Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 20 – The Improv Artist (Michelle QU, The Improviser Alliance)

Oscar Fuchs
Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.
Oscar Fuchs

Michelle Qu describes the things that make Chinese people laugh in improvisational comedy. And she talks us through her own personal journey in discovering the relatively new form of expression in China.

Original Date of Release: June 15, 2021.

Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 20 – The Improv Artist (Michelle QU, The Improviser Alliance)


MQ: Sometimes I think the likes things a little bit dirty.

OF: Right.


OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.

So let me start today's episode by filling in some gaps from the conversation you're about to hear. First of all, we jumped straight into it without me making a proper introduction. So my conversation is with the improvisational comedian Michelle Qu. Secondly, we never actually define what improvisational comedy - or 'improv' - actually is. So in case you've never seen it before, it's a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment, usually with the help of suggestions from the audience. Michelle gives a very simple example of this at the beginning of our conversation, and then we go on to talk about Chinese observational comedy in general. And finally, we also didn't really mention that Michelle isn't a full-time improv artist, she actually still has a day job outside of these pursuits. So yeah, that makes her an extremely busy person, so I'm grateful for the time she took to have our chat. I hope you enjoy it!

[Part 1]

OF: So here's the first thing that I want to do. I'm going to play you something. And I want you to listen.

MQ: Oh.

[Start of Audio Clip]

Sabrina CHEN: I think you should interview Michelle Qu. She is doing improvisational comedy, mainly in Chinese.

[End of Audio Clip]

OF: So that was your friend Sabrina.

MQ: Yeah, Sabrina's voice. Very special.

OF: So tell me about your relationship with her. How did you first meet?

MQ: Just in the workshop of Zmack, the first international improvisation team in Shanghai, or maybe China.

OF: Wow. So what year was that?

MQ: Oh, 2011, I think.

OF: Well, we'll talk about that later. The first question I ask everyone on this show is "What object did you bring that in some way explains what you do here in China?

MQ: OK, for improvisation comedy, this is a signature prop.

[Bell rings]

When the bell rings, that means the scene starts.

OF: Right.

MQ: And another ring means "End scene", the ending of a scene or a challenge. So every learner or actor is afraid of it. Or we are also expecting it, looking forward to it. "Oh please… When with the bell ring?" And the audience, they also looking forward to it. They want to see us die on the stage.

OF: Wow. So it must have some kind of involuntary response in your brain.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: Well, this is a perfect way to start our conversation. So why don't you talk me through one of the games that maybe you play, and you use this bell?

MQ: OK, there is a game, the name is just 'Bell'. When I tell you a story, when the bell rings, I have to change the last word of my sentence. For example "Hi Oscar. I went there by metro".

[Bell rings]

"I came here by plane".

[Bell rings]

"I came here by UFO".

[Bell rings]

"I'm not here". Yeah.

OF: Right. Does that work in Chinese, just as easily as in English?

MQ: Every programme can be played in Chinese, in Mandarin. It's not a problem.

OF: Right. Well, where did this story start for you, then? You mentioned that you met Sabrina at a certain class. So tell me about that history.

MQ: The first time I watched an improvisational comedy show was in a restaurant. Yeah, because at that time, actually there were no Chinese people who did improvisation. The improvisors were from the U.S., the actors - or, the fans - they brought this kind of performance to Shanghai. So they made some programme, they made some performances, sometimes in a bar, or in a restaurant. They didn't even have a stage, like professionally, at that time. I was quite surprised. "Oh wow", you know. "It's amazing. How can people give a reaction so quickly? I cannot do that."

OF: Was it a whole new concept for you? Had you seen anything similar in China before then?

MQ: Never. At that time, it really shocked me. I didn't know exactly what improvisation was. And the next year, they had their first workshop, to teach how to do improv comedy. I remember that moment, I just walked around and around and around that building, thinking "Should I enter or not?" I think at that time, I was 31 years old. So I said "OK, just know about it". I'm always curious about things around me, so I would like to try new things. "Maybe I won't be good at it. But I have to know about it".

