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Performing arts scene staggers under virus pandemic

Workers wearing protective gear disinfect the concert hall at the Seoul Arts Center. (Seoul Arts Center)
Workers wearing protective gear disinfect the concert hall at the Seoul Arts Center. (Seoul Arts Center)

While Monday marks a month since the COVID-19 alert level was raised to “red,” the national health crisis is pushing the local performing arts scene to the edge.

According to the Korea Performing Arts Box Office Information System, managed by the Korea Arts Management Service affiliated with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, roughly 70 productions opened in March as of Sunday. In February, around 380 shows opened.

Moreover, data shows that performing arts ticket sales from March 1 to Sunday recorded 6.3 billion won ($5.06 million). In February, the figure was 21 billion won.

Except for a few popular musicals, most other productions -- plays, dances and classical music performances -- have been either canceled or postponed.

National theaters have closed down, and foreign artists and troupes have canceled their visits. Audiences are reluctant to go to theaters as “social distancing” and self-quarantine are now being recommended to cope with the virus crisis.

The government announced “support programs” Thursday to help the staggering performing arts scene here.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said it would release 3 million discount tickets worth 8,000 won each to be used via ticket reservation platforms when the outbreak cools down. No exact date has been set.

Also, the government will provide funding of up to 60 million won each to 200 small theaters, to cover the cost of production and marketing. A total of 160 art troupes will receive anywhere from 20 million to 200 million won to cover management costs. To assist artists experiencing financial difficulties, the ministry will help them obtain emergency loans.

However, figures from the arts scene point out that individual artists will have difficulty benefiting from the governmental support measures, as they are mainly focused on theaters and theater proprietors. Small troupes that do not even have the necessary papers to document their expenditures and losses will find it difficult to access governmental support. 

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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