Council for Cultural Affairs Minister Emile Sheng (盛治仁) has been doing some fancy footwork this week amid a barrage of complaints about the cost and bidding process for a rock musical to celebrate the Republic of China’s (ROC) centennial. Although Sheng doubles as chief executive of the centennial organizing committee, he is not the only one who should be raked over the coals for the gargantuan and wasteful budgets of centennial events.
Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) serves as chairman of the ROC Centennial Foundation and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) is its vice chairman. Both men were fulsome in their praise for Dreamers (夢想家) at a press conference in August to launch the ticket sales for the show.
Wang declared that the “rock musical will fully manifest the country’s soft power in the performing arts.”
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers have complained about the show’s NT$215 million (US$7.15 million) price tag and how Performance Workshop Theatre founder Stan Lai (賴聲川) and his team once again ended up with a large portion of the budget — after winning contracts for the 2009 Deaflympics and other events Sheng has been involved in.
It is hard to quibble with the choice of Lai; he is Taiwan’s best-known theater director and playwright and his productions are legendary. If you wanted the best, Lai would certainly top the list of nominees. However, the DPP lawmakers have raised valid questions about the bidding process, although they risk targeting a few trees, while overlooking the forest.
What one can and should complain about is the excessive cost of Dreamers and so many other centennial projects. Spending NT$215 million on a musical that was only going to run two nights is insane. At NT$100 a seat, ticket revenues probably did not even cover the costume budget.
Then there was the NT$200 million spent on Chinese artist Cai Guoqiang’s (蔡國強) fireworks display at Dajia Riverside Park in Taipei on New Year’s Eve, which helped launch the centennial celebrations.
Next Saturday is the foundation’s four-hour “I Dreamed A Dream 100 Concert” (聽見未來．夢想一百) at Kaohsiung National Stadium. Billed as the “largest Mando-pop concert in history,” its price tag has been put at about NT$50 million.
The stadium can hold 40,000 people and the show will be broadcast on TVBS the next day. Tickets are priced at between NT$250 and NT$1,250 — hopefully TVBS is paying for the broadcast rights — but again, it is hard to see how the show’s costs will be covered.
Then there was the fuss in March last year over the official slogan for the centennial celebrations, with complaints the slogan had been watered down from “Republic of China, Founded 100 Years” (中華民國，建國一百) to “Republic of China, Splendid 100” (中華民國，精彩一百). While politicians fumed over the wording, their time would have been better spent wondering how much money the foundation was spending to come up with such an insipid slogan, since Sheng said that meetings had been held with more than 100 experts, designers and artists.
The ROC Centennial Web site lists more than 75 activities stretching back to Jan. 1 last year and running through Dec. 31 this year around the nation and the world, including exhibitions, seminars, festivals, performances, as well as the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship. How much have each of them cost?