Performing Arts Market Blooms in China
The world’s most populous country is creating its own national identity in the performing arts. Breathtaking new facilities are blooming, designed by world-famous architects and outfitted by noted theatre designers. For a first-person perspective on these developments, we contacted Mr. Sascha König in Beijing, a native of Germany who has worked in China for 12 years. He is currently Chief Asia Representative for HOAC Schweisstechnik GmbH, a German stage technology company that is Wenger’s partner in China. In recent years, Wenger and HOAC have often collaborated on acoustical shell projects. (Over the past decade, Wenger has built approximately 30 shells for Chinese performance venues.)
YPP: How is the Chinese performing arts market?
König: It’s very special, with practices different from my experience in Europe. Even after 12 years here, I’m still learning something new almost daily. Visitors from Europe or the U.S. are usually impressed by the fantastic designs of these new venues, created by renowned architects like Zaha Hadid (U.K.) or PES Architects (Finland).
Next, visitors notice the large size – these facilities are enormous in scope, often becoming icons of the surrounding landscape. Average seating capacity is 1,800 in the largest theatre, with at least one smaller venue with 400 to 700 seats. The stage itself is European style, with two side stages, main stage and backstage areas. Rigging is comparable to Western facilities. A typical proscenium opening is 16-18m (52’- 59’) wide and 12m (39’) high. For that reason, many of the Diva® acoustical shells purchased are larger, so-called Super Divas.
YPP: What does “quality” mean to customers there?
König: The definition is changing; a personal story may help explain. Before the Berlin Wall fell, when Germany was divided, residents of the East considered everything from the West as “quality”. There was no differentiation of brand names and levels of quality – just being from the West was good enough. China once had that same mindset; they considered everything from outside China as “quality”; this is slowly changing. There are still projects where the bidding document specifies a “foreign” product because that was considered synonymous with quality. Through more schooling and experience, younger, well-educated Chinese performing arts customers are developing a better understanding of quality and brands. They are learning to appreciate the differences between two seemingly similar products, including technical and functional features.
YPP: What features set Diva shells apart?
König: The acoustic function is critical. Some locally produced shells feature a thinner aluminum honeycomb panel that lacks adequate acoustical response; we have verified this through independent testing. Appearance and functionality are also important; Diva towers nest compactly for storage. Safety is another key factor, especially with Super Diva towers. Moving such large towers can be frightening for technicians who have not done it before. But when customers see the easy handling and beautiful result, they learn to trust the products.
YPP: What does the future hold?
König: There is a long, proud history of performing arts in China, including its iconic opera that is one of the world’s oldest dramatic art forms. In the late 20th century, this tradition was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. More recently, the government realized they need to reinvigorate culture in China. So the European theatre culture was copied, along with building European-style venues.
Today performing arts leaders in China are realizing that there is an education gap with the Chinese people – average citizens do not recognize or appreciate the works of famous Western composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini and the like. So the Chinese experts and venue managers are starting to ask: Do we really need European-style theatres, opera houses and concert halls? And if not, what do we need? Over time China will develop and embrace its own style.