The Small-Time Reality TV Hit Reviving Chinese Theater’s Big Dreams

In “Theater for Living,” brutal honesty about the hardships of life onstage is winning over fans.

“To earn, or not to earn? That is the question.”

From its opening line, a new Chinese reality show dives headlong into the harsh realities of the domestic theater industry — a widely underappreciated sector that suffers from poor funding, high costs, and pitifully low pay. Entering the industry often means pursuing passion over profit.

Since premiering on Jan. 16, “Theater for Living” has received sky-high reviews for its authenticity and originality in a TV genre awash with highly scripted copycat productions, sparking hopes that it might help revive interest in an art form with a long history in China.

In the show, eight highly accomplished — though hardly famous — male theater industry professionals are dropped into a drab “Theater Commune” on the outskirts of Wuzhen, an ancient river town in the eastern Zhejiang province known for its annual theater festival.

Over several weeks, the gaggle of eccentric and often comical thespians and directors live, sleep, cook, rehearse, and perform together as they assemble just enough drama productions to cover their collective food and rent costs.

Their first-episode task is to craft a family-friendly play supposedly for the owner of a local chicken farm in just three days. This will give them their first lump sum toward future productions. Continue to read the full article here


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone