Open-air concerts with affordable tickets a big hit

More than 94 performances under the “Art Space” series will be staged across the city as the Shanghai International Arts Festival aims to reach out to wider audiences.  
Ti Gong

The Urban Lawn at the Shanghai Concert Hall is one of the most popular outdoor venues for "Art Space" performances.

Shirley Zhang, a 33-year-old bank clerk, is excited about getting cheap tickets for a concert at the Gongqing Forest Park in northeast Shanghai’s Yangpu District.

“It is a concert of Charlie Siem and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. I had to be really quick as tickets with such a low price would be gone very quickly," says Wang.

The concert is a program of the “Art Space” series that will kick off tomorrow as a standing part of the Shanghai International Arts Festival.

The monthlong art gala welcomes participation from regular theater-goers, while keeping the gates wide open to ordinary residents of Shanghai.

More than 94 public “Art Space” performances will be staged across the city.

Besides traditional theaters, parks, commercial plazas and community-based activity centers will host colorful shows including dramas, dances, concerts and operas for the next 30 days. 

The Urban Lawn at the Shanghai Concert Hall, Zhongshan Park and Jing’an Park have long been the downtown venues for the series. The Gongqing Forest Park has been added this year and will host the first Forest Music Festival on October 28-29.

The Charlie Siem and Czech National Symphony Orchestra on October 28 will be followed by Spain’s Teatro Real de Madrid and Shanghai’s Soleil Quintet Chamber Orchestra, Brass Ensemble, Take Five Tango Quintet and Etoile Ensemble. The tickets cost between 60 yuan (US$9) and 100 yuan each.

Ti Gong

Bejart Ballet Lausanne from Switzerland will participate in this year's "Art Space" series.

Ti Gong

Excerpts of classic Peking Opera plays will be presented at this year's "Art Space."

Zhang often went to concerts with her friends, but it was the first time that she has bought tickets for her husband and 4-year-old son. She had always wanted to take her family to a show but was worried that her son may disturb the concert.

“I chose the outdoor concert because such performances are usually more casual. Even if my boy gets restless, he can wander around a bit without bothering others,” says Zhang. “And more importantly, I will not feel sorry about the cost of the tickets as well. The money I spent for three of us (300 yuan) wouldn't even get me an ordinary seat for Charlie Siem’s concert in a theater."

The “Art Space” series has grown to be an integral part of Shanghai International Arts Festival. Its affordable tickets and casual atmosphere are a big attraction for local art lovers.

“The goal of the program is to provide easy access to ordinary people so that they can be groomed into potential theater-goers,” says Wang Jun, president of the Center for the Shanghai International Arts Festival.

It seems to have worked. Even though quite a few programs at public spaces this year have admission fees costing 30-100 yuan, most of them were booked one week in advance.

“We are very satisfied about the changes we have seen among the audiences. We witnessed more young audience members as well as more family participants, while at the very beginning most participants were the elderly. It is definitely a good sign,” says Li Ming, vice president of the festival center.

The latest figures show that in 2015 the “Art Space” series benefited more than 2 million residents — a considerably big number.

Apart from the cheap tickets, participation of top artists has also helped in popularizing the series. Usually the artists select what to perform for their outdoor shows.

Ti Gong

An expat dances with a Chinese woman during one of last year's "Art Space" outdoor performances.

Well-known violinist Yao Jue has been active in charity performances with the Hong Kong String Orchestra that was launched in 2013 for they “reach the community and bring music to every corner.”

“Arts come from the people and their lives. Entering the community and getting close to the ordinary people is not only what the artist should do to repay the society but also a great chance for them to communicate with the audiences and possibly get inspired,” says Yao. “I always cherish such opportunities, and hope that the young musicians will do as well.”

Yao, together with the orchestra, has developed six regular series of charity-related programs in Hong Kong and is also participating in the “Art Space” series in Shanghai this year.

“Sitting on a lawn with family, having somerefreshments while listening to beautiful music is everything about enjoying life,” says Rudolph Tang, a local music critic.

Having participated in similar concerts overseas where etiquette is kept at minimum and breathtaking landscape is taken advantage of, Tang appreciates the festival’s effort in ensuring the performing arts more accessible to the general public in Shanghai. 

Yet, he is also concerned that unexpected weather conditions in recent days and the not-so-satisfying acoustic facilities at outdoor performances may pose challenges to the organizers and artists.

“The concert I attended in 2016 at the Vorsprung Festival in Ingolstadt, Germany, had such natural amplification that I mistook it for unwired acoustics, something China has yet to achieve,” says Tang.

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