Although theaters in Shanghai are still closed due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, shows have been gradually making their return to online platforms.
One of the latest to be released is Shanghai Grand Theater's first virtual production, Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament.
Jointly produced by Shanghai Grand Theater, Harmonia Theatrical and MG Live, the virtual-and interactive-show will run until June 30 on Tencent Meeting, a video-conferencing platform.
Each show will last 90 minutes and can be attended by four to 10 audience members.
Due to the warm response to the production-more than 60 percent of the tickets for the first round of the show have been sold-the theater released tickets for a second round that will run from July 1 to 15. A spinoff from the Sherlock Holmes Adventures, the play is adapted from the English production by Les Enfants Terribles, an award-winning theater company from Britain.
The story starts with three Cabinet members found murdered, and Holmes missing in action.
Each audience member will play the role of a new Scotland Yard recruit and work together with John H. Watson, who is played by a professional actor, to solve the case.
Following instructions and prompts from Watson, audience members will get to interrogate suspects, analyze crime scenes and collect evidence, sometimes by themselves, sometimes in a team.
They will also be involved in group discussions and employ their skills of deduction. Weekday shows are priced at 158 yuan ($24) and weekend shows at 188 yuan.
"We hope the online production will mark a restart of theater operations after the pandemic, and let people know the shows are back," Cao Yebo, general manager of Harmonia Theatrical, says.
Cao notes that people from all over the country have taken part in the show. "An important advantage of virtual theater is that it breaks the barrier of distance or location, and enables people to meet at an agreed time for a shared theatrical experience," he says.
Twenty actors have been recruited to play the role of Watson, who will also act as a host for the show.
Having to juggle multiple responsibilities, including operating online props from their computers, can be challenging for these actors, according to Tang Yuze, vice-director of the Chinese production.
"Such a unique theater experience is new for audiences as much as it is for the actors," Tang adds.
While acknowledging that the show is similar in style to online murder mystery games which have been immensely popular in China, Cao points out that the focus of the show is more on the theatrical aspects and storytelling instead of game mechanics.
"This is a new form of theater that will keep evolving, and there are no standard rules for now. We hope to set the bar with good acting, logistical support and audience service," Cao says.
The production is the latest experiment from Shanghai Grand Theater's online theater program, which kicked off two years ago.
"We have created livestreams of some high-quality international productions, and we want to try some new possibilities with this new virtual immersive theater production," Zhang Xiaoding, general manager of the theater, says.
"This will involve more interactions with the audiences. Our ultimate goal is to lure more internet users to the theater, and we look forward to meeting audiences here at the live show," Zhang says.