Source: Global Times (11/23/15)
A more intimate space
Smaller theaters having time of their lives
Outside, it was a bitter winter evening in Beijing. The driving rain meant traffic slowed to a crawl. Inside the Star Theater, a warm and comfortable audience were raising the rafters, as usual.
This scene being played out in the Star Theater can be witnessed at all kinds of small theaters across China. Over the past decade, intimate spaces for performance have become an indispensable part of many people’s cultural lives.
Drama brings opportunities
As the quality of drama has improved, these smaller theaters are experiencing a wave of popularity and with it, prosperity. There is a much wider variety of plays across different genres in China today, attracting more people to the theater.
It is not hard for dramas nowadays to attract younger fans. Shang Peixuan, a theater-goer from China Foreign Affairs University, reckons young people are now the majority of the audience.
“Those young teams behind the dramas know what we love and the lower costs associated with producing plays in smaller venues helps them a lot,” said Shang.
Others argue that the art form of drama has, itself, played a huge part. Meng Kaige, who saw the romantic comedy on that rainy, winter night, believes that modern plays resonate better with the audience.
“Actors go face to face on the stage with the audience, that makes a difference,” said Meng. “Also, that’s why drama is the best way for actors to show their true skills.”
Audiences enjoy the intimate experience of watching plays in smaller theaters. Generally speaking, smaller theaters seat no more than 500, while many only have room for 100 or so: This is exactly what makes them so fascinating.
“The stage is never too far away even if you get the cheapest tickets,” said Pan Danyang, a theater fan who is studying at Peking University. “That adds a lot to the experience.”
Besides, she added, the type of dramas she enjoys at smaller theaters tend to involve interaction between actors and the audience. “If you want to experience a unique and modern play, smaller theaters are the place to be.”
Zhang Yiwu, literature professor at Peking University, agrees that the interplay between the actors and the audience adds to a richer, more fulfilling theatrical experience. “That’s where smaller theaters have an advantage.”
Quality produces sustainability
As to the future of smaller theaters, most people are optimistic.
“Smaller theaters will continue to prosper. And with Chinese people’s spending power growing, there might be smaller theaters succeeding in third- or even fourth-tier cities very soon,” said Zhang Yiwu.
Echoing this point, Shang Peixuan said that smaller theaters will start to sprout up across the country.
All in all, it is the quality that matters.
“For those real drama lovers, the quality always comes first whatever the size of the venue,” Pan said.
With well-written shows, high-quality actors and suitable venues, smaller theaters in China are having the time of their lives.
An annual theater festival opened at one Star Theater venue on the same winter night. Lasting over 40 days, the schedule includes 12 traditional operas mixed with contemporary elements.
No matter the type of show gracing the stage, as long as excellence shines through, theaters will still offer moments for people to enjoy, and opportunities for smaller theaters to prosper.