Chinese children’s theaters torn between producing original or classic stories
The number of original theater productions for children in Shanghai is reportedly quite small and the quality alarmingly low. after local media visited the city's major children's theaters. Yet tickets are not cheap. so many parents or grandparents opt to rewatch established children's classics such as Snow White or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz rather than risk being disappointed by a a new, original story
However, even the classics can’t always meet the expectation of local audience. Xinhua News Agency criticized the quality of children’s theaters in China, saying “there are almost 100 kinds of Snow White shown in the country, however one is slightly different from the other. In a one-hour show, almost 40 minutes are wasted playing games with the audience.”
The Guangming Daily similarly noted that there are more unqualified theater productions for children, especially those who produce “careless” adaptations of classic scripts, than there are legitimate troupes and theaters.
One example cited in the Guangming Daily’s commentary was an adapted version of Little Red
Riding Hood. During an interactive session of the show, when an actor asks children in the audience for advice on how he should deal with the wolf, many kids urged him to “beat it to death!”
However, the female actress playing Red Riding Hood stepped up to scold the youngsters, saying they should “preserve our natural environment since wolves are protected animals in China.” As most adults know, the purpose of Little Red
Riding Hood is to help children understand the difference between right and wrong; raising environmental
and endanger red species awareness is a different topic and, man ny feel, one not suitable for discussion among small children who just wanted to be entertained
What a child watches in a theater usually depends on his/her parents or grandparents. A woman surnamed Cao toldthepaper.cn that although some classic stories are too familiar or even outdated, they’re sti compared with the overtviolence and sexuality of modern-day entertainment.
“I don’t like my grandchild to be misled by such violent scenes in the popular TV cartoon Boonie Bears, as the characters are constantly deforesting and setting fires that old fairy tales like Snow White are always her first choices for her grand-daughter.
A woman surnamed Hu told thepaper.cn that she doesn’t discriminate classics from new or original stories; as long as they are “positive and interesting” for the kids she would pay for a ticket to see them.
Nonetheless, Hu said that she once brought her 3-year-old daughter to see a performance of an original story which ended up “completely confusing” the small girl
Cai Jinping, director of China Welfare Institute
Children’s Theatre, pointed out that a large problem with children’s theaters in Shanghai is that the quantity of original shows is too small and their quality poor.
On the one hand, according to Cai, marketing for original shows is challenging, especially compared with classical stories that have a considerably large fan base.
On the other hand, many producers of original children’s plays aim for quick cash, which means hastily written scripts and slapdash rehearsals, or simply appropriating another theater’s original story.
To facilitate the development of new, fresh children’s plays, Cai’s theater creates two to three all-original productions every year.
“A good play can have lifelong influences on a child,” Cai told thepaper.cn. “And theater producers and actors should have basic moral ethics when creating a new play; they should also take into consideration current social issues.”
Because audience are unsure what to expect from new, original theater productions, many parents are calling for theaters to rate their shows according to age groups, such as for toddlers, for adolescents or for teens.
At present, only a few theaters in Shanghai have adopted this rating system.
Hu told thepaper.cn that she still remembers the time she went to see an interactive play with her daughter. “When the interaction started, kids of different ages all rushed onto the stage, so the parents had to come onto the stage to make sure their children were safe. It was chaos.”
Another mother, surnamed Zhang, gave high remarks to Little People Big View Theater and Shanghai Children’s Art Theatre for issuing an age-based rating system.
“My elder child is 4 years old, and the younger one is 2, and I’ve taken them twice. Even if I’m interested in some stories, they’re no longer my choice if I find them targeting an older audience.”
Most interviewees told thepaper.cn that they can accept tickets to children’s theaters priced at around 100 yuan ($14.55), however the prices are usually higher than that.
Three Little Pigs, shown at Shanghai Theatre Academy, sells for between 80 yuan and 280 yuan, Alice in Wonderland is priced between 100 yuan and 380 yuan. Only at China Welfare Institute Children’s Theatre’s Snow White tickets are priced around 60 yuan.
“Usually a children’s theater audience includes several family members going together, so the overall cost of the tickets is expensive for us,” said the grandmother Cao. “I think if the prices go down, more families will go to theaters.”
According to theater staff, because many local children now face greater academic pressures at school, they only go to theaters on weekends or holidays.
And when a theater only arranges shows on weekends and holidays, it’s difficult to make ends meet without raising ticket prices.
Also according to the Beijing Business Today, although the children’s theater market in China seems active, not so many producers are actually turning a profit.
It usually takes one to three years for a show to recoup its costs and nearly 60 percent of all performing groups for children lose money with each show they put on, according to the Beijing Business Today article.
Cai Jinping noted that, to promote the development of children’s plays in China, the sector not only needs subsidies from the government but also more support or sponsorships from private enterprises.
A boy poses with the performers of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz during the show in Shanghai.
The number of original theater productions for children in Shanghai is reportedly quite small and the quality alarmingly low, after local media visited the city’s major children’s theaters. Photos: IC