OF: Nice. And so there you were, you were nervously walking around the poster. And then you went in. So what was that course like?

MQ: That three months was really hard for me. At the beginning, I was very embarrassed. Actually, I didn't know how to start improv. For example, you have nothing in front of you, and my partner said to me "Hey, look here, it's a beautiful flower". So in my mind, my direct reaction to that was "Oh, it's not a flower". And my coach just pointed at me. "Yes. It's a flower". I should say "Yes" to my partner.

OF: Aha.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: Yes. The first thing about improvisation is this "Yes, and..."

MQ: Yeah, to accept and then to push. And I didn't know how to push the scene. How to think about it, how to cooperate. How to trust people. Yeah. One of my teachers - his name is Curt Mabry, he's the Founder of Zmack - he taught me a lot about how to act, how to grow up. And he talked with me with the biggest honesty, I think. You know, with international - or American - people, the culture is different. And sometimes, I cannot catch their pattern of humour, the things they are familiar with. Sometimes I think they like things a little bit dirty.

OF: Right.

MQ: Or they sometimes make jokes about the president, or something like this…

OF: Right.

MQ: …Or the difference between Chinese people and the foreign people. I'm OK with everything. But I think that's not all of humour. So I think for Chinese people, we have special jokes that only we know.

OF: This is interesting because it correlates to one of the episodes that we had in last season. There was a Chinese comedian, and she tried Chinese humour, but she couldn't make it work. She really preferred to do her humour in English. And when she translated it into Chinese, the audience did not like it.

MQ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: So you are more comfortable with the Chinese humour?

MQ: Actually, I'm OK with everything. But I would like to discover a lot more from Chinese humour and Chinese stories. In China, we also have so many kinds of humour.

OF: Right.

MQ: Yeah, so many kinds of culture. So, people… for example, Beijing and Shanghai and 广州 [Guǎngzhōu], we make jokes about the differences from people to people, from different backgrounds.

OF: Right.

MQ: Yeah. And also, sometimes we make jokes about the difference between people who work for a Chinese enterprise and people who work for a foreign enterprise. Foreign enterprise, they talk in Mandarin, but with some English words mixed in.

OF: That's funny.

MQ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: And also we have some humour about the way people talk. For example, people from the north east, if you talk with them, maybe for one week, you will talk like them. And then Taiwan people… [Adopting a Taiwanese accent] "啊,怎么会这样子? [A, zěnme huì zhèyàng zi?]", like this, in a good mood. So it will brainwash you.

OF: Right.

MQ: So their voice brainwashes your mind.

OF: Interesting. This is all, kind of like, language, right? Language play?

MQ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: What about the topics themselves? In terms of the subject matter. Like you said, with American humour, it's quite rude; it's quite anti-authority, because you laugh at the government, you laugh at the president. What kind of subjects do you use when you do Chinese humour?

MQ: It's from our life. Real Chinese people's lives. How we communicate with parents. We talk about our life in school, how we communicate between teachers and students, because school life is quite different from in foreign schools. Every time we make a choice, it's a different way of thinking from in foreign countries. So that's real life, that makes a real difference in humour. For example, I used it to make a scene. In that scene, I played a young girl. It was from an audience member's story, the audience member was a young girl, so I played her. And I made things bigger. I'm a little princess, everybody should follow me. If I make a mistake - one plus one is four - everybody around me goes "Ah, wonderful! That's our little princess!" So it's a little bit bigger, but it's real. So people will laugh at this. I remember one of my partners, who once played a scene. And her mother was persuading her, "Hey, you have to see this guy. He's good. Maybe you can try to be boyfriend and girlfriend, and maybe go further". And the girl answers "Oh mom, come on. I'm 38 years old. So please don't introduce me to any guys". So people will laugh when she said she's 38 years old. Because, for Chinese people to be introduced to a boyfriend, that's too old.

