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

The joint production with the U.K.’s Yellow Earth Theatre, King Lear
Performed in Shanghai in the autumn of 2006

Chinese-language production of the foreign contemporary play 4.48 Psychosis
Performed in Shanghai in the autumn of 2006
What is the yearly programming like at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre?
In compliance with government policy, we draw up 5-year mid-term plans as well as yearly programming. But, now that we live in a market economy, and we have to make adjustments to keep in step with the changing times and conditions. For example, we have been involved with a Japanese theater company since several years ago in a plan to do a joint production, but that plan has had to be shelved because of the inability to secure funding on the Japan side. Also, if a particular production was planned for a 20-performance run but is not drawing a sufficient audience we will cut the number of performances. And, in the opposite case we will extend the performances of a show that is doing especially well. This happens often. Since we have our own theaters we can be more flexible about adjusting plans in this way.
As for the productions performed at our theaters, about 60% of the total have been produced by the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre. The remaining 40% are works by other companies from around China and abroad. As a rule, the productions in our yearly program are evenly divided between original productions by Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, the famous traditional works and contemporary works from both China and abroad. Since Shanghai has a role as a city of international cultural exchange, I believe that we need to take this fact into account in our programming by including foreign works in our schedule at regular intervals.

How do you engage in projects involving foreign works and foreign companies?
The first consideration is that it be a meaningful project. Funding is not the biggest issue. The cost of a production is basically shared evenly between the two parties. Each side pays for their own airfare, while the costs accrued during the stay are paid by the host country. From our experience up until now, this type of project where the costs are shared evenly tend to have a high success rate. However, although the intention may be to split the cost evenly, there are of course differences in the cost of living and living standards in the different countries. These differences have to be taken into consideration. For example, the amount spent on meals each day will be less expensive in China than in Japan. And there are also differences in the grades of hotel accommodations in the different countries. Sometime what they call a 5-star hotel in Europe will not seem as good as the hotels in China. So, even if a standard such as providing a room for each person might be the same, the grade of those rooms might be quite different. If both parties can understand these differences there will be not conflict of opinions.

We see that you are involved in many joint productions with foreign companies.
Right now we are working on a production of King Lear with the Yellow Earth Theatre of the U.K. The agreement was made last year and we had the premiere in Shanghai at the end of October of this year. Since we have the basic funds, we can decide on these projects by ourselves. And. Although the government approval process takes two or three months, there are no particular problems involved there. We don’t have problems like the Japanese companies that can’t put on a production because the grant doesn’t come through.
One of our primary intentions when we involve ourselves in joint projects is to expose ourselves to different perspectives and cultural orientations that are hard for Chinese to understand if we just continue to create works based on our own Chinese aesthetics and cultural context. Because we don’t really understand the cultural background of other countries, it is very difficult for us to create works that will be accepted and appreciated by foreign audiences. Joint projects with foreign companies give us an opportunity to overcome this problem. Because exchange is a mutual process, joint projects create a situation where everyone involved learns to understand and appreciate the other country’s culture and customs, ways of thinking and forms of expression. And this understanding then is reflected in the work we create. There are times when we get good suggestions from the other side and times when we come up with ideas ourselves that can adapt the forms of expression to something that transcends our inherent differences.
In 2005 we did a joint production with Russia. The original script that we submitted to them was rejected because it was a very long one of about 40,000 characters. So we rethought it and rewrote it until we agreed on a final version that had just a few thousand characters. And, the big cut in dialogue was made up for with music and physical expression, and the final play turned out to be a great success. This is the wonderful potential of joint projects.
Through our experiences in working with overseas companies we have also been able to improve the efficiency our working methods considerably. This can probably be credited to the Western influence. We have become better at getting to the point and working more directly on things. There has also been progress in understanding character and style of foreign arts and the different movements and schools within those artistic traditions. Thanks to this, we have been able to think about and give an even more distinctly Shanghai character to our work than we had before. In addition to understanding others better, it is also important to give importance to our own unique qualities. This is the mission and the responsibility of those who engage in cultural work.

Do you have any plans for any projects with Japanese companies in the near future?
As I mentioned earlier, we have one project that has been in the works for several years now. We believe that the reason the funding on the Japanese side has not come through for the past few years is the poor state of China-Japan political relations, but [with the new Japanese administration] we are hopeful that the funding will be approved next year. Besides that project there are a few other smaller proposals. I am told that there are proposals that have come from a number of different places, and in his interview earlier, our programming director, Nick Yu, said that it would be helpful if we could be dealing with one source in Japan rather than a number of different institutions. Unlike Japan, Shanghai doesn’t have a large number of arts companies and institutions. So, when we receive a proposal that we feel is not suitable for use, it is normal for us to direct it to one of the other arts institutions around us that it might be more suitable for. In Japan, however, I believe this is not the common practice. Is it because of the intensity of the competition? Among the proposals that have come to us from Japan via various routes, most do not include a cultural exchange aspect. Also, few of the Japanese works that we see proposals are by or for young people. In any genre, there is no future without the activity of young people. I hope that we can see more exchange with young people in the theater field.
| 1 | 2 | 3 |