The heart of Zuloo productions: Jubal Gallaga, Jonathan Biber, Jessica Cheng and Zsuzsi Lindsay.
You need only to visit Zuloo productions homepage to realize how busy this theater group is. A long list of ongoing and future productions, weekly events, workshops and courses piles up before you, and makes you wonder – is this something bigger than just a makeshift theater thing; an artistic platform, a springboard to creativity perhaps? After meeting the team behind the magic, the four core members of Zuloo productions, the answer is obvious.
Laughing and joking, they are seated on the second floor of the Bulldog, the dark and cozy pub on Dongping Lu. The Bulldog has become something of a home-pub for the group, which consists of Zsuzsi Lindsay, founder and artistic director, Jonathan Biber, marketing director, Jessica Cheng, general manager and Jubal Gallaga, program director. Co-workers, but also, and maybe most importantly, close friends.
The history of Zuloo Productions goes back to 2001, when Zsuzsi Lindsay started the group in St. Andrews, Scotland. In the fall of 2008 it was time to take over Shanghai.
What´s the biggest difference between the group in Scotland and here in Shanghai?
Zsuzsi: The age group is more vast in Shanghai. In Scotland, Zuloo was a university group, consisting of students, whereas here, it´s more professional. One example is that we offer corporate entertainment.
We want to do things for a general public. Part of the core aim is to be open to everyone. For me, that was one of the things that scared me in school, people saying “you´re not an actor”. We try to have a program that is not too artsie, things that don’t demand too much thinking.
Zuloo´s program is indeed wide – This summer the group has produced the LGBT-related play The Laramie project, the American Idol-inspired contest “Shanghai Idol”, as well as a Murder Mystery Dinner Party, an interactive evening where actors and audience intermingled in a bar, solving a murder case.
In their calendar for regular events, you find the Wednesday Scripted Play Readings, an opportunity for those who haven´t got time to learn a whole play, to meet and read selected drama texts. There´s also Radio Readings, Impro classes, Broadway dancing, Butoh and modern dance, Commedia dell´arte… In August there will be a Rocky Horror Show, and productions for the autumn are under process as we speak.
How many are you, working behind Zuloo Productions?
Zsuzsi: Well, it´s mainly the four of us, sitting here. But we also have a group of maybe 10-20 people following us. A core-group, people that for example can pick up a role if it´s needed.
It must be a very busy job for you then, considering your program is so full of activities and productions. How do you manage?
Jonathan: For me it´s thanks to the beer… haha. No… it´s all about working hard.
Zsuzsi: It´s a lot of tears, sweat and blood.. And it´s good that we all come from so different backgrounds, everyone has their own experience. And we can always rely on eachother.
Jubal: Yes, that´s really one of the things that make it work: no one ever says no.
What are your different backgrounds? Have you all got experience within theatre?
At this point the whole group starts to smile, cause they are just about to reveal that actually none of them has a theater education. They have all done acting, but their studies ranges from international relations, insurance, business and computer engineering systems, marketing and interdisciplinary studies within literature, and politics.
Jubal: Although, I was this close (pressing his thumb and index finger together) to have a degree in theater arts.
This leads us in to a conversation about the choice of whether to go for a career within the arts and culture, or not. By choosing it, you probably face the problem on on how to get money, but by not choosing it you might find yourself trapped in a life where you don´t know how to get up in the morning. Since Zuloo is a non profit group, all members have a job on the side.
How about the venue, does Zuloo Productions have their own premises?
Zsuzsi: No, mostly our different events are spread out all over Shanghai, but we do have a main venue, Barefoot Studio, that we´re using as a home.
Looking back, you have touched quite serious topics, for example the recent staging of The Laramie Project. (a play about an LGBT related hate crime). And in October, you´re showing M Butterfly, also on a LGBT-theme. What are your thoughts on choosing topics that might be considered radical, especially here in China?
All eyes are suddenly turned towards Zsuzsi. One of the reasons may be that one of her productions back in UK, Corpus Cristi, caused a debacle when a christian group accused the theatre group for blashemy for putting on a play about a gay Jesus.
Zsuzsi: Hah, and your all looking at me! Well, yes I can be a bit naughty. Ok, I don´t mean that China is less developed, but it is less open. It lies 20 years behind. We want to push the boundaries a bit. As for M Butterfly, the idea is not to take the piss, justa little bit.
Jubal: We want to push them, make them think. But it can´t be over the top.
The Laramie Project (who was staged as a Shanghai Pride event) got cancelled by Chinese authorities and forced to change venue. How did you react to that?
Zsuzsi: Well, I´m sure it wouldn´t have happened if we had chosen to stage it outside the Pride festival, but for me, I wanted to put it within Pride.
Jonathan: You put the puzzle together yourself. It was obvious; on Wednesday BBC presented the news to the Chinese Government, and 12 hours later it was cancelled.
Jubal: But, we actually had some friends coming to see the play later, simply because they heard about the fuss.
Do you have any special agenda when it comes to these things, any political platform?
Jonathan: No, we have no special agenda, we just want to be enlightening. Controversial and uncontroversial. (Smiles and looks at Jessica) Actually, Jessica has meant a lot when it comes to this. She´s the one who saves the day, making sure that things stay realistic.
Jubal: Yes, I´ve been in a lot of informal groups where people come up with all sorts of crazy ideas, but we´ve had no one like Jessica, saying: “Yes that sounds good, but..can it be done?”. It´s the business of making art!
Our two hour long conversation is reaching its end, and the thing that seemed obvious from the first glance – that Zsuzsi, Jonathan, Jessica and Jubal, the heart of Zuloo productions, was a tight group with a lot of love towards one another – is now also being stated.
Jonathan: We´re like a little family.
Zsuzsi: Yes, a home away from home.
So, are you all staying in Shanghai?
Zsuzsi: Well… I’m getting married, and my husband to be has a job in the UK. But we have someone who will take over my role. (Looking at the others) Can we say who it is? No, not yet, it´s still a secret. But, if possible, I hope to come here every 6th week.
Jubal: We´re gonna send emails on how fabulous things are going! For example, we want to start crossing over culturally, we don´t only want to be an expat group.
Are you, Zsuzsi, going to continue with the UK version of Zuloo productions?
Zsuzsi: Yes, I´m taking up my role there.
Jubal: We´re going global!