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This article explores everything you need to know about performing in Asia for entertainers.
Whether you are an Asian entertainer looking to perform in another Asian country or a Western entertainer hoping to break into the Asian market, this article will give you an introductory overview of the market.
The info and views I offer are as an entertainer based in Asia, who has performed throughout Asia and internationally. I have performed in every single Asian country except in a small handful of counties like Papua New Guinea, Laos, Mongolia and Myanmar. These countries currently do not have the market for high end entertainment so I have never had the opportunity to perform in them.
However, to offer a different perspective, I conducted an interview with a European international performing duo who has extensive experience performing in Asia.
General Overview of the Asian Market for Entertainers
First, it is important to note that Asia is made up of many different countries with different people and cultures. Even though all Asians may look alike to some Westerners, Asian cultures are distinct and unique to each country.
Asia can be loosely divided into three regions; North Asia (China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan), South East Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia) and India. Hong Kong is in between North and South East Asia.
Asia (all regions) has been a booming market for all businesses and driven the world economy for the past 20 years. But has been even more bullish with the growing China economy and their exploding middle class population.
As discussed in “How the Market Has Changed for Entertainers”, I highlighted the economic and cultural influence of China. The importance of the China market has also impacted Hollywood in the choices of movies made and how content is designed to appeal to the Chinese. This has been evident in major international blockbusters such as “Iron Man 3”, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and the upcoming “Pacific Rim 2” that has been green-lit.
Of course, Asia does not just consist of China. There are multiple economic “powerhouse” cities that demand entertainment such as Shanghai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai and Hong Kong. These are modern metropolitans with good infrastructure, excellent public transport and skyscrapers. In fact, many of the cities are better designed, more modern and built up than major western cities.
These cosmopolitan cities have world-class performance theatres, 5-star hotels, malls and venues for shows and events to be held. All these cities offer many opportunities for corporate & special events, festivals and entertainment venues.
Other less developed cities all over Asia may have opportunities for performances in festivals, circuses and touring theatre shows. There are also many less developed cities that have luxury resorts often used for corporate retreats or Meetings, Incentives, Conventions & Exhibitions (MICE events).
The luxury cruise market is also booming in Asia, especially for the North Asia market. Many international cruise liners are now serving Asia in the summer and the number is only growing. Royal Caribbean’s newest largest ship, “Ovation of the Seas” (a ship I’m headlining in the second half of 2016) will be based out of Tianjin from 2016.
So, there are many opportunities for entertainers to get lucrative work in Asia although the work is very diverse and not solely in traditional performance venues like in theatres. showrooms, varieties or circuses in the US and Europe.
I will discuss four specific areas that are highly relevant to entertainers.
Audiences in Asia
The audience culture of Asians is quite different from Western audiences. In general, Asian audiences are much less expressive than Western audiences.
One obvious example is the standing ovation. It is common for Western audiences to give standing ovations to an outstanding act or a show that they thoroughly enjoyed. This is generally not the case in Asia.
If an Asian audience really likes an act or show, they may clap loudly or cheer. The equivalent of the standing ovation is when the audience holds their hands high up or above their heads when they clap.
However; even within Asia, there is a disparity in the way audiences in different counties react or express themselves. Naturally, this is a generalized statement and does not take into account the differences in reactions in different social settings or between social classes.
There are sociological and cultural reasons why different Asian audiences react differently from each other and why Asians in general react differently from Western audiences but this is not the scope of this article.
Here is a guideline of how expressive different audiences are in Asia.
1 – Least expressive. Little or mild applause
5 – Most expressive. Loud applause, cheers, visual & verbal reactions.
As a comparison, the average Western audience would be a 4 or 5.
- Japan – 5
- Philippines – 3.5
- Malaysia – 2
- China – 3
- Taiwan – 4
- Singapore – 1
- Hong Kong – 3
- India – 4
- Indonesia – 3
- Thailand – 3
- Vietnam – 2.5
- Korea – 4
I’m almost embarrassed to admit but Singapore (my home country) is the toughest audience in Asia and possibly in the world. Many Western performers who have performed here have called it the “performer’s graveyard”. So, it you can do well in Singapore, you are likely to do well anywhere else in the world.
Like in any other part of the world, each country has its own language. The business language throughout Asia is English but there are many countries where English is not widely spoken. This includes China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia; to name the major counties.
Most people in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Philippines and India speak and understand English.