OF: I get it.

MQ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: But it's implicitly funny, right? I think with a Western audience, they wouldn't necessarily know what you're going through, as a 38-year old.

MQ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They don't care about this.

OF: Even if I understand the words, I won't understand why it's funny, right?

MQ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's it.

OF: And so tell me about how the audience also started to learn about improvisational comedy. Because presumably, if you didn't know about it, then your audience didn't know about it.

MQ: Yeah, yeah. So every time we start a show, we have to make sure with the audience, "So now, we will all together make a show. This is improv. So the only way is, you give your ideas to us, we take your idea, and right now we will give you a scene. So then you'll believe that it's improv". So after the show - 90 minutes, or two hours - the audience will say "Oh, I trust you. It's true. Everything is done right now, in the present". Yeah.

OF: Right, because they are the ones who have given you all the content.

MQ: Yeah, yeah. Even sometimes, you know we have a theatre, but a very small theatre. Only 80 or 100 people can sit inside.

OF: Oh, so they're very, very close.

MQ: Yeah, very close, I can even touch them. So sometimes, I just pull them up on the stage, to play with us. And the audience enjoys that. They're just like "Ah, I would like to get the next chance to get up on stage, to play the actress."

OF: Right. So, in that way, in Shanghai, people are not shy.

MQ: Um, it depends. For young people - if you have a very good warm up - after that, people won't be shy. Because everybody has paid. They want to enjoy it, they want to participate in it. But some - like the old uncles and aunties - are too quiet.

OF: Right. And if the warm-up doesn't work, you already know, like "Uh-oh, we're in trouble today."

MQ: Yeah, yeah, always. I can predict. Before, I have a habit to just have a look at the audience when they enter the theatre. I can see "Oh today, the atmosphere, the air, we will do a good job today." If, sometimes, I see not a lot of audience in the theatre, and they're just playing with their mobile phones, they're not talking to each other, then I can predict "Ah, it's going to be hard work today."

OF: Right. But then, it must be nice when you start with that audience, and you can transform them into a good audience.

MQ: Yeah. Right now, I have some experience with how to warm up people. I must give so much energy to them. Everybody, they can feel me. Feel my feeling. Yeah.

OF: And so tell me about your theatre.

MQ: OK, so before, I talked about Zmack, in restaurants or in bars. After that, I had my own team. And we played in an art space, they gave us the chance to play there, like once a month. And what surprised me is that the art space, they had a very good audience resource. People would like to pay for different kinds of shows, different kinds of exhibitions. So at that time, we have some audience, and they just followed us from that time, for so many years. And after that, there was another group in Shanghai, they were professional. So they invited us to join them, so we can share our resources. So we agreed to join them. And we have a bigger audience. Right now is we still work together, 'The Improviser Alliance'.

OF: And how do you say that in Chinese?

MQ: '即兴者联盟 [Jíxìngzhě Liánméng]'.

OF: Oh, so '即兴 [jíxìng]' is 'improvisation'.

MQ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, 'improvisation', yeah.

OF: OK, I didn't know that. Great. So have you seen improvisation pop up in different cities in China?

MQ: Yeah, that's what we are so pleased to see. Before, it was only 广州 [Guǎngzhōu], 深圳 [Shēnzhèn], Shanghai, Beijing, that we had some improvisers. But right now we can see in every province - the biggest cities - in each one, they have improvisers. And also besides improvisation shows, there is more stand-up comedy, 漫才 [manzai] comedy, and sketch comedy. It's getting better and better.

OF: That's great. And what do you think improvisation has done for you? How has it changed your life, outside of the performance?

MQ: OK. First with my family, I think I accept them more. We still say "Yes" to each other. And I try my best to persuade them to try new things.

OF: How lovely. And do you follow that same recipe yourself?

