Macao is a tiny place, yet each year over a thousand shows of different varieties are staged here. These range from large-scale productions funded by conglomerates to local indie performances. Both commercial and subsidised arts groups face challenges and opportunities in the performing arts industry. In this issue, we invited three very different groups—the Venetian Macao, Hiu Kok Drama Association and Point View Art Association—to share their views on the future of Macao’s performing arts.
Mega Shows in Macao
The world-famous Broadway musical Cats ran in the Venetian Macao in March over a course of 13 performances in nine days. Over 90% of the 200,000 tickets were sold, bringing considerable revenue to the organiser without including spending on other things such as accommodation, food and drink and gambling.
Hot on the heels of that, the Venetian will also put on another Broadway favourite, Beauty and the Beast, in June, for a month and a half. “The great thing about musicals is that they are loved by all ages. Kids love Disney stories like Beauty and the Beast while adults can enjoy the spectacle of song and dance. Musicals are popular the world over, from America to Macao,” said Scott Messinger, senior vice president of marketing at Sands China, which operates the Venetian Macao.
Messinger said that Sands has a group of people scouting out potential shows around the world to bring to its casinos. After the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore successfully put on Broadway musical The Lion King, the company saw the potential for musicals in the Asian market, and it is now actively looking for musicals that are currently on tour.
The critical factor for the Venetian in deciding whether to put on a particular show is profit. “If a show is already running in Hong Kong, it wouldn’t make commercial sense to bring it to Macao,” said Messinger. “Or say in a given period of time, there are many other performances taking place nearby, we have to think about whether audiences are willing to spend so much money on different events.”
To many people, the Venetian is still mostly seen as a casino, but it has a theatre that can fit 1,800 people and the Cotai Arena can fit 15,000 where many stars have performed, such as Rihanna, Eason Chan and Girls’ Generation. The venue has also hosted the Shenzhen and Philadelphia Orchestras in a joint performance, as well as boxing matches.
Messinger said the shows don’t just bring in revenue for the Venetian, but also global attention. “Australia used to be an events hotspot, people would fly from around the world to watch a particular show. Similarly, people from many countries in Europe and the United States came to Macao to watch the concert of The Rolling Stones elevating Macao to becoming a well-known leisure and entertainment hub in the world.”
Messinger did not divulge numbers, but said the Venetian turns a profit just from selling event tickets. But it hasn’t always been smooth-sailing; in 2008 the Venetian staged Cirque du Soleil’s Zaia, but made a loss due to low attendance. It prematurely ended a ten-year contract with the company in 2012. Some said that packaging Chinese acrobatics in a Western style was successful with Western audiences, but wasn’t enough to attract Chinese audiences, many of whom already get to watch Chinese acrobatics in their own country.
“It was a learning process for us. The tastes of North American and Asian audiences can be very different. The tickets were also prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. Now we price our shows a bit lower so that we can attract both foreigners and locals to make these events more sustainable,” said Messinger.
On the contrary, the City of Dreams, just across from the Venetian, has enjoyed runaway success with The House of Dancing Water since it started showing in 2010. According to casino owner Melco’s 2014 financial report, the show has been performed over 1,500 times to more than 2.5 million people.
Just how successful is The House of Dancing Water? Lei Chin Pang, a cultural commentator in Macao, used an interesting anecdote to describe it. “When Hong Kong was hit by torrential rainfall in March last year, it reportedly caused the glass ceiling of a shopping mall to collapse, flooding the mall. Some people described the scene as in ‘The House of Dancing Water’, showing how deep an impression the show has made on Chinese visitors,” said Lei.
He added that whether in production or sales, The House of Dancing Water has done a very impressive job. “From the get-go, the creators of the show tried to localise it, rather than just transplanting a foreign creation to Macao. The show has many characters and elements that resonate with Chinese audiences. Of course, the beautiful and heart-stopping acrobatics are also critical to its success. In terms of sales and marketing, the organisers asked Cantopop star Sammi Cheng to sing the show’s theme song, which was a shrewd move, underscoring the importance of using local elements to ensure a show’s success.”