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Leisure Management - Made in China

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Made in China

The birthplace of William Shakespeare will be recreated 6,000 miles away at the home of China’s most famous playwright. Tom Anstey, spoke to the team behind the ambitious project

Tom Anstey, Attractions Management
William Shakespeare – poet, playwright and actor – is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist

This line from William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure encourages us to try new things.

It’s also an apt way to introduce a new project dedicated to the legacy of the playwright, which will see a replica of his home built in Fuzhou, China.

Both Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Shakespeare’s New Place – the latter demolished in the 1800s – will be recreated with historical accuracy near Fuzhou City in southern China. The location is notable because it was the birthplace of Chinese playwright, Tang Xianzu.

Along with Spain’s Miguel de Cervantes, the trio of iconic wordsmiths – who all died in 1616 but never met during their lives – will have a cultural centre constructed and dedicated to their legacies.

Called San Weng (which translates to ‘Three Masters’), the 890,000sq m development will encompass a theatre park, tourism and leisure zones. Each writer will have a dedicated area.

The new Shakespeare development sits at the heart of the Stratford Quarter, while Cervantes will be represented by a Spanish Alcala Quarter and Xianzu an ancient Chinese village.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Fuzhou Culture and Tourism Investment Company signed an exclusive Co-operation Agreement in September last year to recreate the heritage listed buildings, which the trust will oversee to ensure the replicas faithfully represent the originals.

Dedicated to caring for the world’s greatest Shakespeare heritage sites and collections in the playwright’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon, England, key members of the trust involved in the process spoke to Attractions Management about the plans.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace
William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years living in the house PHOTO: shutterstock_MY stock

William Shakespeare was born in the house in Stratford upon Avon and grew up there with his parents John and Mary and his seven siblings.

Shakespeare would also spend the first five years of his marriage to Anne Hathaway living there.

The property was purchased in 1847 by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which has cared for it ever since. Today, visitors can walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps and explore the house, hearing tales of his family life, enjoying live theatre on demand and getting up close to rare artefacts from the Trust’s collections.

John Russell
vice chair
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
John Russell

What is your role?
I’m an executive trustee on the board. I’ve got a business background so among the diverse range of skills we have across the 12 trustees, I tick that box. In particular, I’ve done quite a lot of business in China for companies such as Land Rover.

Why China?
The team in Fuzhou team came to us with this proposition and we felt it was a good way of putting a marker down in China.

We’ve always had a relationship with them, as you do with many cultural organisations around the world. This is a project they wanted to do to increase their footprint. It was something that was of immediate interest to us. We evaluated it, decided it had merit and went from there.

As a market there’s massive interest in all things English in China and creating a point of interest there for people who couldn’t necessarily get to the birthplace in England will be good business for us.

How is Shakespeare understood in China?
Around a third of the Chinese population are currently learning to, or can already speak English. The number of people interested in Shakespeare varies on which studies you read, but those numbers would dwarf the statistics of most countries.

"We want to create a base where Shakespeare can be presented to a Chinese audience"

If you look at Stratford and our other properties, the number of Chinese people wanting to visit is growing very, very fast.

Will you develop in other countries?
We have close ties with a number of countries, including the US and in Europe, where we have established Shakespeare appreciation societies, theatre groups and more. There may well be projects that come to fruition as a result of that.

What was the internal reaction?
Fascination. We have a very passionate group of people at the Trust. Curiosity is the first thing when an organisation does anything new. People have been wanting to hear and understand more, and most importantly understand how they can support we’ve been doing.

How can you ensure the authenticity of what you’re trying to recreate?
In China, you get these replica attractions, but a lot of them don’t really have a purpose other than to exist.

Our project in China is a proper homage to Shakespeare and it’s also a basis for further education and to get people interested in the whole story.

At the very heart of the decision to go ahead with the project was our belief that our partners had the right intentions and their hearts were in the right place.

We’ve satisfied ourselves completely that that is the case here. We want to create a base where Shakespeare can be presented to a Chinese audience.

Will this new development have an impact on the Stratford site in the UK?
China’s economy is developing rapidly. More than a third of the population has benefited from this economic boom and there’s more to come.

The world will see more Chinese people travelling internationally and we expect that this – when combined with increased interest because of the new site in China – will boost visitation to Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford as a result.

Shakespeare’s New Place was demolished in 1759 but a garden has been designed to commemorate the importance of the site
Shakespeare’s New Place

Shakespeare’s New Place was the first place of pilgrimage for literary fans, long before his Birthplace was saved for the nation in 1847.

Purchased by Shakespeare in 1597 it was his home until his death there in 1616.

The house was demolished 86 years later in 1702 and replaced by another family home – also known as New Place.

This second house was in turn demolished by the Reverend Francis Gastrell in 1759, in the wake of disputes with the local authorities and as a result of his annoyance with visiting Shakespeare fans.

In 2016 the site of Shakespeare’s New Place was transformed to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It now features contemporary sculptures, beautifully-restored gardens and an exhibition shining fresh light on the man behind the famous works, with specially commissioned artworks.

Fuzhou Culture Tourism Investment Group

Founded in 2013, the Fuzhou Culture Tourism Investment Group engages in the protection, development, operation, and management of historical and cultural facilities, parks, scenic sites, and tourism resources. It’s also involved in investment and the development of cultural tourism, commercial real estate, and film and television media industry businesses; investment and operation of cultural industry, cultural property rights, and cultural and sports events; and investment management and operation of cultural and financial products.