MQ: Yeah. Before, my travelling plan was to the countries that I'm really familiar with. But right now, I choose to try. I choose to take the biggest risk. Jordan, Morocco, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Yeah. I also do a percussion music band. A friend played African drums. So I just came to his studio to play with them. I found out "Oh, so many people, dance, sing, and play together. It's noisy, it's interesting". So I joined the events of African drums. And we started to know something about South American music. "Hey, samba!" So "OK, why not?" So went to an underground studio, and we tried to play samba. I think the band is getting better and better. Our name is 'Groove Papa'.

OF: 'Groove Papa'.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: OK, listen out for Groove Papa. Thank you so much, Michelle.

MQ: Thank you, Oscar. I don't know, I never thought that I could share with you so many things.

OF: Yeah! What we'll do now is, we'll go on to Part 2.


[Part 2]

OF: Question 1, what is your favourite China-related fact?

MQ: I think the most impressive facts about China is that China is extremely colourful. And extremely big. For example, 广东 [Guǎngdōng] Province, and Mongolia Province…

OF: Inner Mongolia, right?

MQ: Yeah. Inner Mongolia. So one is very cold, like outside The Great Wall. But in 广东 [Guǎngdōng] Province, life there is quite different.

OF: Very good.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: Question 2. Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

MQ: Yeah, a very old one. I don't know if you ever heard about that, it's from Confucius.


MQ: 己所不欲,勿施于人 [Jǐsuǒ bùyù, wùshī yúrén]. Don't impose the thing you don't want onto others.

OF: Oh right.

MQ: And now we can add another part. "And also, don't impose the thing you love onto others". I think at least we should give respect to each other, to give enough space to everybody.

OF: Agreed.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: What is your favourite destination within China?

MQ: Last year I went to 泉州 [Quánzhōu] in 福建 [Fújiàn] Province.

OF: Right.

MQ: Have you ever been there before?

OF: I know about it because of the.. They had the first Muslims in China.

MQ: Ah yeah, yeah. And when I was there, I found out that it was not only Muslim in that city, but also some other religions. A very old religion, how to say… people paid respect to fire.

OF: Ah, Zoroastrianism.

MQ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Oh wow, yeah.

MQ: So each kind of culture, each kind of religion, they have their own space. Perfectly. With harmony, in that city. It's very interesting. I really love this kind of atmosphere.

OF: Yeah, that's great. I really want to go now.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?

MQ: Oh, if I left China, of course I would miss my theatre, and my partners.

OF: Right.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: That makes me think that, really, it's a big part of your life now. Like, how big do you think this is part of your life?

MQ: Oh, almost maybe 70% I think.

OF: Wow. Yeah, we haven't talked about your job. Do you think that you use any of these skills in your job, in your working life?

MQ: Yeah sure. It's the way to communicate with people. Five years ago, I think I wouldn't have this kind of energy.

OF: And what about the thing that you will miss the least, if you left China. Is there anything?

MQ: Yeah, sure. When you get off a metro, or when you get off an elevator, somebody just stands in the middle of the gate. You're face to face.

OF: Yeah, it drives me crazy. Especially in the lift. Like, how am I going to come out?

MQ: Yeah. You want to kiss me?

OF: Yeah! Yeah, what is that? Why did they do that?

MQ: Yeah, I really hate that, you know.

OF: Right. Is there anything that still surprises you about modern life in China?

MQ: You can borrow an umbrella in the metro station.

OF: Oh, how does that work? So you scan it, you take the umbrella…

MQ: Yeah. You take the umbrella, and in 24 hours you can give it back in any metro station.

OF: Nice. I haven't seen that actually. Because for me, sometimes I just walk past and I don't see.

MQ: OK, I think every metro station has a…

OF: …A machine, right?

MQ: Yeah, the Green Machine? Try.

OF: Very good. What is your favourite place to go out, to eat or to drink or just hang out?

