European theatre consultancy promises ‘gateway to China’

The Daning Theatre in Shanghai
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Center Stage China, billing itself as a one-stop shop for European theatre producers wanting to transfer shows to and from China, has launched in London this week.

The company, set up by Finnish theatre producer Johan Storgard, will operate as a joint venture with China Performing Arts Agency, a state-run theatre operator in China that manages 34 venues across the country. Center Stage China will use CPAA’s 1,150-seat Daning Theatre in Shanghai as its base, with access to the agency’s network of venues across the country.

Center Stage China, which holds its UK launch at the St James Theatre today (November 15), will act as a consultancy service, offering a range of services to producers, including translators for content adaptation or business negotiations, contacts with local arts officials and help with access to Chinese venues and marketing. It will also help to bring work from China to Europe.

Storgard, who will serve as chief executive of CSC, told The Stage: “It is a cultural gateway between Europe and the performing arts market in China, which is the fastest growing performing arts market in the world. Center Stage China can provide a one-stop shop regarding all permits, all licences, all logistics, and all content issues if any producer in Europe wants to enter the Chinese market.”

CSC has been set up by Storgard’s production company ACE-Production, a Finnish marketing agency, an architect and a group of financial advisers. Storgard said it had been three years in the planning, after ACE-Productions had taken part in the Shanghai World Expo.

He added: “Center Stage China will provide something that a lot of producers have been looking for for a long time. The problem in China is the language – we [Europeans] don’t speak Chinese and the Chinese people are not very educated in English. So, we have created a management structure where we have English-speaking staff and Chinese staff, who also speak English, German, Finnish, Swedish – all the languages we need.”

Storgard said there were “no limits” to the kind of work that might work in the Chinese market. He added: “Content rules. The theatre and the performing arts structures are not so different anywhere in the world. Everyone works the same way – it’s just a question of what language we communicate through. The body language onstage is normally the most universal.”

Michael Chen, vice general manager of CPAA, said that the company, which is the largest and oldest arts organisation in China, would use its network of venues to promote foreign productions throughout the country, and said that it was keen to co-invest to create original shows based on Chinese stories.

He told The Stage: “We are hoping to enhance our own production ability, to improve the management standard of theatres and other cultural facilities and to promote Chinese national performing groups in Europe in a commercial way.”

He added: “UK producers have rich experience in theatrical and musical productions. This joint venture will provide good advice, extensive network and theatre space for UK producers and companies."