Chinese director Huang Dingshan will never forget Lunar New Year's Eve of 2014. Then, thousands of miles away from his home in Beijing, Huang was in Xichang city, in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, in Southwest China's Sichuan province, spending the day with actors of the Liangshan Song and Dance Troupe, the first national performing art troupe of the Yi ethnic group, which was founded in 1956 in Sichuan.
They were busy with rehearsing for the original opera, Yi Hong, which tells the story of how the Yi people of the Daliangshan mountain area of the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture battled alongside the Red Army in the 1930s.
The Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture has the largest population of Yi ethnic people. It is also home to 14 ethnic groups, including the Hui and Tibetans.
The prefecture which has a population of more than 5 million people is also a major focus of the country's poverty alleviation program.
The beautiful natural scenery, especially lakes and the snow in the Daliangshan mountain area, and the lively nature of the local Yi ethnic people so impressed Huang that he vowed to bring more theatrical productions to Daliangshan mountain area.
After four years' preparation, Huang, along with 20 artists from seven countries, including China, Japan, South Korea and the United States, initiated plans for the Daliangshan International Theater Festival, which will be held in Xichang city for the first time in November.
The initiators, including Huang, Li Ting, the scriptwriter of the opera, Yi Hong, and veteran Chinese actor Pu Cunxin, who is also the chairman of the China Theater Association, announced plans for the festival in Beijing on March 27, World Theater Day, a day to promote theater which has been celebrated globally since 1962.
The festival, which is to be held every November, will bring together theater productions from around the world, and they will be staged in three categories: mountain, lake and city, "three important symbols of the Daliangshan area", says Huang.
With indoor and outdoor performances, the audience will enjoy a diversity of theater productions from established to young artists.
Scriptwriter Li spent her youth in Daliangshan mountain area. So taking a theater festival to that area is significant to her personally.
"I spent a very long time living in that area (from the age of 6 to 26) and I heard so many stories of the Yi people, which I hope more people will get to hear," says Li.
As for Pu, he visited the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, which is located at the remote Daliangshan mountain area, in 2018.
He also visited local art schools, theaters and participated in the Torch Festival, the most important festival for the Yi people.
"It will be an inspiring experience for artists from around the world to explore the Daliangshan mountain area, especially Yi ethnic culture," Pu says.
"The festival also offers the people of the Daliangshan mountain area an opportunity to open up and see a bigger world."
Pu says that theater productions when combined with tourism are seen as a powerful marketing strategy in the branding of cities.
For example, Wuzhen, a historical scenic town in Tongxiang in the north of Zhejiang province, garnered international attention with the Wuzhen Theater Festival, an annual event launched in 2013.
Meanwhile, according to the latest report from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of tourism-related performances increased from 187 in 2013 to 268 in 2017, with attendance numbers rising from 27.89 million to 68.21 million during the same period.
And total income from the shows increased from 2.26 billion yuan ($337 million) to 5.15 billion yuan from 2013 to 2017.
"Ethnic culture has shaped the country and is about the everyday life of the local people. So we hope that people who know little about the Daliangshan mountain area will embark on a journey there," says Pu.