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Frugality plays the villain on stage
Last Updated: 2014-03-28 10:16 | Xinhua
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Theater companies in China are in difficulty because of the government's nationwide frugality campaign.

"We used to have around 40 shows a year, but last year the number reduced to about 10 and our revenue plummeted," said Zhang Hao, head of the Jilin Symphony Orchestra Troupe in northeast China.

Fewer performances for governments and state-owned enterprises, previously major clients, had led to a dramatic cut in revenue.

The campaign to reduce waste and promote frugality began in late 2012, and in August last year the axe fell on galas. There were to be fewer of them with a lot less frills.

Arts troupes relied heavily on government money, which accounted for up to 80 percent of total income, said Li Zhuang, head of the Jilin Opera Troupe, which has a staff of 48.

About half its revenue usually came during the Spring Festival, when many institutions used to organize celebratory events, but this year the drive to end extravagance had put paid to all that.

Companies must now shift their focus to ordinary citizens, said Li. "There will be a painful period, but in the long run it will be good for the troupes."

The Jilin Song and Dance Troupe, founded in 1954, turned itself into a limited company in 2010.

Since December 2012, the company has been holding regular shows at the Changbai Mountain Theater in the province's popular tourist area. The shows guarantee the income of more than 100 performers and the troupe can make 10 million yuan (US$1.61 million) a year, said Liu Chunmei, the troupe's chairwoman. The way forward is better shows and finding other channels of income like dance schools and costume hire, she said.

Revenue declined everywhere last year, including Beijing. The total revenue and audience of Beijing's 123 performance venues fell by 5 percent and 7.8 percent in 2013, the Beijing Trade Association for Performances said. The frugality campaign was a major factor.

"We must change our thinking, search for new markets and attract citizens with quality work," said Li.

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