A two foot tall cloth puppet from Wales called Fred that fights prejudice every day has opened a door for long term partnership between the performing arts in Wales and China.
Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016, Hijinx Theatre’s award winning Meet Fred show has been touring extensively since, both in the UK and Internationally.
Ahead of the Chinese premiere of Meet Fred today (Thursday 24 May) in Shanghai, Arts Council of Wales and AC Orange will sign an agreement that aims to develop a performing arts collaboration exchange between Wales and China that will lead to numerous companies from Wales touring to China over the coming 3 years and beyond. The relationship with AC Orange has been brokered by Clare Williams of Hijinx.
Clare Williams Chief Executive Officer of Hijinx said:
Although we have performed Meet Fred in 16 countries across the globe, we are delighted to be performing in China for the first time. No matter where we perform all the audiences empathise with the voice of The Outsider whom Fred represents. We are so very grateful to British Council China and Wales Arts International for supporting this inaugural visit and to AC Orange who have invited us to perform in Shanghai.
At Hijinx we believe in the right of everyone to lead a rich cultural life and through our productions we aim to demonstrate the brilliance of our effortlessly talented learning disabled performers. We are very pleased to be given the opportunity to deliver workshops for learning disabled people in the hope that we can establish Hijinx vocational performance training in China in the future.
Tina Shao Vice President of AC Orange said:
AC Orange launched the "Artist’s Dream Project" last year to support 100 artists and artist groups to tour 1000 performances internationally. Hijinx’s Meet Fred’s China tour is one of the results generated from the project. We are delighted to invite Fred to meet with Chinese audiences, it is not just a character in the show but more about a symbol of those marginalized people. Meet Fred challenges the perception of theatre and the social stereotypes as well, and that’s what we value and cherish the most.
The cooperation between AC Orange and Hijinx opens the path for more opportunities and leads to the partnership with Arts Council of Wales. The agreement will see more cultural exchanges between Wales and China, and we are happy to see more high-quality productions from Wales in China and probably productions from China in Wales as well.
Hijinx participated in the Culture programme of the Welsh Government Trade Mission to China in February 2017, organised by Wales Arts International in partnership with British Council China, which was crucial in securing the deal for the company.
Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive Officer of Arts Council of Wales said:
"As an Arts Council, we are very proud of the achievements of Hijinx. They are important and timely steps in both the trajectory of inclusive arts and also the growing cultural relationship between China and Wales.
"I’m delighted that it’s the award winning Meet Fred production that has enabled the first partnership agreement for the Arts Council of Wales in China which will be delivered by our International specialists Wales Arts International who work in close partnership with Welsh Government and British Council China. It’s very important to us that our investment in Hijinx’s inclusive theatre company is enabling them to be leading the way at home in Wales, in the UK and around the world.
"Arts Council of Wales’ agreement with AC Orange comes on the back of a great relationship that Clare Williams, the HIjinx team in Wales has established with AC Orange with support from Wales Arts International and Welsh Government. We hope that arts companies and practitioners in both countries will benefit from the access to new markets as well as importantly the cross cultural sharing and the exchange of skills and practices that will come on the back of this agreement. The impact on and the value added to the arts in Wales I’m sure will be significant in cultural, social and economic terms.
Hijinx Theatre, a portfolio client of the Arts Council of Wales, signed an agreement with AC Orange in December 2017. AC Orange is the largest private performing arts company and the largest chain of theatre management in China, and act as producers, presenters, ticket vendors and investors.
The agreement with AC Orange sees the company tour its award winning ‘Meet Fred’ production to Shanghai this week. The next phase aims to develop a new inclusive theatre model in China and to co-invest in Hijinx’s 2019 production and, ultimately, to jointly develop the Hijinx Academy model in China.
The formal signing of the agreement took place at the UK-China High Level People to People Summit at Lancaster House and was witnessed by Dr Liu Yandong, Vice-Premier of the People’s Republic of China and Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Welsh Government Minister of Culture. The agreement is a direct result of a 2015 cultural Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Wales and the Cultural Ministry of China.
Andrew Miller the UK Government’s first Disability Champion for the Arts & Cultural Sector and member of both Arts Council of Wales and Arts Council of England said:
"Attitudes to disability are being transformed across the cultural sector. We are in the midst of a breakthrough moment where disabled arts organisations like Hijinx are breaking new grounds not just in the UK but also internationally.
"I want to congratulate Hijinx on their work in Wales and China. I was thrilled to hear that they have just secured a significant investment to roll out their training work to TV and Film.
As a member of their Council, I’m proud that Arts Council of Wales’ participation and disabled audiences has reached record levels thanks to the Hynt access card which makes booking theatre tickets easier for 11,000 disabled people in Wales."
"It’s fantastic that the transformative experience that Hijinx has offered audiences and people with disabilities in Wales is now being shared in China and internationally and that people in China will get to meet the famous Fred from Wales."
And as for Fred himself? Since the threat of losing his PLA (Puppetry Living Allowance), his life has been spiralling out of his control.
In true form, he added:
"I just want to be a regular guy, part of the real world, to get a job and meet a girl."
But he is also helping audiences around the world to explore being ‘different’ in society.