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China's theater industry at a loss for words
Last Updated: 2015-06-03 23:44 | Xinhua
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The Chinese stage is threatened by a critical shortage of playwrights and original scripts, according to a national drama forum on Wednesday.

The theater business has thrived over the past few years with young audiences enthusiastic for original plays. Popular plays such as "Rhinos in Love", created in 1999, have been performed hundreds of times each year, attracting young people nationwide.

Theaters are in desperate need of ingenious plays, in short supply because of a paucity of writing talent. This lack of satisfactory plays and dramatists has become a "new normal" in China's performing arts industry, according to China Theater Association.

In 2014, the association could not find a single playwright working with theater companies in some western provinces. The situation in developed parts of the country was scarcely better with Jiangsu Province having only 49 playwrights serving 68 theaters.


Zhang Fuxian, a widely respected figure in Chinese drama, believes most theaters are only interested in cultivating performers, leaving young writers to fend for themselves. Some directors even regard original scripts written specifically for their troupe as worthless and would rather have them outsourced.

Zhang's opinion is echoed by You Changping, director of Liaoning People's Art Theater. The quality of a play, You claims, is a direct result of the writer's creativity and, with writers feeling overlooked and under valued, few young writers want to join today's theater.

Compared with highly touted performers, writers' benefit packages are dwarfed, said Yu Rongjun of Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, also a noted playwright. Yu has been very productive over the past few years and has received various accolades but his salary barely makes ends meet for his household.

In these circumstances, it is no surprise that dramatists are turning their backs on the stage, with screenplays for the film and TV industry comparatively lucrative, Zhang Fuxian noted. Some, he said, have completely moved away from the theatrical realm forever.

The performing arts are very profit-driven these days, prompting some unwelcome phenomena including plagiarism and poor imitations of successful standard works. Promising talent goes unnoticed because the scripts are not valued when everyone is chasing fast money through vulgar plots, Liaoning theater's You said.


Complex and meaningful themes driven by refined dialogue have been usurped by exaggerated, extravagant stage design and ostentatious performances, offering the public a diet of cultural fast food instead of art, said Zhou Yuyuan, deputy chief of the National Theater of China.

Such hollow works, claims Zhou, leave no traces in the audiences' minds once they step out of the theater, and do little to raise the overall value of Chinese drama.

Zhou believes the shortage of playwrights could become crisis for Chinese literature and artistic endeavor. Society does not treat playwrights as regular writers as in the past, and national awards favor them less.

He suggests the current personnel structure in theaters be altered to give more sway to writers.

You Changping wants funding and awards to nurture and encourage young writers, allowing them to take their time to develop their craft and produce works that can stand up to public judgement.

He also wants drama schools to set up training bases in cooperation with theaters and the return of "master and apprentice" model, where fresh playwrights learn from experienced mentors.

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