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The International Exchange Center at the National Theatre of China
[Space] The International Exchange Center at the National Theatre of China
Writer : Lee Hee-jin_Producer Group Dot 2015.11.13 Asia > China

Broadening of the Base through Collaboration and the Exchange of New Content
[Venues] The International Exchange Center at the National Theatre of China


One of China’s representative theater companies, the National Theatre of China (中国国家话剧院) is a nation-wide performing arts group that was established when the China National Youth Theatre and the China National Experimental Theatre were combined in 2001. Since its establishment, the group has pursued performing art projects that are progressive and experimental while also upholding traditional culture and providing a creative platform for new artists. One of such platforms is the NTC’s department of international exchange, an initiative that—following the Chinese government’s policy initiatives to promote the overseas expansion of art and culture—aims to strengthen participation in international exchanges.
 The NTC’s international exchange department is operated under the leadership of producer Li Dong. A former director, Li Dong’s career has included participation in the Gao Gao Xing Xing program (a performance showcase and forum) at the Performing Arts Market Seoul 2015, organized by the Korea Arts Management Service. The program served as a follow-up to the "Korea-China Arts and Culture Forum," which was originally hosted by KAMS, as well as China’s selection as the country of honor at PAMS 2014, intended to promote and sustain cultural exchanges with China.
I met with Li Dong to talk about the direction of the NTC’s international exchange and the movements of the group itself. 

Inside the National Theatre of China ©National Theatre of China The National Theatre of China logo ©National Theatre of China

The Direction of the National Theatre of China’s International Exchange, Seen through Questions

Q. Lee Hee-jin: I’ve heard that, through being the head of the International Exchange Center, you’ve managed to show a licensed Chinese version of War Horse. It seems quite different, directionally, from the past projects of the National Theatre of China. Was there any particular reason you selected War Horse?

Li Dong: The significance of the Chinese version of War Horse isn’t simply about getting licensing; it’s in the fact that it’s the product of collaboration between the national arts groups of China and the United Kingdom. The collaboration began in 2013, and for two years we were able to build a solid foundation of trust and a network with the National Theatre. Moreover, the artists involved in the project at the National Theatre of China were able to learn a lot from the collaboration process. Take, for example, the technical aspects and the stage equipment: It’s difficult to claim that there is any specialized knowledge that comes into play as far as the stage equipment or technology of China’s art groups goes. But in the UK, it’s different. All of the technical teams, following the directions of the stage director, take up their roles in an orderly fashion and quickly complete their tasks. The National Theatre of China, as an art group that represents China, has the goals of nurturing artistic talent in a variety of fields and of raising the standard of art and culture. In that sense, I’m anticipating that the Chinese stage technicians who worked on this collaborative project will be able to play a big role in helping nurture China’s stage technicians and talent. And going beyond the stage, for China’s production team, too, it was an opportunity to learn from the production process of the National Theatre in the UK. In particular, the work of the past two years was an important opportunity for the actors and directors to absorb a new method and train in it. Liu Dan, an up-and-coming producer at the National Theatre of China who participated in this project, grew immensely through this collaboration. He is expected to be a promising investment on the part of the NTC. 

Q. I’ve heard that the International Exchange Center of the National Theatre of China expanded from the department for international exchange and cooperation and is now being run as an independent organization affiliated with the NTC. How has your role evolved following the changes within the organization?

Li Dong: The department for international exchange and cooperation within the NTC was the department that took care of the actual procedure of going overseas, finances, and other administrative duties. But as the overseas exchanges increased, it was reorganized as the International Exchange Center, which strategically plans overseas expansion and oversees the logistics surrounding collaborative projects involving overseas organizations. Recently, China has emphasized overseas collaboration in a variety of fields through its policymaking. Exchange on the cultural front is becoming particularly visible and active, and in a sense the establishment of the International Exchange Center reflects the policy direction of the Chinese government. With a department that is responsible for the entirety of overseas collaboration, the goals are to establish a strategy for planning and consistently nurture professional talent for the long-term growth of international exchange. The War Horse project, which we touched upon earlier, can be seen as a project that is part of a larger plan for long-term collaboration with an overseas organization.

Promotional image for War Horse
©National Theatre of China
Promotional image for Jujube Tree
©National Theatre of China
Promotional image for The Monument
©National Theatre of China

Q. Amid this talk of collaboration, I’m particular interested in the idea of nurturing talent within your organization. I’ve heard that, besides selecting the producers that work with the organization, the National Theatre of China also seeks out young producers who work in the private sector and offers them financial support. How does this work, exactly?

Li Dong: Not long ago, director Huang Ying, a young director currently working in the private sector who created a new piece at the National Theatre of China, was given the opportunity to show off the broad scope of his pieces. As a result, he is now receiving a great deal of attention from the theater world. His new piece Jujube Tree, shown at the NTC, is one with a relatively large production budget compared to the other pieces shown the same year. The NTC provides financial assistance and a platform for directors not affiliated with any public organization and working with limited funds, allowing such artists to devote their undivided attention to creating their piece.
 At present, we plan to renovate a part of the Oriental Pioneer Theatre as a studio for rehearsals and residencies and also open a center for young artists. Currently, there is no detailed management plan set in place, but we’re discussing a program structure that will be diverse and able to provide young artists with a place to create and promote exchange with overseas artists. Besides the production budget, young producers are also faced with a variety of other problems, such as concerns about space for their creative work and the lack of professional talent. The NTC may have its own in-house producers, but each year it also selects young producers and directors who are creating high-quality work that warrants the attention of private companies. To the selected artists we provide comprehensive support including financial assistance for production, for space, and with planning and promotion, along with a platform for expansion into overseas markets in the future. 

