Since 2013 Paperbelle has been touring Internationally - we've been all over the world but most recently we've been developing a partnership with Artspace for Kids (ASK) in Shanghai.
We've been over three times now, performing in Shanghai, Beijing, Kunshan and Chengdu for a combined total of 10 weeks. Audiences there love the show so much so that ASK has built us a new set (Paperbelle's House) that now lives in China.
Stanley Pattison, one of the creators of Paperbelle, has performed as Eric each time. We asked him what he had to say about the experience:
Are there any differences performing Paperbelle for audiences in China to audiences back home?
No none at all. In fact this is one of the things that always amazes me with Paperbelle. No matter where we perform it the children react the same way to the same parts. Obviously I don't always know what they are shouting so if we have a particularly vocal audience I always try to ask the venue staff what the children were saying. It always turns out to be the same as UK children. Most common words shouted are "She's gone!", "No Paperbelle!", "Over there!" and shouting the names of colours.
I always look forward to when Paperbelle gets wet in the Blue section of the show as it's a good indicator if the children are following the story. In China like in other countries the children go quiet and look concerned for Paperbelle. It indicates that they have empathy for her - we've managed to make her real and they are following the story, not just getting excited about PB appearing and disappearing.
The adults in the audience vary from city to city. I found that in places where we used formal seating like in Shanghai & Beijing the adults were less likey to sit with their children and share the experience.
I also noticed that the parent child ratio was different to the UK. In China one child would more than often be accompanied by 4-5 adults which obviously changed the dynamics of the space. The adults would sit at the back and the children at the front. It gave the space a traditional theatre lay out and felt less intimate.
In Kunshan the audiences were much smaller (40-50) and parents and children sat together creating a safer and friendly parent and child experience.
What’s been the moment of the tour that’s made you laugh most?
Well nothing will ever be as funny as the day we couldn't find 'camouflaged' Paperbelle 😂
This translation thing is close though. Sometimes little jokes don't translate like when Paperbelle sings "Scaredy cat, Scardey cat" during the Red section. However during Yellow when guitar is revealed and Eric whispers to PB:
"Do you know Elvis Presley?" always got a snigger from audiences in other countries but wasn't getting a reaction in China.
So I asked some Chinese people for the names of famous Chinese rock singers. Then to my amazement this conversation happened...
Me: I wonder why nobody laughs at the Elvis Presley bit.
Jane: Who's Elvis Presley?
Ross: you don't know Elvis?!
Iris: Elvis, who's Elvis?
Me: You don't know Elvis? Yes you do (starts singing all the good elvis songs)
Jane & Iris: Ah you mean Māo zhī wáng.
Me & Ross: Who?
Jane: The king of cats.
Me: Whys he called that?
Jane & Iris: I don't know
What do you think the audience get from seeing the show?
From chatting to venue staff it seems that this type of small intimate theatre is fairly new to China and and everyone seems excited by it. Staff quite often say that the show is hard to describe to audiences because they don't understand why it has such a small capacity. (Paperbelle's capacity in China is 80)
I was talking to someone from Wales who was teaching drama in Kunshan at the the same venue we were in. He said that one parent said to him that she thought Paperbelle was great for the children but far too simple for adults as there was only one performer and a simple set.
He said he explained to her that it was for the children and explained about immersive theatre and its benefits for the children. He said that most Chinese theatre is large-scale Operas or traditional theatre with huge casts and sets. The venue staff also said they are slowly getting parents round to idea of small-scale theatre for children and they are all super enthusiastic about it.
I think one of the big benefits of Paperbelle is that it encourages a parent child experience.
I really like it when you catch a glimpse of a parent or grandparent sharing a laugh with their child or two parents enjoying watching there child's reaction to the show.
One of my favourite moments of this leg of the tour was in Chengdu when a child was laughing so loud that the mother covered his mouth but she was laughing too and the other parents were laughing at them trying not to laugh.
I suppose like I was saying before that it seems like emersive theatre is fairly new in China although venues do seem to be programming loads of International theatre in this style now. It's great that the children are getting to experience it.
When we give out little Paperbelle's at the end I always like to see parents playing with their children with them after the show and the venues all seem really good at continuing that play through creative activities after the show like craft workshops etc. Lastly I suppose Paperbelle feels like a gentle introduction to theatre for young children. Paperbelle's world seems like a safe, fun space for parents to introduce children to theatre and to play.
Oh and one observation is that RED Paperbelle programmes are more popular in China than anywhere else we've been.
Favourite quote from a child that was translated by a member of staff.
"Mum I think Eric must be a magician and Paperbelle is magic"