Celebrating the official launch today, the founders of a new platform for live entertainment industry professionals, TheatreArtLife, Anna Robb and Ashley Sutherland-Winch, explain to Business Daily the scope of the project, the necessity to develop the entertainment sector in the city, how Macau can use its uniqueness to its advantage, and how important education is in building up the entertainment industry.

What brought about TheatreArtLife?
In order to truly understand the evolution of TheatreArtLife, you have to go back in time over ten years.  We (Anna and Ashley) met working on the Las Vegas production, The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil in 2006.  We kept in touch and our careers brought us to Macau.  Anna had been living in Macau since 2010 as the General Stage Manager of The House of Dancing Water and Ashley relocated when her husband took a job as Head of Coaching at House of Dancing Water.  Anna and I had seen over the years how challenging it was for the live entertainment industry to grow as a global entity, and we wanted to create a better way for people to connect around the world for networking and seeking jobs.  We started developing TheatreArtLife last summer and we have been working nonstop to make it a reality. We are thrilled to have been able to bring it to life in a 12-month period.   

Given the changing landscape of the entertainment industry, what does the publication hope to share with its readership?
At the root of our mission, we want to ignite connections within the industry.  Social media does a great job of connecting old or current friends, but it doesn’t truly connect strangers, especially in the live entertainment and theatre industry.  Our contributors who write for TheatreArtLife have worked in the industry for a very long time and have had a wide variety of experiences, from working in theatre, concerts, circus and mega shows, to cruise ships, theme parks, touring productions, ceremonies and events – all areas of live entertainment worldwide. The articles encompass performance, technology, management, administration, culture and industry roles, as our contributors share experiences, opinions, work methods, new technology and advice. Our articles share the humanity behind the people that are creating culture around the globe. We also offer a global career center that holds job postings from many countries, discussion forums for conversation and professional development.  In our industry, transition into new roles and developing new skills are keys to longevity. We want to create an inclusive resource for professionals or aspiring professionals to utilize, in order to grow with the industry.

How did you select the contributors?
We actually recruited all of our current contributors. We personally selected a collection of writers from a wide range of entertainment genres, cultures and locations to begin to bring this global community together. Now that we are live, we are inviting the industry as a whole to join us to begin contributing on a regular basis. 

Are any from Macau? 
Currently, we have 12 regular contributors that live in Macau.  We have a burgeoning entertainment industry in Macau and so there are a lot of incredible contributor possibilities here in town.  Our local contributors work in Macau and hold roles such as heads of department in Automation, Wardrobe, Stage Management, Scenic and Lighting Design, Publicists, Arts Management, and Production.  

What would you say is the current state of the entertainment industry in Macau?
It is an exciting time here in Macau. Our entertainment industry is growing, now that we have overcome the recent economic downturn.  The House of Dancing Water is a long-time success, The House of Magic is pulling in crowds at a consistent rate, The Venetian and Parisian have brought in some great shows recently, and with the MGM opening soon, I think we will see another large-scale show.  One area where we hope to see more growth is in music.  We do not have as many concerts and major music festivals as other major international cities have, and we believe there is great potential for growth in that space.  
Our goal with TheatreArtLIfe is to ignite connections across the globe. It is important that Macau is on the map within the live entertainment industry.  Macau should be considered by touring companies who might consider stopping here, for producers to create content here, and for individuals to work here. Asia as a whole is growing in its entertainment industry, and it needs be part of the global conversation we are starting.

Who are you targeting as a readership and why?
Our target audience is divided into two main areas: industry professionals and aspiring professionals. By sharing experiences, advice and connections, we can build a global community that can ‘raise the bar’ of global entertainment. Although many of us work in different countries, administration processes, work methods and industry standards are still not global, and through our platform, we can begin to bridge those differences. A person starting a job in another country doesn’t need to go into that experience blindly. They can connect with those who have been there before, adhere to the safety standards, be aware of potential problems and overall deliver their job more effectively.

