Hangzhou Theatre Conference speech
Again, my ongoing preaching QUALITY over cheaper price for shows in China, this is a copy of my speech on the topic “Theatre Management in the development of the Chinese Cultural Industry” at the China International Venue Alley Hangzhou Theatre Conference, September 2013 to about 500 Chinese theatre managers and Ministry of Culture officials.
As many of you know, I have spent more time than any other foreign musical theatre professional — 10 years in China — closely observing, and in many cases, quietly working with, both government and commercial theatre organizations throughout China as this country has introduced and rapidly commenced (although somewhat limited) international practices in theatre management.
All levels of national, provincial and municipal Government suggests that funding will continue to erode and reduce and that local theatres needs to find their own ways to be financially self sustaining with a few years. This is the international model.
The real problem is to ask how many people in this room of 300 or so General Managers and Chinese Theatre Executives are satisfactorily assured that their respective theatres can be largely self funded by consumer ticket sales, corporate sponsorship, rentals and licensing within a few years?
I think the realistic answer is very few.
As a rapidly growing industry, we need to think carefully about future revenue streams and plan accordingly.
Our customers buy tickets to see shows, not theatres.
So quality of performances for sale needs to drive the demand for tickets.
Internationally it is proven that lower quality shows bring down the demand for ticket sales. Best quality shows achieve demand larger than any other form of entertainment. An example is The Phantom of The Opera which has worldwide ticket sales of over $5.6 billion — has been seen by over 130 million people in 145 cities in 27 countries and is of identical quality (or better) than when it first opened so long ago.
So what am I still doing in China after 10 years? I would have a much easier, more financially rewarding life in the safety of my home in New York and London. But, I believe in the future of China. I believe in the tenacity and creativity of many people in this room. I believe that come 10 years from now, China will have greater creative and financial significance than my old Broadway.
I, like many of you in the room, am betting my reputation, my career, my future — on the development and success of the people in this room. Most of my business associates in New York and London think I am crazy to still be here – many do not trust or believe that China can create a 1st class theatre industry. I want, no, I NEED to prove them wrong.
Developing 1st class quality, best-of-the-best quality shows, in China, with themes and topics of strong appeal to Chinese consumers is absolutely 100% the future of Chinese entertainment… and is the only practical way to increase theatre revenues to be self-sustaining is by selling more tickets at realistic prices on a very regular basis.
The importing of some foreign entertainment is OK, but only as a small fraction of the total programming required to sustain future growth.
In my opinion, there is currently far too much import, not nearly enough quality Chinese productions, and as a result, almost no export.
Indeed many of the current shows exporting are considered low quality and do not serve well as China ambassadors, which creates ongoing problems to convince foreign bookers (and audiences) that the better Chinese quality shows really are better. This MUST change… and fortunately, there is a growing sense of urgency to make this change.
Chinese shows by Chinese creative teams, with real budgets, and strong physical production elements, performed in 1st class theatres utilizing international quality management to dramatically elevate the consumer experience is ESSENTIAL.
The entire audience experience needs to be dramatically overhauled to generate real excitement, pleasure, satisfaction and joy from the high priced shows that we will all be presenting in future years.
From the moment consumers purchase the tickets, through their arrival at theatre, greetings by ushers, attractive lobby spaces with great merchandising and concessions, comfortable seating, clean washrooms and the amazing show itself… Are all critical elements in elevating the consumer experience. Currently, all of these elements are sadly lack-lustre, half-hearted and in many cases, just ‘show’ for VIP patrons.
Providing VIP patrons with VIP experience is great, but very miss-guided when nearly all VIP ticket holders are actually free – comp tickets issued to Government officials.
Don’t get me wrong… I completely understand the unique situation in China, where Government approves or denies the work we do, and therefore all levels of Government are critically important to the success of failure of our business… but with financial support diminishing from Government and the need to be self-sustaining commercially viable theatres, the focus on VIP needs to shift accordingly.
Providing VIP experience and quality of production for every customer that BUYS tickets is where you should be focusing efforts.
Many of us will witness a step forward towards what I am proposing, when we see Jane Eyre tonight. Albeit a foreign script initially, in a show that had questionable success on Broadway and in London, this production was adapted and shaped by Chinese for Chinese, and the quality of production elevated over it’s predecessors to showcase an effort that leads the industry in the right direction. By no means perfect, but it’s a really positive step in the right direction, bringing the foundation of a real musical to the stage. Mr. Ke must be applauded for his continuing focus on the development of improving Chinese production by Chinese.
In summary, I beg you to no longer just keep the status quo – “good enough” IS NEVER “good enough” – Rather, think about the future… dream about possibilities. Like I did 30 years ago as a fresh-faced 20 year old kid arriving in New York… think big, dream bigger.
Using the talents and creative thinking of this room.. All is possible – and vitally necessary.