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  Chinese Way>Life

It's not just child's play

2013-01-08 16:08:59

(Global Times)


Warehouse revamped

Cai did not give up. In 2006, in order to find a venue so that the theater troupe's performances could continue, the China Welfare Institute revamped a warehouse in its office compound on Huashan Road, turning the space into a 475-seat theater and a 112-seat workshop, called the Malan Flower Theatre and the Happy Workshop. Each weekend they staged a play charging just 35 yuan ($5.62) for admission.

"At least we had a place to perform instead of having to move about all the time," she said.

Three-year-old Cai Yuge and her mother Shen have been regular audience members at the Malan Flower Theatre. Her mother said it was the best theater she had experienced in Shanghai. "My child fell in love with theater after I took her here for the first time. She was totally fascinated with the performances and characters. We don't have many opportunities in Shanghai to see quality children's theater for such a reasonable cost and so accessible. Most plays are performed at night and that's too late for children who need their sleep."

It is experiences like this that motivate Cai Jinping. "We are desperate to have a theater for children so that we can realize our dream of letting every child in Shanghai go to the theater at least once in their childhood. This could be important for them."

Last year alone, Cai said, the theater staged free performances for 40,000 children, all offspring of migrant workers. "Most of them had never been in a theater before and had no idea what a play was," Cai said.

In 2006 Cai put another proposal to the government, this time suggesting that there should be an Expo pavilion dedicated to the culture and art of children around the world and that this pavilion could be transformed into a children's theater after Expo. This time her proposal was placed under consideration.

In 2010 Cai enlisted another seven CPPCC members and once again proposed a children's theater for Shanghai. This time the proposal was approved. "The government contacted me as soon as the Expo ended and told us that there was possibility of being able to use an Expo pavilion to build a new children's theater and asked us to present a development plan as soon as possible."

Cai and her team worked for weeks and presented the plan which was then formally approved and in June, 2012, construction work started.

International level

Qi Enwei is the general manager of the new Shanghai Children's Drama Theatre. He joined the China Welfare Institute Children's Theatre in 1976. "We are building an international-level theater to match the international level of Shanghai as a city. With this we will be able to give our best to the children. Unlike other theaters this will be unique because it is being designed especially for children."

A retired soldier, Qi spent some time at the Children's Palace of China Welfare Institute before he joined the troupe. He believes drama and art play an important role in a child's growth. "It inspires their imagination, helps them develop communication skills and brings them a lot of happiness."

The new theater, a four-floor structure, will feature a 3,000-square-meter open area with two theaters - the main theater capable of seating 1,300 and a smaller multi-function theater space that can accommodate 200. The main theater will have an arena stage (which is rare in China) on three levels. The stage can be separated into six sections which can be raised and rotated to whatever requirements are needed for particular productions. The auditorium will be surrounded with 360-degree multi-media LED screens which can provide extra special effects.

"The stage can become a T-shaped catwalk for children's fashion shows. On the first floor there is an experience zone where children can play with the costumes and props from the plays being performed and they can try acting themselves," Qi said.

There are also plans to establish an acting school in the complex so that if children are interested in exploring theater further, they can have expert advice.

The new theater will cost 320 billion yuan most of which has been provided by the government. Although Qi did not disclose the price of admission for the new venue, he said it would not be expensive.

According to Qi, the future operating costs for the theater would be partly covered by government subsidies, but there would also be funding from commercial sponsors and outlets. The complex will also include four new cinemas and entertainment and catering outlets.

Adult appreciation

Qi said that although the theater targets children aged from 4 to middle school student years, many of the audience are adults. "Children usually come here with their parents so many of the audience are adults. We know that our productions should not just appeal to children but they should also entertain and amuse adults."

The premiere production on June 1 next year will be a home-grown children's musical extravaganza The Joy of Growing Up, a China Welfare Institute Children's Theatre production. The lead parts will be played by two of the popular stars from the television show China's Got Talent.

Next year the venue could welcome some major international children's theater companies to perform including the acclaimed Taiwan Paper Windmill Theatre Group and troupes from Argentina. "Now we feel an even bigger responsibility to present even better productions for our children with such a wonderful facility. I hope we will not let the children down," Qi said.

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