MQ: Actually, I don't have so much time to hang out. But a friend of mine took me to do a city walk around the 豫 [Yù] Garden and the 苏州 [Sūzhōu] River. So we checked out the old houses, and the very old small streets around that place. And I thought "Oh, that's the feeling of time passing by." You can see old people reading newspapers in their old house. You can "Knock, knock," ask for an old uncle to give you a haircut. And you can buy fried chicken and you have it just on the riverside. It's just the feeling of happiness.

OF: Yeah. There aren't many places like that in Shanghai.

MQ: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Yeah. What is your best or worst recent purchase?

MQ: Oh, um, last week, I was going to prepare a gift for my friend. And I have another friend, she's a painter. And she paints pets, your cat, your dog. And I would like to give a gift, like a painting, to my friend, from this painter friend. And she asked me "Oh, OK, please show me your cat or your dog's picture". I said "No". "Ah? No cat. No dog. So what what should I paint?" "My friend! Paint my friend as a cat. OK? A black cat". And I just sent some pictures of my friend, and she painted it out! It's a cat, but it's my friend.

OF: Is it good?

MQ: Yeah, it's really good.

OF: OK, go on, show me now. Oh, it's nice.

MQ: Yeah, even with the details. You know, the eyes. It's exactly my friend's eyes. When I gave this painting to my friend, he was like "It's me!"

OF: Oh, wow.

MQ: And tears here.

OF: Wow. Thank you. What is your favourite WeChat sticker?

MQ: I made it by myself.

OF: Very good. So you did the makeup.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: And what does it say?

MQ: 回眸一笑百媚生 [Huímóu yīxiào bǎimèishēng]: That means "With this face, she turned back, with so much charm".

OF: Lovely.

MQ: Yeah.

OF: What's your go to song to sing at KTV?

MQ: Oh, I would sing '我的心里只有你没有他 [Wǒ de xīnlǐ zhǐyǒu nǐ méiyǒu tā]', I only have you in my heart, there's no space for anyone else.

OF: Who sings that?

MQ: 黄小琥 [Huáng Xiǎohǔ], a singer from Taiwan.


MQ: I love this song, because it's in my key, still in tone, I feel comfortable about it.

OF: Yeah.

MQ: And it's a little bit jazz style, and a little bit drama style. And also 1980s disco.

OF: Oh that's 'Peak Michelle'. Alright, I will…

MQ: "我的心裡只有你沒有他,你要相信我的情意並不假 [Wǒ de xīnlǐ zhǐyǒu nǐ méiyǒu tā, nǐ yào xiāngxìn wǒ de qíngyì bìng bù jiǎ]"

OF: Oh. That's a free performance. And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you use?

MQ: Oh, my favourite is 哔哩哔哩 [Bìlībìlī].

OF: I have never used it. What is 哔哩哔哩 [Bìlībìlī].

MQ: Oh, you should use it. It's really a lovely platform. It's a video platform: movies, documentary movies, and just short videos made by 'APP主 [zhǔ]', app owners. They make videos by themselves. So people will share their own understanding.

OF: Right.

MQ: Yeah, everything, you can check.

OF: Thank you, Michelle.

MQ: Thank you, Oscar.

OF: Oh, I really enjoyed that.

MQ: Yeah, I enjoyed talking with you.

OF: And tell me then, so out of all of the people who you know in China, who would you recommend that I interview in the next season of Mosaic of China?

MQ: I will introduce you to 大蒋 [Dàjiǎng]. He's a very funny boy. And he's very warm-hearted. He's a documentary director, with - how to say - patients with Tourette's.

OF: Tourette's.

MQ: Tourette's, yeah.

OF: Right.

MQ: He tried to make the public accept and understand more about these patients. Yeah.

OF: I'm really interested in that.

MQ: You will be.

OF: Thanks so much, Michelle.

MQ: Thank you, Oscar.