Shakespeare’s New Place was demolished in 1759 but a garden has been designed to commemorate the importance of the site

Debbie Beardall
Head of sales and business development
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Debbie Beardall

What is your main role at the trust?
I handle the business to business side of things, working with tour operators and education providers – both domestically and internationally – to promote the Trust and everything that we do.

When it comes to things like visiting our properties, our learning offer, after hours events, anything like that, I’m the one that goes over to China to tell them all about it. The Trust also tends to align what it does internationally with VisitBritain, the UK’s tourism body. We work closely with them on everything we do.

What markets outside of Britain appeal most to the trust?
We tend to align ourselves with the key markets that demonstrate a desire for Shakespearean culture. The US is one of our biggest markets. In Europe, France, Spain and Italy are big for us. China is the farthest afield. Asia is a growing market. A lot of emerging countries are coming from south-east Asia. Countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia are all growing.

Why China for this first project?
It’s appealing because they already like Shakespeare there. It makes my job so much easier. On my visits, I haven’t had to explain to anybody who he was. They study him at school. They know his work. They like things which are quintessentially British. He ticks all those boxes.

What will China do for Stratford?
There’s a massive market of people from China that’s untapped when it comes to visiting the UK. When people come over, they don’t just come for Shakespeare’s Birthplace, they come for all the culture and heritage that our country has to offer.

Chinese visitors have mainly been coming over from first-tier cities such as Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing. Visitors from second-tier cities are only just starting to emerge and there have been high levels of interest from tour operators.

Hopefully, the new development at Fuzhou will make them keener to come over to see the original Birthplace and what the rest of what the UK has to offer.

Nic Filcher
Project manager and historian
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Nic Filcher

What was your role in the project?
I’ve been involved for a couple of years. I’m the trust’s project manager, where I deal with our larger capital projects. When this started to emerge, I was brought on board to see what our partners in Fuzhou wanted to do and how they wanted to do it.

How do you go about recreating an English Heritage site and putting it on the other side of the world?
The Birthplace is easier because the building still exists. New Place is more challenging, having been demolished twice.

It was a substantial property when it was bought in 1597 but a much older building dated back to the 1480s. It was built by the Clopton family. Shakespeare owned it as his family home for his adult life and died there in 1616. It passed through the Shakespeare family line to his granddaughter. In 1702 it hit the open market and was bought by a member of the Clopton family, who demolished it to build another building – called New Place as well. By the time you hit the middle of the 18th century, the then owner Reverend Francis Gastral, demolished the house again. This caused a public outcry so significant that the land was never built on again. We have that site today, which is a park and garden.

To commemorate the 400-year anniversary of his death, in 2016 we re-presented the site. Part of that process was an extensive archaeological investigation. That information enabled us to start to build a more accurate picture of what the house was made of, what its footprint was and the size of the building.

With this development, millions of people in China will be able to get up close and personal with Shakespeare”

That and subsequent research and work with architectural experts and historians has enabled us to build a better picture and greater understanding of what the house is most likely to have been like.

What is the goal of this project?
As a trust, part of our raison d’etre is to promote the worldwide enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s work, life and times. With this development, millions of people in China will be able to get up close and personal with Shakespeare. It’s the first time we’ve authorised a recreation of the house and it’s an important thing.

Tell us about the site
The location is about 20 minutes outside Fuzhou. Once you get out of the city – home to about four million people – you hit the mountainous regions. It’s mainly an agricultural area surrounding the city, with natural springs and spas.

The new Sang Wen attractions will represent the three cultures behind the three most spoken languages in the world – Mandarin, Spanish and English. You end up with an immersive experience of the lives of these three great writers.

How does this compare to previous projects?
It’s a major undertaking for us. We haven’t done anything like this before. It’s a unique opportunity to engage with the people of a country on the other side of the world we frequently see visit the birthplace. It’s one of our largest growing tourism markets and it’s a really interesting relationship right now.

Visitors to the Birthplace are given the chance to walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps and explore the house he was born and grew up in
Philippa Rawlinson
Director of operations
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Philippa Rawlinson

What was your role in the project?
I have direct responsibility for operations and marketing. My teams are the ones that are welcoming the visitors, interpreting the sites and bringing them to life, while also driving revenue.

In my role, I look at opportunities for the trust to expand its reach and increase its financial stability. As an independent charity, we have to work hard for every penny to look after the site in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

What’s the project plan?
The first stage of the project is to send over building plans, archeology plans, ideas of what New Place looked like – everything they’ll need to recreate these buildings.

Once the buildings have been built and we’ve given our quality assurance, we will work with them to interpret those spaces.

In New Place, we might have some cutting-edge interpretations to recreate the stories we tell about Shakespeare. If we’re happy, they’ll open in the early 2020s.

What does this development mean for the trust?
The greatest benefit is to work with a partner in China to recreate our heritage.

We can tell our story to a whole new audience, as they’re looking at about 500,000 visitors a year. The quality control on a standard building will be there and the story of Shakespeare will be told in the way we want to tell it.

Will this boost tourism in the UK?
There’s nothing like standing on the spot where history happened. When you’re standing on that spot, it’s incredible.

In the birthplace, we’ve got the flagstone floors straight from the period where Shakespeare would have run around as a child. We get people coming in and taking off their shoes to run around in that same space. You can’t beat where history happened. Culture and history is a great driver for inbound tourism in the UK and were happy to be a part of that.

Commissioned artworks and displays in New Place evoke a sense of Shakespeare’s life there

Commissioned artworks and displays in New Place evoke a sense of Shakespeare’s life there

Originally published in Attractions Management 2019 issue 2
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06 Apr 2020 issue 153

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