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How to create a “city of performing arts” that stands out

The government is committed to turning Macau into a "city of performing arts". There are more cities in China, including in the Greater Bay Area, that are following the same path, so creating unique brands is crucial to succeed. Members of the cultural and economic councils believe that it is necessary to capitalize on the Sino-Lusophone identity and integrate local artists into more commercial and popular shows to catapult Macau's talents forward

Carol Law

In his Policy Address delivered at the Legislative Council this year, the Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, announced that the Government would promote the joint development of the local cultural and tourism industries to build a “city of performing arts “, and that the Government is now seeking support from the relevant departments of the Central Authorities for the development of performing arts events in Macau.

He said, “The seating, sound and lighting facilities of Macau’s performance venues are all up to international standards, and audiences who have come to Macau to watch performances have had very good experiences and comments. The city of performing arts is being evaluated by the relevant state departments, and we are confident that it will be approved”.

Leong Wai Man, Director of the Cultural Affairs Bureau, also expressed her hope that Macau’s festivals and events, such as the Macau Arts Festival, the International Music Festival and the Desfile Internacional de Macau, will become even bigger and more influential, and will continue to introduce more international performances.

In fact, in recent years, a number of neighbouring cities have proposed to become “cities of performing arts ” or “cities of music”, etc. The mainland media Outlook Oriental Weekly quoted the mainland data software “Lighthouse Professional Edition” as saying that from 1 January to 31 October 2023, Beijing had sold 83,000 commercial performances, accounting for 16.4% of the mainland market, while Shanghai ranked second, with 54,000 performances sold, accounting for 10.7% of the national market, and that “both cities have explicitly proposed to build a ‘city of performing arts”.

In addition, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the cities in the Greater Bay Area, are also not willing to lag behind. According to the Oriental Outlook Weekly, from January to July 2023, 32 groups of singers held concerts in Guangzhou, with 20 groups of artists taking turns to sing in June and July alone, making it “the city with the highest concentration of concerts in that period of time”. As for Shenzhen, in november it was predicted that by the end of the year, “more than 240 performances, including concerts, music festivals, livehouse performances, dramas and musicals, will be held”. The report also said, “Based on various public data, Wuhan, Nanjing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Changsha will be among the more active cities in the performance market in 2023”.

I think the “city of performing arts” is in the service of ‘telling the story of Macau’. Commercial alone cannot tell a good story, culture must be present to tell a good story

Tam Chi-chun, member of the Conselho Consultivo para o Desenvolvimento Cultural

“The feverish performance market has enabled more cities to see the driving effect of the performance economy, which on the one hand drives consumption in tourism, transport, accommodation and food and beverage; on the other hand, the activity of the performance market can also reflect the city’s energy level, cultural influence and the level of comprehensive governance,” the report concluded.

Being different

Looking around, there are “cities of performing arts” everywhere, how can Macau stand out from the rest? In an interview with Plataforma, Tam Chi-chun, a member of the Advisory Council for Cultural Development, said that from the government’s publicity, it is clear that Macau is characterised by its “Sino-Portuguese culture”. which has a lot of southern European characteristics that are not found in other places, and that “I think this is really unique. He recalled that when the Sino-Portuguese Culture and Arts Festival was approaching, he had mentioned in a cultural consultation meeting that, as a local Chinese artist, he was curious about the creativity of Portuguese artists, and he believed that Portuguese-speaking artists in Macau were also interested in local Chinese productions, but they did not have the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other.

“That’s why I suggested that the Sino-Portuguese Cultural and Arts Festival should not only be about performances, but also be a good platform for both sides to get to know each other. Maybe we could set up a time for everyone to briefly introduce their creative concepts, and then someone could translate it on the spot, so that the local culture could have one more dimension to extend its development,” he said. He added that since the last time he put forward the idea was close to the Sino-Portuguese Arts and Culture Festival, it was not possible to implement the proposal this year, “but I believe that in the coming year, it is very likely that we will continue to move in this direction and make some curatorial arrangements to make it happen.”

But apart from that, Tam Chi-chun believes that what the people of Macau are most curious about now is what the “city of performing arts” stands for. “Is it more concerts, more performances in venues with 10,000 people, or what kind of performing arts? Will there be more exhibitions or more theatres in different parts of Macau? These two directions are very different in terms of performing arts, and the Policy Address has not given us a clear picture of what we will do next.”

Regional Competition

And apart from unique brands, the development of a “city of performing arts” also requires the support of talents in various job categories, which involves both quality and quantity. According to José Chan Rodrigues, a member of the Conselho para o Desenvolvimento Económico, the direction of Macau’s “city of performing arts” is conducive to economic diversification and will be helpful to front-end and backstage staff as well as to event organisers. However, the Vice-President of the Associação dos Artistas de Macau also admitted that, quoting this year as an example, the manpower in Macau would become tight with the increase in the number of events. “For example, in the past two months, everyone has been very busy, and many things have to be done within a very short period of time. I am worried that a shortage of manpower to cope with the volume of work will lead to a drop in quality. There are talents, but if the volume of activities is high, the actual manpower may have to be increased further.”

I am worried that a shortage of manpower to cope with the volume of work will lead to a drop in quality

José Chan Rodrigues, member of the Conselho para o Desenvolvimento Económico

Regarding the view that most of the current performance events invite foreign performers instead of local people, Rodrigues considered that as foreign performers are more widely known, it is only natural for the event organisers to invite those who are more famous. He believes that on the one hand, local practitioners should promote themselves and increase their popularity, and on the other hand, Macau’s organisers can consider giving local practitioners a chance to participate when inviting foreign performers to perform in Macau. “I think it depends on how the organisers make this happen. I think the combined power of this is more important for the future talent pool and long-term development.” At the same time, training managers can also be considered. “Apart from the talent of some stars, a good manager is also very important”.

To Tam, the direction of Macau’s “city of performing arts” is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the development of the Greater Bay Area. As a theatre practitioner, he feels that the development of Macau and the Mainland has become more closely linked in recent years, with “many more opportunities for interconnections between Shenzhen and Macau, or with Hong Kong and Guangzhou”. As to whether local practitioners can benefit from this, it depends on whether they can fight for their own position. “Since it is not only Macau that has become the “city of performing arts”, but also the whole Greater Bay Area that is promoting culture, my thinking is: How many people in Macau are ready to engage in performing arts activities in a competitive manner across regions?”

Tam pointed out that this competitiveness not only refers to the ability and fame of the performers, but also the stage aesthetics of the production. In Macau, due to resource constraints, the development of stage aesthetics in this area is often limited. “Macau’s theatre aesthetics have always been ” refined and poor “, because there is not much money, but it has to be very refined, so that we know how to use some very cheap methods to do a performance, but in the long run it seems that this is the only way of expression, which may be very suitable for this city, but when it is taken to other places, even in the Greater Bay Area, not to mention Asia or other places, this “refined and poor” may be a very small category, and thus trapping us in a very small niche.”

He also believes that in order to develop into a “city of performing arts”, Macau needs not only commercial shows, but also cultural performances, even if they are not as lucrative as the commercial ones. “Because I think the “city of performing arts” is in the service of ‘telling the story of Macau’. Commercial alone cannot tell a good story, culture must be present to tell a good story,” he said.

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