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  Chinese Way>Life

It's not just child's play

2013-01-08 16:08:59

(Global Times)


Cai Jinping is excited. After 10 years her dream of building a children's theater in Shanghai is coming true. The new theater, the only one of its kind in China, will open its doors and turn on the spotlights on Children's Day, June 1, 2013.

The Shanghai Children's Drama Theatre is in a 15,668-square-meter modern entertainment complex, which was the General Motors Pavilion for World Expo 2010 in Shanghai by the Huangpu River. At present it is under construction and the building should be completed by March.

When it opens it will be a new chapter in a long story. In 1947 Madame Soong Ching Ling, who was to become the vice-chairman of the People's Republic of China, founded the China Welfare Institute Children's Theatre, the first public and educational children's art troupe in China. Later in 1958 Soong established China's first children's theater on today's Yan'an Road Middle in downtown Jing'an district.

Many popular plays for children were performed there and it had a profound influence throughout the country, bringing quality theater to generations of young Chinese. Highlights included productions of Snow White and the musical Malan Flower, alongside The Friendship, Children's Hearts and A Young Soccer Team. They all helped provide rich entertainment for people growing up here through the 1960s and 70s. In those days Shanghai was China's center for children's theater.

Cai Jinping first joined the theater in 1975. She is currently the fifth president and artistic director of the China Welfare Institute Children's Theatre in Shanghai. She saw the great days of children's theater in the city and recalls vividly all the plays and shows she either played in or directed.

The old theater was renovated several times but after a fire nearby in 1996 which affected its structure, it was declared a dangerous building by the government and it was never used again. The institute has had no permanent home since then.

A difficult period

It has been a difficult period trying to keep the theater going. In 2004, Cai explained, the troupe had prepared six plays for performances in the first half of the year but only five theaters were available to rent. Most of these were in distant suburbs or even in neighboring provinces. One was a dilapidated rundown clubhouse.

"Once, I remember, we performed in a factory's canteen and the smoke from the kitchen made us cough and brought tears to our eyes. We finished the show though. Even in conditions like this we wanted to perform but had to go where it was the cheapest," she said.

Because the theater troupe insisted on charging very little for tickets to the performances, it was impossible for them to rent established or properly-equipped theaters. "You know, Shanghai has millions of children. Even if only one child sees a children's theater performance every year, there would be a huge demand. But in those days that was mission impossible," she sighed.

Cai believed that, no matter what, Shanghai should have a proper children's theater center as soon as it could. In 2003 she began working towards this. As a member of the Shanghai Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Cai proposed to the Shanghai municipal government that it build a new children's theater but her proposal was turned down at that stage.

"The authorities told me that because there were so many theaters in Shanghai, there was no need for a special theater for children. I didn't agree with that. A theater for children is different from one for adults - its location and its facilities have to be created with children in mind," she told the Global Times.

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