Project Description

Shaanxi Qinhuang Grand Theatre

Shaanxi Qinhuang Grand Theatre

From August 2013 until July 2014, based in Lintong village (about an hour’s drive north-east from downtown Xi’an) through Nederlander, I was engaged as as General Manager (equivalent in China to CEO) & Executive Director by an investor group, led by a reasonable and nice guy to get a semi-constructed Shaanxi Qinhuang Grand Theatre completed at the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses site, and open with a new resident show, China’s First Emperor.

Primary objective was to get the theatre opened against a backdrop of 8 years of ‘highly questionable conduct’ in order for the tourist show to open.  Laden with historical issues, the primary Chinese developer was great and visionary, most of the local staff were highly motivated and supportive, however, the local financial controllers representing a previously unknown 2nd group of investors were corrupt, inept, deceitful, destructive, and by western standards would have been put in jail.

The Shaanxi Qinhuang Grand Theatre at the Terra-Cotta Warriors & Horses

Xi'an QinHuang Grand Theatre company teamQuickly, I found out that there were actually 2 investor groups involved, with the second group detesting the primary investor group’s leaders decision to utilize Nederlander and have an experienced foreigner with lots of Chinese real-world experience, in charge of the business.

I pretty quickly worked out why, this 2nd group had put in place 2 senior managers locally who over the course of many years, prior to my arrival, were actively stalling progress on the construction of the Grand Theatre so they could continue to amass personal fortunes and control. One manager was responsible for contracts, budgets, asset purchasing, legal affairs and risk control and the other manager was responsible for finance and asset purchasing.  These 2 colluded together, possibly with others, having construction vendors over-inflate bids. The difference between actual cost and what the investors were paying, went into their pockets.  The construction vendors knowing what was happening (at that time common in China) decided they also wanted under the table cash, so they intentionally slowed and did a poor job so they would be paid to return and return and return again constantly fixing and making more money.

They wasted many years of super-slow and poor-quality construction. By the time I arrived, the Grand Theatre was a dirt pit of a mess with extremely poor physical construction.

The over-bloated China’s First Emperor production show designed to open it, was years behind and the 1st class Chinese creative team, was pissed off with delays and the chaos. We had been contractually mandated to get everything back on track, in order, and open the theatre and show on a specific schedule.

It was a truly horrific time to endure, where I was hampered at every hour of every day on everything by the local 2nd investor group management who chose to collectively and systemically derail me. For example, pre-approved budgets that were agreed on one day, were denied the next day, eliminating my ability to spend anything, staff salaries were delayed, questioned and in many instances completely unpaid – apparently this had been a normal course of business for the years prior to my arrival, and the local Chinese staff, without ability to fight it or complain just resigned themselves to the fact that may only get a portion of their contracted salaries each year.

I witnessed first-hand Chinese staff being chastised and publicly humiliated, often followed by laughing from the senior management. Morale was the worst I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Because the work site was in Lintong, about an hour’s drive by bus from Xi’an where everyone lives, the company supplied staff busses, however these busses were often held in Lintong, with staff on them, for hours and hours late at night, without any regard for individual family dinners or private time.  No overtime was ever paid. When heads of departments, working hard at trying to navigate this quagmire would have an agreed plan to fix something, in the days that followed local 2nd investor group management would derail / deny the plan, and then the very next day call a meeting to chastise the head of department for not fulfilling on the plan. Honestly, it was like this incredible 180º insanity at every turn.

China’s First Emperor, the inaugural show, had been languishing for many years with way too many chief cooks and bottle washers all with ridiculous opinions of some of the investors and their very corrupt onsite representatives, derailing the director’s vision, using money to dictate and control all creative, enabling them to slow the production process to a crawl, which provided them a sustained, under-the-table income from corruption with suppliers and contractors in not finishing a very very very expensive theatre building.

China First Emperor Toby QIN outside theatre

The smart group of investors, knowing of the typical corruption going on, decided to hire foreign expertise to intervene and try to get it back on track, quickly.  Enter Nederlander Worldwide…  When I arrived, the corrupt bad investors group side had spent years ripping the show to shreds creating a bunch of loose knit LED heavy scenes which had not considered, in any regard, flow of story, integration of music score, cast, costumes, lighting, sound or other elements, but individually look pretty on paper.

Worse, significant corruption was rife with local staff.  So while I was additionally trying to work out how to get the theatre built (which itself had languished for many years in a dirt pit of corruption), with pushback at every step by local and very corrupt management, I also had to work out how to assemble a commercially viable show, in Chinese, to attract group sales and Terra Cotta Warriors visitors, with a creative team who were scattered around China (and Europe), and whom had never been all together in the same room together.

Much to the chagrin of the local corrupt investor management, but with the support of smart investor group leadersh