OF: Well I hope that today's episode helped to explain why your Chinese friends don't laugh at any of your jokes. Michelle actually gave quite a few more examples of jokes that work in Chinese. So to hear the full version of the episode, please follow the instructions on to subscribe to the PREMIUM version of the show on Patreon or 爱发电 [Àifādiàn]. Here are a few clips of what you missed.

[Clip 1]

MQ: "Corona! Corona!". On the street, everybody called us 'Corona". I just think it's that people weren't sure about the situation.

[Clip 2]

MQ: "吃饭那个,今天挺热的,你得买个西瓜啊.[Chīfàn nàgè, jīntiān tǐngrède, nǐděi mǎi gè xīguā a.]" Understand?

OF: I understand. And I'm a bit scared.

[Clip 3]

OF: But how does it work, then, with the Culture Bureau? Because I thought that you need to have permission about what the content will be.

MQ: Right now, it's a little bit tough.

[Clip 4]

"床前明月光,疑是地上霜 [Chuángqián míngyuèguāng, Yíshì dìshàngshuāng]". The audience will laugh, because that's not at the level of a highly-educated person.

[End of Audio Clips]

One correction I think I should make is that I don't think it's accurate to say that the Muslims in 泉州 [Quánzhōu] were the first Muslims in China. And I'm not even sure if I was right in guessing about Zoroastrianism either. I hope that at some point I'll have a guest on this show from 泉州 [Quánzhōu] who can put me right. In any case I've posted a couple of photos of the city on social media, so please check out the images on Instagram or Facebook, or add me on my WeChat ID: mosaicofchina, and I'll add you to the listeners group there. From today's episode you'll also see photos of Michelle and her object, the dreaded bell; her favourite WeChat sticker, which we may not have clearly mentioned was of a radish wearing make-up; there are a bunch of photos of Michelle performing with the Improviser's Alliance, as well as drumming with Groove Papa; and lots more besides.

Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. Stick around until the end, where you'll hear my catch-up with the dance programme curator Sabrina Chen from Season 01 Episode 26, whose voice you heard at the beginning of today's episode. I'll be travelling for a few days next week, but I'm going to try and press all the right buttons so that the next episode gets released on time while I'm away. So hopefully see you then.

[Catch-Up Interview]

OF: Hello, Sabrina.

SC: Hello, Oscar. Nice to see you again.

OF: Yes. Nice to see you, too. You have different haircuts each time I see you.

SC: Well, I didn't wash my hair this morning. Sorry.

OF: It looks good. I'm going to start with a re-introduction, just in case people didn't listen to your original episode.

SC: OK. Yeah.

OF: So you are the Programme Director for the Theatres at the Shanghai International Dance Center.

SC: Yes.

OF: And we had a great initial interview where you talked me through the appreciation of dance. And since then I've been to a few shows, and I feel like I'm now an amateur fan. I still don't know what I'm looking at, but I enjoy it.

SC: You have even left to your voice in our theatre.

OF: Well… So, explain what happened.

SC: You made the announcement.

OF: Right.

SC: So every time we start a show, we will have to listen to your voice first. To make sure we don't eat. We don't take photos during the show.

OF: But I thought what I recorded was just the special announcement for COVID, right? So it included things about all the measures that you had put into place.

SC: Yeah, but it's still within the post-pandemic period. So we still keep using that thing.

[Clip of the announcement]

OF: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Grand Theatre of the Shanghai international Dance Center".

[End of Clip]

OF: I hope it's doing a good job.

SC: Yeah, I really enjoy it.

OF: It hasn't launched my new career as a voiceover artist. Sadly, no-one else has come.

SC: Well, you should invite your friends to come to the theatre to listen to it, maybe some more people will invite you to do more announcements.

OF: Yes. So, you are in charge of the programme at the dance theatres. And a lot of your job was about going around the world, and looking at dance companies, and inviting them to Shanghai.

SC: Yeah.

