He said the center's high rental fees cut deeply into the profit of producers. "If we rented the National Center for the Performing Arts, we'd have to raise our per-ticket price by 500 yuan."
An Ting, an official at a Beijing government agency in charge of culture and recreation, sees NCPA's functions as somewhat different from "purely commercial houses such as Poly, Beizhan and 21 Century", of which he feels the city should have more. He considers the center more a landmark, and said it may not need to compete on equal footing with other market players.
An, the official, suggested subsidies for both suppliers and consumers in this business. "A monthly income earner of 3,500 yuan would never go for an 800-yuan seat. The government can impose a limit on price by subsidizing the projects."
This kind of subsidy has its critics, but also its success stories. The Beijing People's Art Theater is a case in point.
Several actors in its ensemble are big-name stars who command salaries in the millions of yuan for screen roles, yet are paid a relative pittance as regular staff members of the theater. Scalpers may charge thousands for a hot show, but the official price falls well within the low hundreds.
The theater also offers student discounts and over the years has developed an extremely loyal following. "We do not compete with commercial houses," said Sun Ning, a publicity manager for the theater. "Reform toward commercialism may not benefit our artistic quality."
NCPA keeps a database that tracks all ticket sales and provides a trove of information. The sales trend for its own production of Jane Eyre, for example, is a testament to the power of positive word-of-mouth.
For its first run, in June 2009, 20 percent of tickets went out 50-40 days before it opened; then 20 percent more the next 10 days; and finally 30 percent. For the second run, the following December, 30 percent of tickets were snatched up in the first 10 days of advance sales, reflecting a heightened eagerness among potential theatergoers. By the time the play opened, the house was sold out.
A different June show sold 90 percent for its first run, with two extra shows added at the last minute. But when it returned the next year, in late October, attendance dropped to 60 percent. Marketing director Wang wouldn't identify the show.
Wang noted that there are seasonal fluctuations, with the months after Chinese New Year and the end of March the slowest. "Some venues would simply close for the time," he said.
"Other theaters do not need such a database system because they do not participate in pricing, but only charge the fee for venue rental," Wang said.
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