Crowd­fund­ing in­jects new life into an­cient Pek­ing Opera

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By CHINA DAILY

A Pek­ing Opera gala fea­tur­ing most of to­day’s pop­u­lar Pek­ing Opera artists, in­clud­ing Li Hongtu, Zhao Baoxiu, Meng Guan­glu and Tan Xiaozeng, was staged at the Bei­jing Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­ter Theater on Jan 3.

The spe­cial per­for­mance was a crowd­fund­ing project. Nearly 800 peo­ple do­nated more than 619,000 yuan ($88,400) in 34 days. “The pur­pose is to at­tract peo­ple who are not Pek­ing Opera fans,” says Pan Zhipeng, the leader of the project.

Most donors are young peo­ple, who paid through a so­cial­me­dia plat­form, Pan says.

Pu Ji­ay­ing, a lec­turer from Dalian Uni­ver­sity of For­eign Lan­guages, booked two tick­ets when she heard about this project. “I know how crowd­fund­ing works. The ticket is cheaper than that of the daily per­for­mance. And you don’t al­ways have the op­por­tu­nity to see so many stars on the same stage,” Pu says.

It was Li, the ac­tor and deputy di­rec­tor of Mei Lan­fang Pek­ing Opera Com­pany, who first sug­gested do­ing a crowd­funded per­for­mance.

This is not the first crowd­fund­ing of Pek­ing Opera in China. Last year, Ling Ke and Wang Peiyu, two young Pek­ing Opera per­form­ers, each launched crowd­fund­ing projects. The older gen­er­a­tion of artists like Meng and Zhao were un­aware of how crowd­fund­ing works.

“It is the first time that I have heard the idea of crowd­fund­ing,” says Zhao. “But it sounds in­ter­est­ing.”

Li says: “It is re­ally mean­ing­ful. This event at­tracted so many young peo­ple via so­cial me­dia to no­tice that peo­ple in­volved in Pek­ing Opera are do­ing some­thing. In China, Pek­ing Opera is of­ten re­garded as “the art form of old peo­ple”.

Li re­mem­bers he was once in­vited to give a lec­ture on Pek­ing Opera in a uni­ver­sity, only to find that most peo­ple in au­di­ence lacked a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of it.

He fears that “one day, Pek­ing Opera will lose its au­di­ence”.

Li’s worry is based on re­al­ity: In 2015, the box of­fice of the 1,895 Pek­ing Opera per­for­mances staged in Bei­jing to­taled $6.3 mil­lion, only around one-sixth of $37.4 mil­lion brought in by the 4,900 drama per­for­mances that year, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics com­piled by the Bei­jing Trade As­so­ci­a­tion for Per­for­mances.

“That’s be­cause we didn’t spend time cul­ti­vat­ing an au­di­ence,” Li says. “In the past, we only fo­cused on im­prov­ing our own per­form­ing skills.”

De­spite low prof­its, all of the artists in­vited to per­form showed great en­thu­si­asm.

“No one even men­tioned the word ‘pay­ment’,” Li re­calls. “If it suc­ceeds, we will have big­ger au­di­ences in the fu­ture, and all the Pek­ing Opera per­form­ers will have bet­ter pay.”

A grow­ing num­ber of Pek­ing Opera artists are mak­ing ef­forts to en­tice new view­ers. Pan, the project leader, says: “Some per­form­ers are do­ing crossovers with drama or mu­sic to at­tract fans. Some adapt pop­u­lar nov­els, on­line games or TV dra­mas into tra­di­tional Chi­nese op­eras. Oth­ers are us­ing new-me­dia chan­nels to pro­mote their very tra­di­tional ways of per­form­ing.

“Ul­ti­mately, tra­di­tion another word for ‘cool’.”

Many top-level Pek­ing Opera artists are open to adap­ta­tion.

“Pek­ing Opera has been con­stantly chang­ing in the past 200 years,” says Li.

“Tra­di­tional art forms are dif­fer­ent from an­tiques. Only by en­gag­ing with new things will sur­vive, pro­vided that its soul is re­mains.”

Tan Xiaozeng is the sixth gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dant of Tan Xin­pei, one of the founders of Pek­ing Opera. He be­lieves the genre has a fu­ture.

“My great- great- great­grand­fa­ther, Tan Xin­pei, cre­ated his Tan School based on many other lo­cal Chi­nese op­eras,” says Tan.

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