China’s Live Performances Go Virtual Amid COVID-19 Epidemic

“Crosstalk” shows, operas, and even music festivals are going online to avoid crowds and prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Chinese female idol group SNH48 during a livestreamed show in Shanghai, March 8, 2020. From @解放日报 on Weibo

As entertainment venues remain shut due to the COVID-19 epidemic, China’s live performance industry has moved online in hopes of garnering wider audiences virtually.

On Saturday, four popular Chinese performance groups — including Beijing’s Deyun Club, the country’s most renowned venue for “crosstalk” comedy — jointly launched a new livestreamed program for crosstalk performances, talk shows, and comedic drama on video platforms Xigua, Toutiao, and Douyin. Crosstalk is a traditional comedic art form rooted in Beijing that typically involves witty repartee between two performers.

Dubbed “Comedy Theater,” the new program will feature dozens of popular talk show hosts, comedians, and crosstalk performers, according to domestic media reports. On Saturday’s episode, crosstalk comedians Jin Fei and Chen Xi appeared in long, traditional gowns on a stage resembling that of an actual performance venue, while online audiences showered them with virtual gifts throughout the event.

“We are so pleased to meet everyone this way,” one of the comedians said, opening the virtual show. “We hope we can bring more happiness to you guys through this format.”

China’s live performance industry is one of many sectors that have been severely affected by the COVID-19 epidemic. According to the China Association of Performing Arts, nearly 8,000 performances in more than 20 provinces and cities scheduled for March were either cancelled or postponed, with losses exceeding 1 billion yuan ($144 million). Other industry observers estimate that future losses could exceed 10 billion yuan.

Meanwhile, industry insiders have been coming up with solutions to mitigate the virus’ impact. Many theaters and orchestras, including the National Center for the Performing Arts and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, have started posting audio and video clips of past performances, freely accessible online. Many musicians stuck indoors have found new ways to connect with audiences through mediums such as “cloud clubbing,” while events like the annual Strawberry Music Festival are creating online spinoffs.


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– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.