How to be a creative producer in a NPO Chinese 

drama community in Australia?

A case study interview report

Overview:

The report would provide some understanding of whether there is merit in being skilled and creative producer of a non-profit organization to promote exceptional Chinese dramas in Australia. If so, the report would provide some understanding of how the producing skills could be creative and effective in practical circumstance. This report represents the findings of the interview with Gordon Zi-Qing Guo, the executive producer/screenplay writer/actor of the play “palace of desire” which will be presented by Cathay Playhouse in late October in Seymour Centre Everest Theatre, Sydney, 2013.

Method:

A qualitative approach was selected to enable a complex and exploratory conversation with interviewee to start understanding the framework in which his thoughts, skills and actions develop.

The interview:

Interview was conducted by UTS MA students Jie Ren and Xuexi Zhao and was convened via telephone depends on the participant’s preference. Interviews were audio taped with the permission of the participants.

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The Seymour Theater

Case study:

About Cathay Playhouse

For creative producing case study assignment, the largest and the most influential Chinese drama group within Australia, Cathay Playhouse was selected as the interview subject. According to open source on the Internet, Cathay Playhouse was established in 2003 and registered as a non-profit organization under NSW Fair Trading. With the goal of one major production annually at least, Cathay Playhouse has adapted and presented over ten plays collectively, including the Merchant of Venice (2009) and Thunderstorm (2012). To celebrate Cathay Playhouse’s tenth anniversary in 2013, Cathay is presenting the historical epic, Palace of Desire, adapted from the history story happened during Tang Dynasty in ancient China.

About the interviewee

Gordon Zi-Qing Guo is an executive producer in Cathay Playhouse and has joined the non-profit Chinese drama community since 2008, but the role of Gordon in Cathay playhouse is more than that. Since his participate in Cathay Play, average five-hours sleep, twenties emails, dozens of phone calls and hundreds messages daily are consist of his working routine. Not only served as producer, but also as main actor in Thunderstorm (2012) and Palace of Desire(2013), screenplay writer in 1980+(2012)and Palace of Desire(2013), and production designer in Thunderstorm (2012). Surprisingly, Gordon does a full-time job in another company but does volunteer in Cathay Playhouse.

Representative work: Palace of Desire:

The story:

Every year, Cathay Playhouse starts to prepare for the annual drama of the next year in April or May, which means the production period of every play would cost nearly a year and half’s time. So is the Palace of Desire, the coming drama that will be shown in October. Then, a complex story that focusing on the conflicts between the aspiration of power and human nature happened in ancient China, Tang Dynasty around six Century, will be preformed.

Palace of Desire will be shown in the Seymour Theater and the number of showing is four times in three days. Site as Seymour Theater is the largest expense that costs as much as eight thousand dollars. The reasons to choose famous theater center are better management, more seats that allows two thousand and five hundred audiences to enjoy the play at the same time, as well as to celebrate the ten years old birthday of Cathay Playhouse. According to Gordon, the Palace of Desire is the biggest investment in ten yeas’ production history which has already exceeded three times as the original budget, reaching as much as 120 thousands AUD. Since the main source of their funds is depends on their box office incomings, Cathay Playhouse had used their “profits” to cover the excess of budget.

The staff

Cathay Playhouse has divided its staffs into four parts: the actors department which in charging of performing in the drama; the administration department mainly includes the PR people, the sponsorship management, IT department, the data Management; the propaganda work in copywriting, translating, camera, multimedia design field; the production team that manages every affair such as sound, stage, lighting, choreography and so on. To create Palace of Desire, more than 100 staffs includes 28 actors and over than 30 administration people working together to contribute their effort.
Every staff from the Palace of Desire are working as volunteer, signing their contract in volunteer format which clearly indicate that their work would not been paid. Besides that, according to the contract, they should take full responsibility on their job.

Communication platform

To publicize the Palace of Desire, Cathay Playhouse largely makes use of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, as well as its official website. Social media can not only help to sell the tickets, but also let give the public a better understanding of Cathay Playhouse on its ideas and beliefs. For the off-line aspect, Cathay Playhouse cooperates with Chinese community, such as famous personal businesses and companies, to organize promotion work. For example, some Chinese supermarkets and restaurants allow them to present the handbill and posts of Palace of Desire.

