Earlier in January, an unusual hashtag trended on Weibo: #戏剧不值一顿饭钱吗? (xì jù bù zhí dé yī dùn fàn qián ma). 

This hashtag translates as, “Is theater really not worth the price of a meal?” For weeks after, people online were driven into lengthy conversations about the value of art and theater.

But what caused this debate? A reality TV show.

Scene from “Theater For Living”; featuring Xiu Rui and Liu Tianqi during a performance

On January 16, a new Chinese reality show called 戏剧新生活 (xì jù xīn shēng huó), or “Theater For Living” aired online. Although categorized as reality TV, it is much closer to a social experiment with one question in mind. 

Is it possible to survive purely through theater?

Eight dramatists were invited to this show. Participants included Wu Bi and Liu TianQi, recipients of China’s most prestigious Wuzhen Drama Festival, and Ding YiTeng, the only Chinese trouper in the world-renowned Odin Teatret.

Promotional poster for all eight dramatists (from left to right, top to bottom): Liu Xiaoye, Xiu Rui, Wu Bi, Zhao Xiaosu, Liu Xiaoyi, Ding Yiteng, Liu Tianqi, Wu Haochen

Together, they were asked to create and perform a new play each week. The revenue would pay for all expenses—stage related, living or otherwise—in the span of the show. 

There was just one catch. No one was buying the tickets.



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Emilie Zhang