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Little theaters face uncertainties despite booming market

Updated: 2011-05-05 16:05
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Little theater (Xiaojuchang in Chinese), also known as experimental theater in the West, has become very popular in China for its radical expression and dramatic experimentation.

In a relatively small hall that usually holds around 100 to 200 people, the performers work to create a new, more active relation with audiences to produce intimate and experimental shows. Audience members are no longer seen as passive observers. The performers may ask them to answer questions, react to a certain actions or affect them directly on a subconscious level.

In the year 1982, Absolute Signal, a pioneering piece directed by Lin Zhaohua, now a prestigious drama director, was staged in Beijing and is widely cited as the official arrival of experimental theater in China. In the early 1990s, beginning in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, this new type of stage play spread across China as the country was striving to align itself with the global practices in the opening-up campaign.

After years of growth in stature, little theaters have come a long way in production quality and marketing strategies. A notable fact is a majority of the audience is made up of young people. Led by the college students and young white collar workers, the younger audience is quick with fashion and more likely to embrace new ideas.

Competitive pricing becomes a boon for the avant-garde play fans. In Beijing, ticket prices usually range from 80 to 200 yuan, making it economically affordable for regular audiences.

Essentially, the little theater is acclaimed as a breeding ground for dramatic experimentation, especially when the larger theatres are being trapped in financial problems and shortage of quality production. By experimenting with their cracker-barrel knowledge about performance, young producers are allowed to explore new avenues of expression in stage plays. In return, this increases their skills in art production.

Usually, a little theater production costs around 300,000 yuan, a significant difference compared to those that need over one million yuan in the grand theaters. It also takes less time to finish a low-budget play. Capital investors lend their hands after they realize the potential business opportunities of the new area.

With money comes the division of responsibilities, however.

It is a time-honored quandary. Money still talks today. Investors hope to rake in profit as much as possible by putting money into emerging businesses with their focus on the bottom line on the balance sheet.

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