THE Western Contemporary Drama Season now underway is featuring major original works at two state-of-the-art theaters in Shanghai 1933 Creative Park.
The commercial creative park opened five years ago in what was once the largest slaughterhouse in East, famous for its Art Deco architecture and glass dome skylight. It has since been renovated again to create two theaters in what planners hope will become the future Off-Broadway area in Shanghai. They opened in May.
The Sky Theater on the fourth floor seats an audience of 600 and the Mini Theater on the second floor has a capacity of 130.
"The Mini Theater was built especially to provide more opportunities for small shows and pioneer creations," says Sally Wang, CEO of Axons Concepts Ltd, the operator of 1933.
In 10 years, Shanghai has become one of the cities with the most creative industry parks, though many have not been well utilized. By 2009, 75 creative parks were authorized by Shanghai government and more than 200 were unauthorized, said He Zengqiang, general secretary of Shanghai Creative Industry Center.
Other well-known creative parks include M50 (Shanghai Chun Ming Art Industry Park), Bridge 8, Red Town, Tian Zi Fang and Fahua 525 Creative Forest. Around two thirds of the creative parks are renovated factories and warehouses, given a new lease on life.
Once Shanghai was a manufacturing center, but industry declined and moved elsewhere and Shanghai became a different kind of city. Many factories and warehouses were torn down to make way for development.
In 1995, then Shanghai Economic Commission called for reconstruction of industrial buildings and worked out policies and incentives for creative industries to settle in old buildings.
"Since Shanghai used to be an industrial city, it had plenty of good hardware," said He of Shanghai Creative Industry Center.
Many fashion companies hold events in the old, atmospheric spaces.
"Remodeling old factories for use as creative parks is a good investment because it's a lower investment," says Carl Tsui, vice general manager of SVA Creativity Corp. "That's why creative industry parks are encouraged by governments and favored by many investors."
SVA Yuejie on Tianlin Road was established in 2009 in the renovated Shanghai Jinxing Television Factory in Xuhui District.
But the city is practically saturated with creative parks and many of them compete in the same cultural areas, targeting the same audience. The global financial crisis also affected the art market and various arts fields.
"To develop better, these creative factories must have clear marketing targets. Besides providing space for commercial events and shows and restaurants, stores and salons, we realized we needed stronger cultural content," says Wang of Axons Concepts.
Axons saw the good market potential of drama in Shanghai and the space potential in 1933, so it launched the strategy of "culture lading commerce." Axons started a cooperation with Shanghai Drama Arts Center in 2010.
"1933 is historically protected architecture. There are so many successful cases of theaters worldwide rebuilt from meaningful architecture that have a sense of art and culture," Wang says.
The existing restaurants, cafes, bars and shops provide a supportive leisure environment for visitors before and after shows. The theatergoers themselves will promote the creative park.
The investment in the two theaters was very large but 1933 estimates that the investment will be recouped because of increased numbers of visitors of all kinds, as well as theatergoers.
The aim is to line up more performances and stage a show every week, or even every day, Wang says.