Other creations

Except for the Palace of desire, there are numerous outstanding dramas presented by Cathay play house. For example, the De-Ling and Empress Dowager Ci-Xi had surprised the audiences and gained plenty of favorable comments. Besides that, the 1980+ had stuck a responsive chord in the hearts of its audiences by describing the happiness, sorrow, success and frustration of young people living abroad.

Budgeting:

To apply founds and get investment, Gordon should not only submit a proposal including budget sheet and script synopsis to Sydney city council for Arts Funding Program in April and September of every year, but also contact many sponsors from Chinese community within Australia. Although Cathay Playhouse can obtain stable investment and founding every year, the majority incomes still come from box office.

Normally, Budget for a Cathay Play production includes equipment fees, theater rent, costume/props, production design and promotion fees. Budget for each play is average around 50,000 dollars; As a NPO, whole crew and cast are volunteering so the majority cost is from equipment and site. For instance, Gordon mentioned that theater rent for palace desire this as an example, is around 10,000 dollars totally when asked about the details of expenses for each sector.

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Poster of Palace of Desire

Creative producing:

Gordon’s spontaneous comments when asked to introduce some practical techniques about how to reduce budget as much as possible were about costume cost. He introduced a rather special way that implemented in 2010 and 2013 about how they creatively solved the expensive costume problem: making orders with one of the largest film studios in China and shipping directly to Australia by air.

“In 2010, we decided to purchase Qing Dynasty costume for our new play “De-Ling and Empress Dowager Ci-Xi”, which was one of the most successful play in Cathay history, from Hengdian…”

Due to the pursuing of spreading traditional Chinese performing art and culture across Australia and based on the survey of audience’s preference, Cathay Play house began to performance historic play either adapted from history story or Chinese TV series. However the Chinese ancient costume became the top problem because of it was rather expensive and hard to find in Australia. After research, Gordon decided to purchase costumes from Hengdian studio where they can find plenty authentic and cheaper late Qing Dynasty costume for De-Ling and Empress Dowager Ci-Xi. This play was quite successful in box office and gained surplus that could afford them for purchasing fixed assets like lighting and camera. “smart purchase can save way more than spent”, said by Gordon.

Besides, the methodology that usually conducted in practice by Gordon is negotiation and begging, if necessary. Remember to save every penny as much as possible is also vital when making decisions on every disbursement.

Intercultural Communication:

Looking back into the ten years’ creation, it is easy to find out that the majority of dramas of Cathay playhouse are Chinese cultural background dramas. Only two of them are exceptions: the Merchant of Venice (2009) and the Government Inspector (2011). Why is that? Isn’t it much harder to insist Chinese production in such western cultural dominant society? Will it be more difficult to develop the playhouse because of the language and cultural restriction? However, to our surprise, Gordon’s answer is just in the opposite.

“Although it is a good experience to put eastern thoughts into western literatures and view the western culture from the eastern aspect, Chinese production with its traditional cultural background is always the preference of audience and the only way to open the western market. This is also the reason why the De-Ling and Empress Dowager Ci-Xi could gain such a success.”

Conclusion:

To sum up, as a non-for-profit organization, Cathay Playhouse has gathered hundreds of people’s love and dreams and continuing communicated Chinese culture within western society to make it more widely know. While being a good direction on drama making, it has provided another way of entertainments. Most importantly, Cathay Playhouse has done significant job on creative producing, such as purchase stage property from its original place of production, still it is quite pity that all the wonderful jobs are done by just volunteers.

References:

Cathay Playhouse’s Facebook Home Page: https://www.facebook.com/cathayplayhouse

Cathay Playhouse’s Twitter Home Page: https://twitter.com/cathayplayhouse

Cathay Playhouse’s Weibo Front Page: http://e.weibo.com/cathayplayhouse

The Official Website of Cathay Playhouse: http://www.cathayplayhouse.org/en/

Video clips of De-Ling and Empress Dowager Ci-Xi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCN4I5coiHw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijWRzCjGiDk (Sponsor)

Trailer of the Government inspector: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F8Yl-P4Xls

Trailer of the 1980+: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2Mt8hMRwPc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoZlBgJR4ow (De-Ling and Empress Dowager Ci-Xi)

Documentary film of De-Ling and Empress Dowager Ci-Xi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsLmH_UlvqE