Young theater fans switch on to a new genre

A NEW form of theater, which can be watched on the big screen, is gaining favor among young Chinese audiences and enriching performing arts in China.

On Wednesday, a new season of theater live content, starting from July, was announced in Beijing, including 23 new titles from various theater live broadcasting projects from London, Moscow and Broadway.

This is added to a list of 23 productions that have already been screened in 21 cities across the Chinese mainland and Taiwan over the past two years, according to Beijing-based ATW Culture Media Ltd, the sole distributor of National Theatre Live (NT Live) in China.

“This is the third year we brought theater live to the China market and we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of viewers and the venues,” said Li Congzhou, CEO of ATW Culture.

In 2009, the Royal National Theatre in London started its NT Live initiative, which broadcasts high-definition live performances of their productions to cinemas and arts venues around the world. The new form soon became a hit among theater lovers.

The project was officially introduced to China in 2015. Since then, 39 venues have joined the program, attracting 150,000 viewers with more than 1,000 screenings.

Tickets are 120 yuan (US$17.60).

‘I was immersed’

Chen Qiaoyi, a bank clerk in her 20s, has watched five NT Live performances in Beijing. She first learned about it from a friend who really liked the British actor Tom Hiddleston, who featured in the first series of NT Live screenings in China.

“I was more immersed in the play than I expected,” Chen said. “The shooting was great. Most plays come in small theater productions. This was shot from different angles. It maximizes what it feels like to be on the spot.”

Chen is typical of the foreign theater audience in China. ATW Culture’s Li identifies them as mainly between 20 and 35, female and highly educated, mostly fans of American and British television and film.

In recent years, China has caught the world’s attention with its fast-growing entertainment industry and an increasingly sophisticated audience. Award-winning musical classics such as “Avenue Q,” “Wicked” and more experimental productions such as “Sleep No More” have all tested the China market.

In addition to new screenings, Wednesday also witnessed the launch of the first International Theater Live Festival, which ATW Culture expects to play a role in promoting the new format to a wider audience.

“Previously, the venues we worked with were mainly theaters. This time, we will work with cinema chains for the festival, hopefully to attract people other than theater-goers,” Li said.

He hopes more middle school students can start to appreciate theater live, to hone language skills and gain cultural knowledge.

As a new format of theater embracing modern technology, it also spurs upgrading in the performing arts scene.

Li says many venues were renovated or equipped with new devices to meet standards for high-definition screenings.

Chen said it was also a good way to raise awareness of intellectual property rights, as it is easy to get pirated materials in China.

“The price is a little high, but it is worth it. Spending for a theater experience is nothing different from spending money to buy a product you really like,” she said.