Insecure Space: Movie Theatres as Make Do Chinese Opera Stages in Wartime Shanghai

Photo: Xiao Dangui Shaoxing Opera Company Onstage at Cathay (Movie) Theatre, Aug. 21, 1936
99f1ea413e0c16e18f3c9b56a76ac7f3 Guotai Cathsy inetririor  XDG company ondstage memorial

The above photo caption reads “Commemorative Photo of Entire [Shaoxing Opera] Company of Cathay Theatre”, dated Aug. 21, 1946. Inside the photo two names are multiply inserted: (1) That of Xiao Dangui herself, after whom the troupe was named; and (2) Xu Yulan, a latecomer “young male” impersonater who was recruited on Sept. 1, 1945 (in anticipation of an immediate postWar boom, and, surviving the company’s 1947 extinction (qua “Xiaodan Company”), went on to rename the company after HER self, then earn fame as the spoiled male adolescent Bao Yu in the 1954 color film version of Hongloumeng.

But the supercaption is misleading. There never WAS a “Cathay Theatre Company” because the Cathay was built (in 1932) as a first-run movie house for foreign (Hollywood) feature films, not as a Huaihailu version of a Broadway upmarket theatre. Only in /after 1946 did it become a rotating (for-lease) venue for Yueju and other local troupes: but by May 1954 it was back under its original name as 国泰电影院. It is in that latter incarnation that it is filmed as the “New Great Shanghai Theatre (Xinhu Daxiyuan)”, though the interior (esp. the upholstered row seating) is that of the 1954 renewed building as a dedicated movie house.

Fig. 1: Interior of Cathay Movie House Today
Interior of Cathay used in stage susterds film

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