The lifting of martial law in 1987 gave rise to a virtual explosion in the number of amateur and professional performing groups in the country, which has been matched by an increasingly supportive and discerning public.
However, The Cup Theater recently announced that it was canceling its one-off performance of The King of Happy Wonderland in Tainan, citing poor ticket sales caused by a slowing economy.
One has to ask the question: Is NT$200 to NT$400 -- the cost of a ticket to The Cup Theater's Tainan performance -- really a high price to pay?
In Taoyuan, not a bastion of theater, tickets for the family-oriented Mom Is So Annoying are selling for the same price, and the Taipei performance of Sunlight after Snowfall are NT$300 to NT$1,500. Tickets to both shows are already sold out. Moreover, the roughly 40,000 tickets -- ranging from NT$1,000 to NT$4,000 -- for next week's Linkin Park performance are almost sold out. Is the "poor" economy only affecting those in the south?
The truth is far more complex and is more of a reflection of attitude toward the performing arts throughout the country and the allocation of cultural resources. Taipei performances are consistently more expensive than those outside the capital because it has a more developed cultural scene and receives a considerably larger share of the cultural budget. Additionally, major overseas and local companies are located in and around Taipei.
One Tainan-based director has complained about the difficulty of building up an audience as a large percentage of the performance-going public consists of university students -- many of whom leave Tainan after graduation. This isn't true of Taipei, where graduates usually end up.
The government has made some efforts to nurture the performing arts over the past eight years by inviting foreign artists to Taiwan to give workshops, supporting theater and dance groups and building new venues. What it has failed to do, however, is make performing arts part of the public education system.
Local theater and dance professionals constantly lament the lack of education in dance and theater art -- and with good reason. Though music and painting have made their way into elementary and high school curriculums throughout the country, the same cannot be said for drama or dance. Should we wait until university to teach our budding musicians how to play and painters how to paint?
Furthermore, there isn't a high school in the country (excluding international schools) that have professional facilities for dance or drama -- facilities that are common in high schools throughout North America.
There are also few small-seat professional theaters that burgeoning actors, dancers and puppeteers can use to produce quality performances and gain a sense of accomplishment that comes from producing professional work.
Taiwan's performing arts, like its democracy, has matured in leaps and bounds since martial law was lifted. But they still have a long way to go before they can achieve anything approaching a West End or Broadway. In the meantime, blaming poor attendances on the economy does little to edify the public on the state of performing arts in the country.