The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Yang Shaolin
Mr. Yang Shaolin
General Manager of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre

Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre
Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre

An original work by Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre
Performed in Japan in 2003 as a joint China-Japan Playwright by Nick Yu, production in the two languages. The work was highly acclaimed for its use of the issue of Internet love to portray the shallow and unstable human relations of contemporary urbanites.

Joint production with the Berlin the House of World Cultures
Experimental productions of five traditional works Memories of Chinese Culture
Performed in Shanghai in the spring of 2006
Presenter Interview
Re-established as a stronghold of contemporary theater in Shanghai Creative efforts of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre 
Despite being a public-sector theater company, Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre is also a very profitable theater organization. Its plays that deal with the angst and loneliness of the contemporary urbanites of Shanghai have succeeded in drawing white-color citizens to the theater in recent years and built an important mainstream audience. As a playwright who also serves as the theater’s programming and marketing director, Nick Yu, has played an especially important role in this success. Instrumental in nurturing the young local talent resource, establishing a solid base of profitability for the theater and helping produce works that answer the needs of the Shanghai audience is the Centre’s General Manager, Mr. Yang Shaolin. We talked with Mr. Yang about his active international exchange efforts and attempts to create theater productions that will have a truly Shanghai character and also be accepted by the international audience.
(Interview and editing by Ryoko Kikuchi, arts producer and president of R PRODUCTION)

Please tell us about the founding of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre.
The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre was founded on Jan. 23, 1995. It was formed from a merger of the Shanghai People's Art Theater and the Shanghai Youth Drama Troupe. The Shanghai People's Art Theater was a theater company established in 1950 by the pioneers of modern Chinese theater, Xia Yan and Huang Zuolin. The Shanghai Youth Drama Troupe was founded in 1957 by one of the founders and former president of the Shanghai Theatre Academy, Xiong Foxi. Both of these are thus institutions with a history of roughly half a century.
However, with the start of reform and liberalization in China and the shift to a market economy, both of these institutions had a difficult time making the transition. The biggest causes were the loss of audience and the number of productions they were able to mount a year, which resulted in a drop in the number of performances. The reasons were clear. It was the diversification of culture that accompanied the changes in the social systems. The effects of the new market not only cause a loss theater audience but even the theater staff itself was drawn off to film and television work. Watching these changes, we realized that the institutions could not survive under to old managerial methods, and that is what led us to merge the two.

What kinds of reforms were implemented after the merger? And what effects did those changes have?
Both were theaters with long histories and bases in their traditions. Even though they had fallen on hard times they were still first-class theater companies. They did have their problems but all we did was change the management system. Before the merger the theater directors made all the decisions, they handled everything from the production of the works to business management of the companies. That kind of closed management system was stable and effective in the days when theater was not subject to market pressures. However, this kind of central administration is not suited for an unstable environment full of change. We decided to shift the responsibility for production from the theater director to a producer who specialized in that role. As with a film or television producer, this producer is one who produces works in the sense of a creator. As a Managing Director under this kind of managerial system, my primary role is to help promote this production of theater works. I have the decision-making rights regarding the supply of financing and personnel for productions and the authority to choose the producers for each production and in these ways energize the organization. By appointing producers we have now created production groups within the organization. Under the previous system the theater director decided everything from the production of works to the entire range of matters involving the members of the company, from ceremonial events like weddings and funerals to welfare benefits like health insurance, pensions. But, creating works of art is a mission for those who are able to dedicate themselves to an extreme pursuit of artistic essence, while administration of health and welfare programs is a job that requires a strict adherence to fairness and equality. It is certainly not effective to have one person performing two such completely different roles as these. That is why we decide to divide these roles into separate positions.
Eleven years have already passed since the founding of our Center in 1995 and we have achieved great results during this period. We have created about 200 productions during this time, with an average of 20 productions per year. Before the merger, the two companies together only averaged seven or eight productions annually. This means that we are able to mount almost four times as many productions as before.
One other notable change we have seen since switching to our new managerial system is the return of staff and artists who had gone over to the film industry at one point. Part of the reason is that the film (and TV) industry itself has become much more competitive. The introduction of our producer system has prompted the return of staff and professionals to the theater scene. And thanks to these changes, you will see that now TV and movie stars are appearing in leading roles in our productions at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre.

Can you tell us something about the nature of your producer system?
We have two producers officially employed by the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and about a dozen who work with us during the course of year in individual productions. An application for funding is made for each project and if approval is given by our evaluations department they come on board for the production. These producers are not necessarily official members of some theater company. There are some free-lance producers too. And, in terms of job security, our two affiliated producers are not permanent employees of the Centre. They are on 3-year contracts only. If one of them is not able to achieve an 80% return on investment for two consecutive years, we also have the option of ending their contract prior to term. And, if we find talented young people we will use them. In fact we are seeing increasingly strong performance by some of the free-lance producers on the scene.

Would you tell us about the actual organization of the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre?
The Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre is a large theater company that employs a total of 270 people. Of these, there are about 20 people involved in administrative positions, beginning with myself as director and extending to the middle-management positions. Included among these are the Communist Part officials and labor union officials that are assigned to every government-related arts organization. Supporting me on the artistic side I have an artistic director and on the administrative side I have an assistant managing director, both of whom take general responsibility in their respective areas. We have 150 actors and actresses, 50 people involved in the stage art field and then there are 50 staff working in the areas of building maintenance and cleaning and our cafeteria. Because we are such a large organization, it is not easy to keep our operations in the black. Our administrators all take on several different job responsibilities. Take Nick Yu for example. He is our director in charge of programming and he also serves as chairman of the labor union. And as you know, he is also an active playwright who uses his private time to write. Today, as we are faced with a market economy, we have to take measures like these to keep such a large theater company operable. Our 150 actors and actresses all have contracts with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, but they don’t receive any salary when they don’t have a role in one of our productions.
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