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Arts Without Borders: Jodie Kinnersley in Shang Hai

Jun 05, 2017

My six-week placement is at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre (SDAC). My goal is to help SDAC develop international and English-speaking audiences. Apparently I am the first international visitor to work here at a managerial level, which is exciting. Working in a government-owned Chinese company speaking Mandarin may in fact be my biggest challenge, so I arrived in Shanghai early to take classes and brush up on my rusty Chinese language skills.

Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre on Anfu Road (上海话剧艺术中心)

Here are some things I knew about SDAC before I began my placement

The theatre itself has three stages and about 1000 seats in total. It’s a busy, vibrant place that appears to have no problem filling those seats every night. It makes perfect sense that they want to attract international audiences; Shanghai is very much an international city and with SDAC located right in the heart of the leafy and multicultural former French concession, a diverse international audience simply reflects their local community.

I knew the programming at SDAC included internationally touring works in several European languages and that many shows in Chinese included English subtitles. Rather than any genuine linguistic barriers, the hurdle appears to be a perception that the work itself is inaccessible to international audiences. Since arriving in Shanghai I’ve spoken to several non-Chinese residents here who are familiar with the theatre. Repeatedly the response has been: ‘That’s only for Chinese audiences though right?’ or ‘but aren’t all the shows in Chinese?’

The charming leafy streets of the former French Concession

On my first night in Shanghai I went to see a show called The Ugly One (丑人) a satire about beauty and ambition by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, performed in Chinese with English subtitles. What struck me immediately was how much younger the audience seemed compared to mainstream Australian theatres. Sophisticated young people by the hundreds were streaming in to this government-owned venue. I’m looking forward to understanding better what attracts these young Chinese audiences in large numbers.

Sitting in the audience for The Ugly One in SDAC’s smaller black-box theatre

For now it’s back to the books and trying to manage my nerves about speaking Mandarin at all day at work. Wish me luck!