|Actors serve food and invite audience members to eat onstage.|
It's a new theater, new show and new rules. You are not only allowed to "consume food and beverages" during the show but are encouraged to do so.
Actors actually hand out food and invite audiences to the stage to eat during the new musical production Feast of the Princess.
The theater ET Space, revamped from a historical establishment in downtown Shanghai, has opened a small food market in the lobby especially for the opening of Feast.
"We are China's first 5-D musical comedy," says Tian Yuan, general manager of United Asia Live Entertainment Co Ltd, producer of the play.
"Usually we experience a theater show by seeing and listening, but you will be able to smell, touch and taste Feast of the Princess," Tian says.
UAE is a Sino-South Korean joint venture. In the past three years it made Chinese productions of several famous Broadway musicals, such as Mamma Mia! and Cats.
"We think it's time we create an original Chinese show," Tian says.
Inspired by the documentary TV series A Bite of China, director Liu Chun decided to work on the theme of Chinese cuisine.
"We all know how we Chinese are passionate about food, and China's culinary culture provides infinite material for a production of family entertainment," Tian says.
Feast of the Princess tells about a Chinese princess who has lost her sense of taste. Her father, the king, hosts a culinary competition, promising to marry the princess to the champion who can successfully bring back her gustation.
Besides original music, stage setting and visual designs created by South Korean artists, the show has collected a versatile cast. They will perform acrobatics, martial arts, beat-box and street dances.
During the show, audiences will participate in the competition as jury members, tasting crab meat, raisins and tiramisu - all created by the contestants from China, Iran and Italy.
The production will have 80 performances in Shanghai by Dec 15, before heading to Beijing and other cities of China.
"Audiences try out crabmeat in Shanghai, and maybe in Beijing they will taste roast duck," Tian says. "To integrate the local delicacy and involve the endemic culture - that's the spirit."
"We considered the feasibility of real cooking onstage, or building a kitchen backstage, and gave up because of safety reasons," says Ang Yang, general manager of ET Space.
"Ours is a historical building. Whatever change you make to the structure, you need approval from the city's cultural heritage administration."
The new theater is part of the historical Great World amusement arcade and entertainment complex. Great World was a landmark establishment in Shanghai in the early 20th century.
The theater was built in 1927. Most of the amusement facilities at Great World lost attraction and closed gradually in the 2000s. The theater went on to operate under the name Gong Stage for many years, presenting acrobatics shows that are popular with foreign tourists.
Shanghai Media Group acquired the theater in 2012 and invested 10 million yuan ($1.63 million) to refurbish it as ET Space.
The primary goal of ET Space is to "break the invisible screen between the stage and audiences", Ang says. The theater has built a ventilation system to pump the smell of food into the theater to maximize the theatrical effect for Feast of the Princess.
SMG is Shanghai's largest media group, with its core business in TV. Ang says it is of "strategic necessity" for SMG to invest in live theater, as TV is faced with great challenges from new media.
"The presence and immediate interaction is unique of the live theater experience, and we want to make full use of it," Ang says. "We'll focus on this unique experience in our future program, too."
Rather than asking audiences to turn off their mobile devices, ET Space provides free WiFi connection and is working on an application that enables audiences to interact with the live show through their phones.
As to the risk of audiences becoming distracted, or making phone calls in the middle of the show, Ang says: "If your performance is not engaging enough, they'll find a way to play with the phone anyway."