OF: So that's not quite what you're doing these days.

SC: No, because till now, we still cannot invite any international groups to come into China. So actually, we had lots of performances performed by Chinese local artists. We haven't actually cut the connection with the international world, because we did some programmes, and exchange programmes through the internet, and discussions on Zoom. We recently had a collaboration with Scottish Dance Theatre to make a short film. Yeah, things like that.

OF: Yes. And this is what I expected you to say. Because a lot of artists who are normally working in theatres, they've had to adapt in this last year/2 years, right?

SC: Yeah, I think it's quite difficult for all types of artists around the world. For the Chinese artists, they're quite lucky, because China is quite big enough, and we recovered very soon, which gives more opportunities to local artists in the past year. So it's actually a good opportunity for Chinese artists.

OF: And I guess that would have at least been one positive, because maybe you would have discovered some local dance companies in China that otherwise you may have overlooked, right?

SC: Yes. Yeah, exactly. Especially, we gave the opportunity to young artists, who maybe never had the opportunity to go on stage before. But we discovered them in the last year. Because it was very difficult for them. We even sponsored them, to support them with real money.

OF: Yeah.

SC: Yeah. To help them to make some new programmes, and bring them to the theatre.

OF: Wow, so actually, you've almost commissioned this work.

SC: Yeah, we commissioned, we co-produced. Lots of interaction with them. I think every theatre in China in the past year has to carve our own way to make some money. But what we did was, we opened our online shop with the live host. You know, it's very popular.

OF: Oh god, yes.

SC: It's a phenomenon in China, everybody sells goods through the internet, through Taobao. We did so. And the hosts, you know, guess who are the hosts?

OF: Go on…

SC: The ushers.

OF: Wow. So They've become, like, personalities now?

SC: Yes, you know, because during those months, there is no job for the ushers.

OF: Yes.

SC: No performances. But we don't want them to just be around with nothing to do. So we gave them this new opportunity. "Go on Taobao every night to see how other hosts sell goods. So your responsibility is to come back to the theatre, to be in front of the camera, to sell our theatre goods and souvenirs". And so actually it was a great experience, because we also discovered the other character of our ushers.

OF: Yes.

SC: And they are so talented.

OF: Yes.

SC: Before that, we only knew that their job was to be polite, and open the door, and check the tickets, right? But actually they are talented, they can sing, they can play music. So in the broadcast room, while selling the goods, they sometimes will play guitar, and sing a song to our audience.

OF: Amazing.

SC: And our purpose is not really to sell the goods, because it's not that much money that we can make. It's a way to spread the culture of theatre to more people on the internet. And since then, we now have a tradition. Every programme, we will sell it on Taobao.

OF: Yeah right, through these ushers. What about the future, then? Like, can you already start to plan for some overseas companies to come to China, or it's still too early?

SC: We have always been planning for the international companies, but it gets cancelled all the time. So it gets cancelled, then we re-plan, then cancelled again, then re-plan. So we have to keep working on it.

OF: Yeah. Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D.

SC: Yeah.

OF: Can you imagine what date they will finally be able to come?

SC: I think we'll try to make it happen at the end of this year. Because the Shanghai International Arts Festival will happen in October-November. Because it was sadly cancelled last year.

OF: Of course.

SC: And this year, I think they will manage to at least do something.

OF: Yes. Well, I will be releasing this catch-up when we release the episode with Michelle Qu.

SC: Yeah.

OF: So Michelle Qu was the one who you recommended for Season 02.

SC: Yes.

OF: Have you been keeping in touch with Michelle?

SC: Yes, of course. We always go out for dinner. Yeah. And she's very positive, every time I see her. I don't know where she gets all these jokes from. So she's really a talent.

OF: Wow. And let's keep in touch, Sabrina. I'm really happy that you were in Season 01.

SC: Yeah.

OF: And the connection through Michelle will still be there. So please keep in touch.

SC: No problem.

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