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Concert hall shifts from Mozart to marriage
By Nie Xin

When avid theatergoer Jiang Xue'an got married a couple of years ago, she decorated the hotel restaurant with stage play posters, named each table after a favorite drama and staged a sketch about her love and marriage.

Back then she didn't have a proper stage or theater for her "drama" wedding, but today young people with a flair for the dramatic are seeking theater and concert halls as venues for their nuptials. They already make films about themselves.

And traditional cultural venues are cashing in, converting performance halls for wedding performances and banquets, as well as non-performance events.

This year Shanghai's landmark architecture and art venue, the Shanghai Concert Hall, opened for wedding banquets after several years of preparation. It can accommodate 1,200 guests in its main hall and other, smaller halls are open for Western-style parties.

The market response is satisfying.

"Five couples have reserved the venue this year," said Shen Yanshu, from the concert hall's public relations department. Every day there are inquiries, he said.

The first wedding will be held the second half of the year. Prices start at 20,000 yuan (US$3,210) for a small party, but it seems the sky's the limit. Couples can also order stage settings.

"The Concert Hall is filled with high-end atmosphere and weddings here would of course reflect this elegance," Shen said.

The wedding service arose from requests over time from audience members. "We are dreaming of holding our wedding in a special way, not in one of those five-star hotels," said 30-year-old Zhang Ruijie, who has decided to stage her wedding next year in the Concert Hall.

A number of years ago, Zhang had inquired whether weddings could be held in the concert hall, since both she and her fiance love classical music and frequently attend concerts.

"We have met many people in our audience like Zhang and their suggestions encouraged us to consider this possibility," Shen said. Music lovers in Austria, Germany and Japan hold weddings in concert venues, he added.

The Concert Hall near the city center is popular for taking wedding pictures.

Not everyone is pleased with the idea of turning the exclusive cultural venue over to high-end weddings of people who try to outdo each other in extravagant celebrations.

But those critical voices have been drowned out by the enthusiasm of those who increasingly seek not only a luxurious setting for their once-in-a-lifetime wedding, but also a setting that is tasteful and elegant.

"Actually people are realizing their life's most important celebration in a place that represents their personal passion for music," Shen added.

Wedding drama

While music and theatrical venues are embracing wedding parties, in another part of the city in Baoshan District, a professional wedding venue will stage theater, a three-month-long interactive comedy, "Perfect Match."

Starting March 18, Shanghai Modern Theater will stage the romantic comedy in one of the 11 wedding halls in the Shanghai Wedding Center, which opened in October 2011.

"More and more young people are going to the theater to enjoy drama. They also want to make friends and expand their social network. This inspires us to combine making friends, dating, getting married and going to the theater," said Zhao Xia, the director of planning and sales for the Shanghai Wedding Center.

Single people aged from 25 to 35 comprise 70 percent of the audience for stage plays, notably romantic comedies and nonmainstream theater, according to research by the wedding center and Modern Theater.

"We hope to develop the extra value of theaters," said Zhang Yu, director of the Modern Theater.

"The idea is to combine elements of blind dating with this comedy staged in a wedding hall. This gives more opportunities for single people to make friends and find Mr or Ms Right."

Popular theaters

Around 200 plays were staged in Shanghai last year, compared with 185 in 2011, and the number is expected to rise, Zhang said.

For example, this year the Shanghai Drama Arts Center (SDAC) will produce more than 40 shows itself at its Anfu Road home. It also will collaborates with theaters at 1933 Old Millfun, a creative arts, entertainment and shopping hub.

"We don't have any more space to rent out to other drama groups; seeking new venues for drama is getting to be a trend," said Huang Yiping, from SDAC.

In addition to the wedding center, other venues are staging dramas. One of them, the Fashion Creative Park in Yangpu District, will stage a number of new plays this year.

The well-known live music bar the Melting Pot (also called Bar 288) on Taikang Road staged three off-beat plays last week. More fresh performances, in addition to live music, will be staged, according to noted pop musician Wang Hao, the organizer.

"Artists are pursuing new venues for their creative performances. Engaged couples are looking for the right place for their once-in-a-lifetime event. They all deserve encouragement. It's a sign of progress," he said.

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