A tale of two cities

By Raymond Zhou ( Shanghai Star ) Updated: 2015-01-23 07:00:00

A tale of two cities

Photo provided to Shanghai Star

Beijing and Shanghai are China's biggest markets for the performing arts. But the two metropolises are very different in their tastes. Simply put, Beijingers prefer plays while Shanghai theatergoers take a shine to musicals.

One statistic I recently came across claims the Chinese capital has twice as many performing arts venues as the city on the Huangpu. Indeed, any given week yields an abundance of plays, concerts, revues, among other genres. I know of a Beijing journalist who goes to several theater-related events a day and still cannot cover everything within her beat.

A big drawback for Beijing is the availability of complementary tickets. It seems any organization with any power can ask for these freebies, and that includes people like me. I have made it a personal rule to use free tickets only when I intend to review the performances. But there are those who harbor the thought that free tickets have no (marginal) cost to the giver.

I didn't realize it's a wrong assumption until I did my own play last year. Once a show is sold to an agency, the production company (including the director and the actors) gets only a few "working tickets", five in my case. The rest I had to buy – with only five percent off the market rate. I shelled out a total of 10,000 yuan for those cities where my play toured and where my relatives and friends showed enormous enthusiasm but little knowledge of the business.

On the plus side, Beijingers are the most adventurous and receptive when it comes to theatrical innovation. A production can take any path – avantgarde, upscale or slapstick, and it can find its own audience. The musical tends to fall through the cracks because it is perceived as too highbrow by some (confusing it with the opera) and too middle-of-theroad by others.

That positioning turns out to be perfect for Shanghai, where free tickets have not snowballed into a market catastrophe and the middle class demands something not too extreme. Touring productions of Phantom of the Opera and local versions of Cats and Mamma Mia! tapped readily into the refi ned taste of Shanghai's theaterati, who want to distinguish themselves from more mundane pursuits. It dovetails with the city's broad culture rooted in a combination of southern China chic and Western influences.

In the 1930s, a Peking Opera star generally honed his skill in Tianjin, made his name in Beijing and made his money in Shanghai. Nowadays, Beijing is still the place to make a splash, but the market in Shanghai is rosier as it offers a healthier return on the hefty investment of mounting an expensive musical production.

Editor's Picks
Hot words

Most Popular