There are enough countries where you can perform in English but naturally, if you have a silent act, you can perform anywhere. If you are a foreigner but can perform in one of the Asian languages, you will also be in demand, if you have a solid act.
Naturally, in terms of content, you have to be aware of certain cultural sensitivities in the counties you perform in. You must also be aware that pop culture from your country or region may be lost in Asia.
Compared to the US and Europe, show support is generally not of the same standard.
Aside from the handful of world-class performance venues throughout Asia and special events managed by top event management companies, most venues and event support services are generally slightly below average based on international benchmarks.
When it comes to hardware, standards are comparable to Europe and the US but unfortunately, the human professional expertise does not accompany the hardware. Standards vary from country to country but generally, the standards in Asian are significantly lower than in Europe and the US.
In fact, getting to work with high-level professionals at general shows or events occurs only about 30% of the time. This covers all aspects of a show from set design, sound, lighting & video, stage management and show production.
Stage crew and technicians are generally not professionals who have a high level of professional expertise but are usually freelancers who do not have any formal training or professional experience.
You have to manage your expectations and keep cues simple. Many show callers or technicians may not even be familiar with a set of professional cues and might find them overwhelming.
In addition, there might be a language barrier so it is important to be patient, clear and keep things as simple as possible. Most professional shows or acts will bring their own show caller to run the show to avoid problems in culture or communication.
At a professional level for entertainers,doing business in Asia is no different from most developing or developed countries.
Clients or show bookers will communicate in English, even if it is their second language. Although it is also possible that they might be using Google Translate to translate their emails.
The level of professionalism and responsiveness in communication varies from country to country: although at the high level, it is pretty much good all around.
Having said that, when it comes to responsiveness in communication, I have found that the culture in India is particularly unresponsive. It is common for a client or show booker in India to make request for a quotation or proposal and never respond even after follow up emails or calls. Then, two weeks before the show, they contact you again out of the blue to confirm the show and expect you to be available to take on the show.
Any time you do business internationally, not just in Asia, you have to be sure you know who you are dealing with. Trust and risk are part of business so you have to access the legitimacy of the booking and the client.
A lot depends on the reputation of the client or show booker. Researching online or asking fellow entertainers will reveal if there are any issues that you should be aware of.
If your research reveals little on the client or show booker, you will have to assess his trustworthiness based on the professionalism and communication of the party. If the client is prompt and open in answering questions and provides specific answers, especially when it comes to payment and payment terms, it is an indication that the client may be trustworthy.
If you do go ahead to make a deal, be sure to have the proper contracts in place to safeguard yourself as best as possible. However, bear in mind, a contract is not a guarantee that a client will pay. At most, it gives some piece of mind. If a client defaults on payment, the amount may not be worth going through international arbitration or getting lawyers involved at the international level.
I have heard of a story where an illusionist was “booked” to perform a show in China. Information about the theatre and theatre owner were given (which were legitimate upon research) and a contract was written up. An air ticket was sent over as well as arrangements to have all his props and equipment picked up to be shipped over to China. After the props were shipped, the illusionist flew to China only to find no one waiting at the airport. When he headed over to the theater (which existed), he discovered to his horror that no booking of his show was made and that someone had used the identity of the owner to con him into shipping his props over to China, which were now gone forever.
Of course, this could happen in any country, not just in Asia, but some countries may be more “dangerous” than others.
To avoid any potential problems, it would be best to agree on the following terms:
- 50% payment before you fly inclusive of full payment of air travel (return) and excess baggage costs/ shipping.
- 50% payment (cash) before your show or before your last show if you are doing a series of shows
These are my contract terms when I work internationally (not just in Asia), unless it is with a large reputable organization or longstanding agent/ client.
You must also agree on who will pay for all incidental and associated costs like Visas, excess baggage costs (if any), temporary import licenses (if equipment is shipped), meals and ground transport.
One major consideration when making deals in Asia is to be aware of the exchange rate between Asian currencies and Western currencies. It is advisable to charge in US dollar or Euro, although the Asian currencies are continually strengthening against them. But currently, this is still the best option.
As this article is a general article on performing in Asia, it is impossible to cover the idiosyncrasies and unique differences of every country.
It is important for you to do your research on the specific country you are being requested in and learn as much as you can about business practices, safety, culture and etiquette.
For a Westerner’s perspective on performing in Asia, click here to listen to a 25-min audio interview with European quick change artistes, Sebastian & Kristina. This duo has performed across the world including spending over a year in Asia.
Sebastian & Kristina, Quick Change Artists from Hungary