Buoyant return to theaters, concerts highlights confidence in industry, high morale for future
Shows, concerts boom, injecting confidence and high morale into society
Published: Feb 23, 2023 09:44 PM
Opera La Bohème is staged at Shanghai Grand Theater on February 9, 2023.  Photo: IC

Opera La Bohème is staged at Shanghai Grand Theater on February 9, 2023. Photo: IC

Beijing resident Xiao Jing's 2023 New Year wish - to attend a concert of pop star Jay Chow - is about to come true as Chinese tourism and culture authorities on February 16 resumed approval procedures for performances involving companies from Hong Kong, Macao special administrative regions and the island of Taiwan.

Stadiums across the country, which have mostly remained silent in the past three years due to the COVID-19, could soon witness the scene of "ten thousand people chorus" again. 

Many pop singers and bands, including the popular Taiwan-based band May Day and singer Wakin Chau, have concert plans in 2023. Mainland entertainers have also arranged their performances, according to information on ticket platforms. Music festivals, including one of the most famous - "Strawberry" music festival - have announced multiple stops across China. 

Crowds have already returned to smaller performance venues, including theaters and livehouses. On the popular ticket platform Damai, performance goers can choose from a wide range of dramas, musicals, dance dramas, chamber music, talk shows and so forth. 

"The options are so abundant. I scrolled down the page and it seems endless," Sun, a Beijing resident and frequent performance goer, told the Global Times with a smile of satisfaction. 

Another experience showing Sun of a robust recovery of the industry was on February 10 when she planned to grasp four tickets for a drama scheduled in mid-March. Sun set the alarm, made sure all required information are filled in beforehand and clicked the purchase button the moment it turned active. "But the competition was so fierce and the app crashed several times that I only got four aisle seats at last." 

Xiao Jing went to a musical last weekend, her first since the relaxation of COVID-related controls in December 2022, where she was impressed by all the audiences' great excitement that was more than simply expecting or enjoying a show. 

The occupancy rate cap was removed; friends posed for group pictures with smiles instead of masks on their faces; people rushed to the stage door to get actors' autographs… 

Traditionally, actors would sign tickets, take pictures with fans and receive flowers and gifts at the stage door. But such events were canceled for most performances from 2020-22 for epidemic control reasons. 

"Seeing those old good things back, I felt we have finally turned over the page of an arduous battle against the COVID-19, and are ready to embrace real normalcy," Xiao said. 

Ups and downs 

As a "grassroots" industry insider, a troupe staff member who preferred to be called Tangyuan, recalled how the sudden COVID-19 outbreak and its resurgences from time to time made all rehearsals and performances difficult and unstable. 

The lockdowns in early 2020 dealt a huge blow. There were no performances at all for nine months. A drama debut in 2019 with a good reputation canceled the scheduled tour while another drama that finished casting and was about to rehearse was also postponed, Tangyuan said. 

The industry warmed up in 2021, but COVID-19 resurgences, which were more frequent in 2022, posed continuous challenges to stable operation and also threatened the cash flow of the troupe. 

"We are a very small team of dozens actors and staff. But many are part-time, meaning the closed-loop management is impossible. The cancelation of performances also had a direct impact on my income," Tangyuan said.

Data released by Chinese Association of Performing Arts in April 2022 showed the market volume in 2021 was 33.6 billion yuan ($4.9 billion), up 27.8 percent from 2020 but still a 41.3-percent drop from the 2019 level. 

Performing arts industry saw a robust recovery since the beginning of 2023. Official data showed more than 9,400 commercial performances were held during the 7-day Chinese New Year holidays, a 40.9 percent increase from 2022 and 22.5 percent increase from the pre-pandemic 2019. 

There are more to come as theater operators have received spiking consultations to arrange for performances after the holidays, according to media reports. 

Tangyuan's troupe will have two plays on tour with stops in Beijing, Shanghai and more cities from March, and two more plays are undergoing intense rehearsals for a revised version, hopefully will tour later this year. 

Tickets for both Beijing and Shanghai stops of a play sold out within a day of sale, which was "unprecedented since I joined the team in 2019," Tangyuan said.  "We have rolled up sleeves for a big year!" 

Embracing certainty 

The booming industry not only injected more confidence into industry insiders' belief in their career and strengthened their hope for a better future, but also means more options of entertainment and a stronger sense of certainty for lovers of performing arts. 

Zhang Ye, a frequent performance goer, told the Global Times how her experiences in past three years were "messed up in a different way."  

Zhang went for performances routinely before the COVID-19 and when the COVID-19 struck and the theaters offered nothing, she had to cope with a sense of loss. That is the reason why she watched a lot of performances even many shows did not worth the money and time. 

In 2022, Zhang decided to no longer "throw money into water." But she still had to spend a large amount of time to manage her schedule, check about the performance information, as many shows were canceled, postponed and rescheduled repeatedly.  

Those were all gone. Zhang hailed 2023 as a year of certainty, of hope and great potential. 

Actors and troupe staff members, theater operators and audiences shared a strong sense of certainty and are hopeful for performing arts' robust recovery in 2023.   

The joy and hope is not limited to them, as people in a wide range of industries, including retail, catering and tourism, are getting prepared for strong growth. 

On February 16, China announced that it had achieved a major and decisive victory in its COVID-19 prevention and control at a top leadership meeting. The country with a population of more than 1.4 billion has successfully emerged from the pandemic and is releasing great vitality for development and strong momentum for moving forward.