Crowdfunding injects new life into ancient Peking Opera
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.