety of ways. We need more of this kind of multipurpose spaces that can be used freely in innovative ways, like the “798” space in Shanghai that makes use of a former factory complex. Since our multipurpose hall is on the 6th floor of our building we named it Studio D6.

How is the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre financed?
The average annual budget over the past three years for the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre has been about 32 million yuan (CNY) (approx. 4,090,000 USD). The breakdown is about 30% funding from the government in lieu of support, 30% from ticket sales and 40% from other sources of revenue, including mainly theater rental fees. There is some support from corporations but it is quite small. The reason for this is that the Chinese government’s taxation laws. This is an issue that I am personally applying myself to at the moment. I believe that the U.S. has the most advanced system in terms of tax reductions for non-profit and public service organizations. Over 85% of monies donated are tax exempt in the U.S. system and corporations also gain public recognition for such donations. Under such a system there are plenty of opportunities to get support funding. What is the situation like in Japan? I have heard that this kind of system has not been developed to a large degree in Japan. I believe that Singapore just introduced its tax exemption program a year ago. Unfortunately China doesn’t have many such programs Implemented yet. And, that is why there is very little in the way of donations from corporations. In the rare cases where corporations do provide funding they often demand advertising rights as sponsors. We often refuse these kinds of sponsorship deals when we feel that they will damage the artistic integrity of the production. That is why we can’t depend on sponsorship money from corporations as a significant source of revenue.
For an organization like ours, creating productions of works is our primary purpose and there is no need for us to generate profits. If we make a profit we have to pay tax on it. The taxation rate on profits like these in China is 33%, which is quite high. That is one point I would like to make. I believe that our Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre as it functions now is in fact a form of NPO. We operate in a sort of ambiguous realm where we are not really a corporation, a government agency or a public business group. In reality, I believe we are very close in form to what would be called an NPO in a country with a mature market economy. In such countries and NPO is not taxed, is it? In our case we are taxed at a 33% rate. What’s more, if our cost-reduction efforts cause is to turn a profit that we then pay taxes on, the government is apt to think that we are in a good financial position and therefore feel that it is appropriate to cut our government funding for the next fiscal year. The present policies in this area are definitely detrimental to growth of our activities as business. That is why we are presently arguing our case with officials in the government. This type of lobbying for tax reform can also be considered one of the reform programs that Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre has undertaken since its founding. At the beginning of next year I plan to conduct a fact-finding study concerning the establishment of foreign NPO policies as part of research into a possible proposal for such a policy. If there are any examples that Japan can offer, I would be very interested to hear about them, but I believe most of the advances are being made in Europe now. The U.K., France and Germany all seem to have systems that are functioning quite well and bringing encouraging results. Effective policies are always necessary for any kind of business to develop.

Shanghai is said to have the best developed [theater] market in China and has the largest return rate of production investment, isn’t it?
Government investment is larger in Beijing. And because of that, return on investment is lower when seen in comparison with ticket sales. For example, last year the government provided the People’s Arts Theater Beijing with 30 million CNY (approx. 3,830,000 USD). In funding, or about three times more than the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre received. Compared to this, the ticket sales for the People’s Arts Theater Beijing were about 12 million CNY (approx. 1,532,000 USD). Another major theater in Beijing, the National Dramatic Arts Academy, receives between 14 and 15 million CNY (approx. 1,915,000 USD) in government funding, compared to which it recorded ticket sales of about five million CNY (approx. 638,300 USD). At our Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, on the other hand, our ticket sales are roughly equal to our government funding, both of which are at about nine million CNY (approx. 1,150,000 USD).
The reason that there is more government funding in Beijing is because it is the cultural capital of the country and the main center of cultural exchange. All domestic and foreign productions hope to give performances in Beijing. The purpose of the performances there are to win the acclaim of specialists or government leaders, or to win awards. Selling tickets is not a top priority. Since Beijing is the center of government there is also a custom of sending tickets related officials and a good part of the audience is accustomed to getting their tickets that way. Our situation is completely different in Shanghai. When we gave a performance of one of our productions in 2004, we got no support from the government. If the production fails to break even, we have to make up the difference ourselves, so we tried to sell tickets. And do you know what the people in Beijing told us? They looked surprised and said, “Even if we receive [free] tickets we don’t know if we will actually go to the performance, and you are telling us to buy the tickets?” But, when they heard about the good reviews the production was getting they eventually bought the tickets. Although we did give a bit of a discount for officials who usually get the tickets free. And as a result, we got back almost our total investment of 900,000 CNY (approx. 115,000 USD). The fact that so many invitation tickets are given out for free is proof of the fact that [Beijing] is not a mature market in the cultural event business. I believe that this is a custom that results from a combination of historical factors and practical problems.
In Shanghai, productions are not mounted just for the purpose of winning awards. What is more important for us is the social impact of theater. In other words, the issue for us is whether a play is relevant enough to attract the audience to the theater. At the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre we have built up an audience that is willing to buy tickets to see our productions. And they are not only our audience. The influence has spread to other markets in Shanghai, and now we are beginning to see the fruits of our efforts with the establishment of a solid market. Of course, there are still cases where we send out invitation tickets. But, that number is much smaller than in Beijing.
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