Stage whis­pers

Chi­nese chil­dren’s the­aters torn be­tween pro­duc­ing orig­i­nal or clas­sic sto­ries

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - Trans­lated by the Global Times based on an ar­ti­cle from thep­a­per.cn

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.

Com­pletely con­fus­ing

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.”

Over­priced tick­ets

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.

Photo: IC

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

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