Smaller audiences. Lack of good plays. A severe brain-drain. Chinese drama is in a dilemma.
"This condensed art has entered into the era of scarcity," said Liu Jinyun, president of the Beijing People's Art Theater.
The fast-food culture led by movies and TV films has lured away the majority of local theater-goers in recent years.
The main difficulty is that local theaters lack good plays, Liu said, noting that local theaters have to stage traditional plays as not many new plays can meet their demands.
Many playwrights are now busy writing for the booming TV film industry, because of the high pay. While a stage play could bring in merely several thousand yuan, a script for a TV serial can often earn 100 times more, according to Lan Yinhai, a playwright.
A dozen years ago, when drama was in its golden time, people lined up in long queues outside the ticket-booking houses, just hoping for a glimpse of well-known drama players like Ying Nuocheng, Yu Shizhi and Zhu Lin.
Things have changed dramatically over the past few years. Players of the younger generation are different to the older generation, said Tong Daming, a local critic. "Many of them only want to make money," he added.
But there are some positive things. Last year, backed by the government, two local drama theaters merged into the new National Drama Theater.
Some young people are beginning to show an interest in drama, while some new dramas depicting modern life are staged at local theaters.
Zhao Youliang, president of the National Drama Theater, said he is willing to help young, thoughtful directors who like to direct bizarre modern plays.
"Along with the booming economy and the improvement in local audiences, drama is certain to have an optimistic future," said Huang Weijun, a well-known playwright.
(Xinhua News Agency June 12, 2002)