Is there any significance behind the date of the launch?
We all have to set a deadline! We wanted to launch in April as it was just over a year since the idea came about. We also wanted to share TheatreArtLife with the public so they could assist us in directing the site. We wanted to say: ‘here is our idea. What do our subscribers want to see next? How do they want to see it grow?’ Any platform needs to respond to its audience. What articles are most popular? What parts of the site are well received? What works? What doesn’t? So April was the time to have our bases covered and the platform ready to share with the world, but still flexible enough to adapt to feedback. Today, May 15th is our global launch, and we are thrilled.

What directions do you see the local entertainment area evolving in?
We think that for local entertainment to be sustainable here, producers must understand their audiences and what they want to see. What may work in Las Vegas, may not work here. Those looking to bring entertainment should draw from the well-attended venues and shows in Macau and see what it is that brings in audiences.  They should look at the culture and expectations of their audiences and create accordingly.

Given the stated diversification needs of the city, will it ever be able to achieve a status such as Las Vegas? 
Our question would be, why would Macau want to be Las Vegas? Macau, and its surroundings, is a culturally rich and diverse area. Rather than copying the formula of a place on the other side of the world, Macau would be better served drawing from their surroundings and defining themselves as a unique entity. Uniqueness is what will bring people here IF the progression of the country and its entertainment is cultivated correctly. Simply put: Don’t be Las Vegas. Be wholeheartedly Macau, a blend of Portuguese, Chinese and Western cultures, and focus on creating a unique melting pot of entertainment that can captivate the attention of the world.  

What lessons can be learned from Vegas?
In 2008, Las Vegas entertainment started down a road that ultimately cannibalized itself.  Too many productions opened from 2008-2012 and shows began to close because they were not selling enough tickets.  We think that Macau’s slower build will set it up for more success.  It is important to have a wide variety of entertainment and that is one thing Vegas does well.  From the Electric Daisy Festival to touring Broadway shows, Vegas is able to entice many diverse productions.  We think that Macau can learn from Vegas how to bring in diverse entertainment, but with thoughtful consideration to not open too many shows too quickly.
Another area that Macau must grow is to develop strong theatre and live entertainment education programs.  Las Vegas is home to the University of Nevada in Las Vegas where they have major academic programming for design, production, stagecraft, performance and music.  To develop as a leader in the entertainment sector, we must build our academic base to allow for future growth.

How do you go about finding contributors?
We (Anna and Ashley) have been working in entertainment for over 15 years each and we have worked with many great people. When we started putting together our contributor wish list, we began with people that had impressed us over the years, not only with their work and resume, but their zest for life and humanity. We also wanted to represent as many viewpoints from around the world.  Currently, our contributors are from 11 countries and our articles are written in English as well as the native language of the contributor.  We plan to have articles written in Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, all of the languages of the world, but that is a longer-term goal. 

How would you describe the Hong Kong entertainment industry?
Hong Kong is a growing base for entertainment expansion in the East. Many major design and production houses are opening offices in Hong Kong in the hope of growing their brands in China. We think this is a sign of what’s to come. More major music and theatre headliners come to Hong Kong and perhaps it may be easier to obtain visas, and I think if the city supports the entertainment, it will grow as well. We think that both Macau and Hong Kong are ready for growth in the entertainment industry.

What effect do you predict the build up of the local entertainment industry will have on the MICE sector?
If Macau can develop its uniqueness on the global stage and make variety a focus of its entertainment and activities, it can be a very attractive location for the MICE sector. This would also require upscaling its professional delivery of events. 

Is entertainment necessary for Macau’s economic success?
We think as an international city, entertainment could be economically viable and part of Macau’s success. Diversification in general will help Macau’s economic success, and building entertainment that draws people to our city can be a part of what’s happening. That being said, all countries and cities need entertainment and theatre and arts. These elements reflect on the country, its ideals, and its culture. These elements teach us about human beings, self-expression, self-knowledge, history, self-empowerment, social change, education and creativity. Whether Macau needs it for economic success is in some ways irrelevant. Macau needs entertainment and arts to retain its identity in the midst of this largely expanding casino town.