Shakespeare Anyone? China’s Growing Appetite for Theater

on June 20 2014 | in Media & Entertainment | by | with 1 Comment

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Actors' Gang, beijing, NCPA, Shakespeare, shanghai, theater, theater in China

An American theater company has brought William Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy to China.

Los Angeles-based ensemble the Actors’ Gang has brought their production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to this year’s Shakespeare festival at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Beijing. After staging six shows in the capital, they will perform an additional four at the Zendai Himalayas Center in Shanghai.

The production represents a growing taste for theater in China. In the past five years, college students and white-collar workers under the age of 40 have created a demand for stage performances of all kinds. In America, the average Broadway theatergoer is 42.5 years old, but older generations in China “aren’t accustomed to [theater] because for the past 60 years, there wasn’t much demand for plays,” according to Wang Xiang, founder of Beijing’s Penghao Theatre.

“In China, the people who go to the theater are exactly the opposite of who goes in the Western world. It’s really popular among the younger generation,” Vicki Si Yuan, general manager at Ping Pong Productions, which produced “Midsummer,” said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

The Actors’ Gang performed Shakespeare’s classic with a few modern touches. The production had no set and few props, and costume changes were done on the sides of the stage, in full view of the audience. According to the director, Academy Award-winner Tim Robbins, this decision was made to “strip away the artifice of theater.” Subtitles in Chinese were shown on two large screens.

Allison Friedman, the Beijing-based founder of Ping Pong Productions, was inspired to bring the play to China after seeing a performance in Los Angeles last year.

“They captured the magic and humor in the production, with no fancy set or lights,” Friedman said. “I thought it would go so well in China.”

Although the play was well received, with about 500 in the audience on opening night, such productions often face financial challenges in China. Tickets, which generally range in price from 120 to 300 yuan ($20 to $50), are expensive in a country with an average monthly salary of just 5,800 yuan. Venues, in turn, often don’t profit from shows because they depend on ticket sales for their money, and have few foundation or corporate sponsors. In fact, the Actors’ Gang had to raise their own funds to travel to China, because the NCPA did not pay enough to finance their trip.


image credit: elements theatre

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One Response to Shakespeare Anyone? China’s Growing Appetite for Theater

  1. shashibiya says:

    There is indeed “a growing taste for theatre in China,” and the success of Shanghai Shakespeare demonstrates that China doesn’t need to depend on foreign imports to enjoy the best of the western canon. If one is to take the baffling desire to “strip away the artifice of theatre” at face value (as if any and all theatrical displays weren’t artifice by definition), we can begin by banishing the requirement of having to keep an eye on a translation, which merely perpetuates the fallacy that the words are more important than the action. “Drama” means “to do,” after all. The enthusiastic embrace by Chinese speaking audiences of Shanghai Shakespeare’s Mandarin productions of “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Pericles” are further proof, as if any were needed, that Shakespeare’s plays, given the opportunity, enrapture people everywhere.

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