Q. The production budget of the National Theatre of China is divided into three categories: creative/original theater, classical theater, and experimental theater. I’m curious about how the budgets for each of these categories differ.

Li Dong: The production budget is largely categorized into three types. The first is for original pieces. Although original pieces come with a variety of dangers—such as the long period of creation involved and the risks associated with whether or not it will succeed—due the fact we believe that it’s important to keep originality alive, a considerable part of the budget is consistently set aside to support new pieces. On the other hand, experimental pieces have an even lower chance of success compared to original pieces and, along with the debate that often surrounds their creation, they typically come with even more issues. Though this means that the budget for experimental theater is relatively lower, we continue to support this category consistently because we believe in the need for exploring and developing new performance formats and stage language. Finally, there’s the production budget for classical pieces. Classical pieces are being recreated in many ways. Besides Western pieces, beginning with Shakespeare and including the likes of Brecht, the NTC has been digging up older repertoires, including pieces from long ago and ones that left a mark on the theater world, and putting them on the stage. Due to the great success of the 2013 revival of The Monument, the NTC has made plans for an annual program of classic pieces including The Crucible, Life and Death, and The Dawns Here Are Quiet.
For a private organization, perhaps, it’s possible to use the budget to attempt a variety of highly experimental pieces, but another major goal of the NTC is to cultivate an audience for the performing arts scene. For this reason, we must also think about more active ways to draw audiences to the theater, and thus showcase pieces that are relatively approachable. 

<바리abandoned> 공연포스터

<바리abandoned> 공연 모습

Producer Lee Hee-jin (left) conducting the interview with Li Dong (right),
head of the International Exchange Center at the National Theatre China ©Chad Park

Q. Let’s return to a discussion of international exchange. At the forum, we talked about how there is active exchange between China and Korea in the entertainment industry, but any exchange in the theater world has not moved beyond the early stages. Against this background, how do you think that exchange should unfold in the future?

Li Dong: The exchange between the theater worlds of China and Korea has been going on consistently for some time. But it’s true that the exchange never goes beyond a simple exchange focused on a single piece or a director. In the past, when exchange itself was sparse, this kind of exchange had significance on its own; enough time has passed, however, that today there are a variety of exchanges in various fields, and so I believe that there needs to be a shift in how exchanges happen in the theater world. Let’s examine the exchange of the movie industries of each country. China’s movie market has knocked Japan out of its ranking to become the world’s second biggest. It’s maintained its speed and is even threatening the first-place ranking of the US market. And with the growth of the market, the production has also grown. The Korean movie industry has also shown consistent growth, and through long-term development, has nurtured a pool of many superior talents in a variety of fields, including production and management. To them, the Korean market may seem limited in scope, but Korean film professionals have experience and know-how accumulated from having produced work consumed by audiences worldwide. China, on the other hand, lacks the talent to match the speed of the steep growth of its market. Due to Korea’s geographical proximity to China, cultural exchanges are a particularly convenient solution and, as a result, it’s not uncommon to see deeper types of exchange occurring that involve Korean talent entering the Chinese market. Compared to the movie industry, the reality of the theater industry is that there isn’t a big enough market. I anticipate, however, that as theater continues to grow, the market will also grow along with it. And I also anticipate that the exchange between the two countries will go beyond simply exchanging pieces or individuals, but broaden foundations through the exchange of content and through collaborative projects.

Q. When you talk about the exchange of content and collaboration, isn’t this something that’s already happening in the world of commercial performing arts?

Li Dong:That’s true. In the field of commercial performing arts, there are already collaborations through things such as content exchange. The regret I have about this is that these collaborations stop at the level of Asian licenses for Western pieces, and more. There is no exchange of original Korean content. Personally, I have an interest in selecting pieces from the pool of performances created in Korea that have been widely praised by both audiences and critics, and then developing pieces appropriate for the Chinese market. You can find a lot of similarities in the cultures of Korea and China, but within these similarities there are also subtle differences in sensibility. A few years ago, working with NTC director Tian Qinxin, I managed a collaborative project between Korea’s Michoo Theater Company and the NTC. It was my first time working with the actors from Michoo Theater Company, and the fact that I wasn’t able to fully understand their method or characteristics and unable to fully incorporate their strengths into the piece is something I still regret. But the experience then helped me in other projects with the National Theater Company of Korea, and I was able to direct creative activities in a relatively smoother way. In the future, were there to be an opportunity to collaborate with Korean directors and producers, it would be necessary to give them enough time to study the Chinese market and audience over a long period of time. Moreover, there would also need to be workshops in advance so that the directors could understand the characteristics of the Chinese actors. This would be a necessity, in the process of preparing for the collaboration, and there would need to be a minimum of six months set aside for the project, as the key to collaboration is to understand the local performing arts market. I anticipate an opportunity for collaboration with Korea in the near future. 

  

©KAMS




 

기고자프로필

Lee Hee-jin_Producer Group Dot
Lee Hee-jin is a producer at Producer Group Dot and currently manages the performance tours of Korean performing arts groups as well as joint collaborative projects with overseas groups. She is also an international committee member at the BeSeTo Festival. Email
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