Opera troupes are finding ways to survive the pandemic

Liu Lihua performs the lead role in Huangmeixi Opera Women of Duxiu Mountain. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Live broadcasts provide artists with additional income

For three decades, Huangmeixi opera singer Liu Lihua has performed in venues ranging from outdoor spaces in small villages to large theaters in big cities.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liu, leader of the Huangmeixi Opera Troupe from Huaining County, Anhui Province, began to hold online meetings to discuss ways to keep members of the theater staff and performers.

The theater company usually stages around 120 performances in villages and schools in Huaining every year, and also performs in nearby towns. The sudden halt to the regular performance schedule made Liu ponder the troupe’s future, only to realize that online platforms could provide a stage for the ensemble.

Since January, Liu’s troupe, which has a 66-year history, has held live performances almost every night. From 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., artists, mostly young people, in make-up and costume or wearing their everyday clothes, perform classic and popular pieces from Huangmeixi Opera on the Douyin short video platform, where they also share their stories about learning the ancient art form and featuring their daily practice sessions.

The artists, who quickly gained a large fanbase, now have nearly 700,000 followers on Douyin. To their surprise, around 10,000 viewers tune in every night to watch their shows. Viewers come from areas where Huangmeixi Opera is popular, such as Anhui and Hubei provinces, as well as overseas.

Liu said, “I read the messages left by viewers during live broadcasts. It’s a whole new way to interact with the audience.” She added that in theater her audience is mostly older people, but live shows are mostly watched by young people.

A fan wrote, “I had never listened to Huangmeixi opera and had no idea the songs were so beautiful. I am 25 years old and really enjoy the songs. an art form for the elderly.”

Performing virtual shows has become an important new strategy for the company as it struggles for survival due to rehearsals and canceled performances, Liu said.

Unlike some companies that offer live content from their previous shows, the artists of the Huangmeixi Opera Troupe from Huaining County sing in different ways.

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