Johnny Tam

Theatre director, art director of the Macao Experimental Theatre, has been living and working in Shanghai and Berlin. Representative works from these years are Mr. Shi and His Lover and Lungs.

BOK: more than just an incubator

08 2019 | Issue 34

After I was given the task to plan the BOK Festival, an event dedicated to performing arts that will take place this August and September, I invited two artists from Shanghai in late May to visit Macao and create their works here. When getting to know more about them, I gained a better understanding of iPANDA, a platform focuses on facilitating exchange and support for the performing arts community. iPANDA dedicates itself to driving the internal development of performing arts in China and incubating more international cooperation.

What kind of platform can help to incubate performing arts productions? Firstly, we have to define incubation—what kind of works should we produce? Take the example of some sizable entertainment platforms in mainland China, whether it is TV shows, television dramas streaming online, films or even theatre plays, we can see they are essentially about intellectual property (IP). The book Grief Grocery Store of Keigo Higashino and the popular mobile game called Honour of Kings in China can be taken as examples. A shareholder of an entertainment platform even claimed during an interview that their company had 1,000 outstanding IPs and over 10,000,000 copyright literary works. Under this circumstance, scriptwriters and directors are driven to create works based on IPs. In short, it is not always about artists’ creative ideas; sometimes, it is about creating more from a well-developed IP.


There is another case of IP incubation that can also be taken as a reference. There is a famous entertainment brand in China, which spends ten million on incubating comedies every year. The funding is distributed to 20 teams for creating their works. After assessing the initial performances from the 20 teams, investors will pick one or two comedies and fund their further production in the coming year. If it becomes a blockbuster, it might become a major IP that investors will support next year. The successful IP might be adapted into films or other forms on the Internet. Another example is a film directed by Fruit Chan named The Midnight After. It is a sci-fi film that combines comedy, action, thriller and drama. The film was adapted from a popular online fiction on HKGolden’s forum. The film was nominated by the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in 2014.

However, creative works from IPs are not guaranteed with success. It is apparent that well-developed and mature IPs can take full advantage of their popularity. But let’s not forget that the hype on the Internet will eventually fade and that the audience’s preference will change at the end of the day. If creators only focus on creating works based on IPs and their derivative products, they would be in a passive position since many famous IPs are in the hands of commercial companies rather than in those of artists. Moreover, IPs may also impose restrictions on creativity, because the world setting, theme, language style and pace are set in stone. This is why IPs leave very little room for creators to further innovate.

When even Golden Forum can become the breeding ground for performing arts, curators and promoters of regional communication platforms are no longer faced with questions such as how to incubate creative works. Now it has become crucial for them to think about how to produce a creative industry with special characters through the formation of platforms. When we look back at iPANDA, a platform dedicated to performing arts, we can see the two artists have an answer to this question. In a roundtable discussion titled “Shanghai Contemporary Performance Q&A”, they discussed how artists and people responsible for managing art space and resources should enjoy more freedom to explore Shanghai, a city where supply-demand falls short of supply. They also shed light on whether this exploration can get the market prepared for the next pop culture trend. Since every cultural business opportunity can be a good timing of rectifying the reputation of arts, we must embrace the determination and the optimism that will make our society more inclusive and progressive. This is exactly what iPANDA has been promoting in mainland China. This is also the vision that BOK Festival is trying to realise for art culture.