DJ Snake’s “Let Me Love You” blared from giant speakers to greet the arriving audience. Once settled, they gasped and laughed at the antics of two American magicians before sitting back to savor opera, mime and dance.
The scene could have been from any variety performance on any weekend just about anywhere in the world. But this is Saudi Arabia. A closer look, and the cast was all male. Only men and children were allowed on stage at the end for photos, and the female stewards wore head-to-toe black cloaks under their fluorescent vests.
“It’s a new experience,” Mohammed al-Mawla, 20, a university student from Riyadh, said as the crowd mingled outside the marquee in King Abdullah Economic City where the event was held. “We’d love to have more such shows in the kingdom.”
To help overhaul the deteriorating economy, the government is relaxing the rules on having fun in the ultra-conservative society — and also plans to make some cash from it.
The kingdom is hardly synonymous with entertainment: religious police order music to be silenced, and citizens usually travel to Dubai or Bahrain when they want to catch a movie or a show. Now the plan is to make an industry of cheering people up.
The changes are part of Vision 2030, the blueprint for a post-oil economy revealed to Saudis in April.
When it comes to fun, it states that by 2020, there will be more than 450 clubs providing a variety of cultural activities and events. The target is to double household spending on recreation to 6 percent. That would be higher than the 4 percent the U.S. Labor Department shows Americans spent on entertainment in 2015.