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Blending essence-of-chicken tonic with white-collar aspirations

CUTTHROAT and conniving office politics is hot and white-collar office workers love seeing themselves on stage. Put them together and we get 1) an intriguing play and 2) huge advertising potential. Michelle Zhang reports.

White-collar audiences, especially young office workers, represent most of the theatergoers in the city, and every year they are targeted by a considerable number of plays about real-life topics: love problems, mother-in-law problems and ever-riveting office politics.

Local director He Nian's latest production "Du Lala" is no exception, although it's more about office politics than relationships. Adapted from the namesake bestseller, it's about how Du Lala rises from a naive administrative assistant to a sophisticated HR manager and shrewd office player in a multinational company.

Written by Li Ke, a white-collar herself, the book has sold more than 800,000 copies since it was published in 2007. Published early this year, its sequel, "Du Lala II," has sold more than 400,000 copies.

The leading role is played by Yao Chen, who rose to fame for her performance in the popular TV series "Wu Lin Wai Zhuan" ("My Own Swordsman"). Promising young actors from the Shanghai Drama Arts Center, including Gong Xiao, Li Chao and Lei Jiayin, play Du's colleagues in different positions, using different strategies to get ahead, kissing up to the boss, driving themselves to perform, and elbowing others out of the way.

Thus, the play was highly anticipated before it premiered on Wednesday. The performance, however, was far from satisfying.

The biggest deficiency was the stage adaptation of the novel. Playwrights Shi Jun and Shu Xin clearly tried to retain as much of the original story as possible, but the result was not coherent. Key information was missing, leaving those who hadn't read the book at a loss.

For example, in the middle of the play, the leading actor and actress suddenly become a couple - there's no buildup or explanation.

Dramatic conflicts that are essential are also missing. Instead, there is a lot of dialogue involving professional jargon that only HR people can understand.

Still, director He has tried his best to make the two-hour play less boring by adding a lot of musical elements. Composer Wang Jiwei has aptly mixed pop songs with his new creations, while choreographer Wang Wei uses bold, creative dance movements - including percussion dance and Brazilian jujitsu - that he designed to go with the story. There is also a live band.

It is the first time Yao has performed in a stage drama since she graduated from Beijing Film Academy six years ago.

"The story of Du Lala is the story of many young people who strive to achieve their career goals," says Yao. "Her struggles and puzzles are shared by most of us.

"I have never worked in an office," she adds, "but there are still some similarities between me and my character. I have worked hard to overcome hardships before I made a name for myself."

Many enterprises are seeking to cash in on the popularity of theater as white-collar audiences are also their target customers.

SAIC Motor Corp Ltd is the major sponsor of "Du Lala." One of its car models, Roewe 550, is frequently mentioned in the play, a sought-after auto for young professionals.

The topic of office work and the market potential of office workers are so compelling that an essence-of-chicken tonic maker is staging plays about office workers with white-collars trying out for the roles. The tonic is said to help exhausted office workers, students studying for the college entrance exam and just about everyone else.

Health food manufacturer Brand's recently launched a theater marketing campaign. It encourages office workers in the audience to go on stage and perform their own stories. It's also a contest.

"Drama is one of the most popular art forms among white-collar workers," says Brand's event organizer Lu Yun. "We want to give them a platform to showcase their talents and speak their minds. We think it will be a special life experience for all contestants."

A Website,, was created specially for the campaign, on which people can apply for six roles, the profits-obsessed boss, tricky office manager, dedicated spinster manager, hard-working intern and beautiful receptionist, and VIP client.

The company hired professional scriptwriters to create three plays: one about office politics, another about the deteriorating physical health and exhaustion of driven workers, the third about white-collars' mental and emotional health (also not too good).

The first play about office politics will be staged on April 19, the second on May 17 and the third on June 7 in a professional theater. People can apply for free tickets on the Website.

Meanwhile, promotional booths will be set up in office buildings around the city to attract more applicants.

"I learned about the event when I bought Brand's products in the supermarket," says Jason Wu who works in the advertising industry. "I have attended singing and dancing competitions before but I have never performed in a drama play."

The 30-year-old says that many of the roles remind him of his colleagues.

"I'd like to apply for the role of the boss because I'm curious about how it feels like being a boss," says Zhang Yi, 29, who works for an international logistics company.

According to Lu, the Brand's event organizer, trials and eliminations will be held on weekends. The final contestants will receive coaching from a professional director and actors.

"Du Lala"

Date: through April 19 (no performances on Monday and Tuesday), 7:30pm

Venue: Majestic Theater, 66 Jiangning Rd

Tickets: 100-380 yuan

Tel: 6120-4560

In Chinese without English subtitles

Brand's three office plays

Date: April 19, May 17, June 7

Venue: Malan Flower Rehearsal Hall, 643 Huashan Rd

For more information or to apply for roles, visit


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