The story appears on

Page B5

May 24, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Foreign dramas on local stages

SHANGHAI'S theater scene is chockablock with Mandarin versions of Western classics such as "12 Angry Men" and "Doubt." Michelle Zhang looks at how theater companies are attracting spectators.

Professor Fan Yisong from Shanghai Theater Academy has been working on translating theater plays in English to Chinese for more than a decade. These days, he is glad to notice Shanghai audiences are showing growing enthusiasm to Western dramas, from classics to the latest hit plays.

His latest translated work, "The Sensuous Senator" by American playwright Michael Parker, has captivated thousands with its exquisite plot and omnipresent humor. The tickets of the first run of 10 performances sold out shortly after its premiere on April 26. A second run has been scheduled in August.

Another hit piece translated by Fan, "I'll Be Back Before Midnight" by Canadian writer Peter Colley, will be staged next month at Xinguang Arts Center. Arguably the most produced Canadian play ever, "Midnight" has thrilled audiences in 27 countries. It is also the first time for contemporary playwright Colley's work to be performed in Mandarin.

"Colley is a popular figure in today's Broadway," Fan says. "It is a thriller very much different from those 'whodunit' plays prevailing in Shanghai theaters in recent years. I believe that audiences are always up for something new."

According to Zhang Yu, director of Shanghai Modern People Theater Company, the city's first privately owned theater firm and also the most successful, nearly two-thirds of the plays currently being staged in the city are translated pieces.

"Most of them are classic pieces that stand the test of time," he says. "It's natural for them to win over even the most sophisticated audiences."

According to Zhang, there are at least 30 privately owned theater companies in Shanghai and more than 120 plays were staged in the city last year.

A survey by the Shanghai Drama Arts Center shows there are 50,000 to 60,000 regular theatergoers in the city. The center has recently launched a series of award-winning Western contemporary theater productions. Over seven months, eight classics will be staged, including "The Woman in Black," "Doubt," "12 Angry Men," "God of Carnage" and "Proof."

Chen Dongni, a 30-year-old office worker, says that watching the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play "Doubt" was an unforgettable experience.

She saw the Mandarin version of "Doubt," which was also adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep, at Shanghai Drama Arts Theater earlier this month.

"I watched the namesake film years ago but it felt so different to watch the story unfold bit by bit, just in front of your eyes in the theater," she says. "It was very intense and powerful."

She says the play is also very different from some theater works she watched before, most of which were light comedies and farces written by local writers.

Chen says she is likely to return to the theater with her husband for more classic Western fares such as "12 Angry Men" and "God of Carnage."

"Once the city's theater scene was stuffed with low budget, poor quality productions," says Zhu Yuan, a Shanghai-based theater critic. "Most were produced by small, immature private companies trying to make quick money out of the blooming theater market. They featured bad performances and jokes that weren't funny. Many companies have failed because audiences today are sophisticated enough to know the difference between good and bad."

Zhu also mentions the "group coupon" trend of booking tickets online among theatergoers.

Dubbing itself as a "black humor detective masterpiece," "Let the Bullet Fly Away," which is currently being staged at Shanghai Drama Arts Theater, features cliched love stories and third-class actors. Shortly before its premiere, people were able to buy the tickets, which were originally 150 yuan (US$23), at 72 yuan each on a group coupon website.

"Apparently it (group coupon) helps sell more tickets," Zhu says. "It's better to sell tickets - even at very low prices - than to have a lot of empty seats. In fact, it has rescued some small theater companies from dying."

But Zhang Yu from the Shanghai Modern People Theater Company disagrees. The veteran producer doesn't believe the trend will last long.

"It will only lead to a vicious cycle," he says. "People who bought the tickets earlier at original prices will feel cheated. They will no longer trust the theater company when it introduces a new play."

Zhang is introducing a new ticket pricing system for his next play, "Sweeney Todd," which won eight Tony Awards. It will be performed in Mandarin and make its debut at Xinguang Art Center in September. The first run will feature 40 performances.

Tickets will sell at a 30-percent discount in June, a 20-percent discount in July and a 10-percent discount in August. All tickets will return to their original prices in September.

Shanghai Drama Arts Center has also introduced a similar pricing strategy.

On May 14, the company launched a pre-sell campaign, selling next year's tickets for an "Agatha Christie series" at half price. There was reportedly a queue of 2 kilometers outside its box office on Anfu Road.

Also, for the eight ongoing Western classic plays, the center promises there will be a certain number of 50-yuan tickets available for each performance.

"After all, art is not a product in the supermarket," Zhang says. "People don't buy tickets just because they are cheap. They want value for their money."


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend