24 hours with Grace Lang

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 12:00am

The festival is non-stop. I might get a call at 7am because something has happened the night before: artists wanting to reschedule their performances; something wrong with the lighting; or it was a late night and they need more time to set up the next day. Sometimes, before I go to bed about 1am, I call my colleagues to see how their day went and if there is anything I need to know that requires immediate action.

We've got over 40 different programmes with artists and performers from more than 20 countries and many are here rehearsing weeks before the festival begins. Saying that, we are still fixing the freight schedule for the Ballet Nacional de Espa?a because they are rehearsing elsewhere right up to their arrival in Hong Kong and they want us to fly their costumes in. We are negotiating about money and who is going to pay for this extra air cargo. I hope it will be sorted out by the time they get here.

During the day I rush from rehearsal to rehearsal, making sure everything is running smoothly and the artists are happy and being taken care of. We have to keep a careful eye on everything because there are so many languages and it would be easy for things to go wrong. We have freelance translators, but some of the artists bring their own because there is a lot of technical language used on stage.

Sometimes they like to have a local translator to assist them so they feel more at home. A local person will be able to tell them where to go for Chinese food, snacks or noodles, because many of the artists are pushed for time and need to know where to get a proper meal or where to go for good dim sum. The ones we provide do a really good job, but occasionally you need those with performance experience, especially with the English and Chinese translations we project onto the screen during a performance.

We hire someone to cue this special machine we have - although I think it needs improvement - where you have two people pressing the keys simultaneously to bring up the Chinese and English text translation of the original. For example, in the Polish National Opera's Otello, the person cuing will be saying 'next, next, next', but by the time they have heard and pressed the button, it's already one or two seconds late. Show directors can be very demanding and want the timing exact, and so do the people in the audience who are used to these performances. You have to take care of anything that could potentially interfere with the artistic quality of the show no matter how small it is. So the production side takes up a lot of time.

You also have to deal with cultural differences. The ways the Polish, Spanish and Chinese work, for example, are completely different. They all work at a different pace or have breaks at different times so you have to adjust to work with various people. It's a lot of effort.

My mealtimes revolve around the artists' schedules. I try to meet up with them for dinner, lunch or coffee so we can talk about future projects. Sometimes it will be with an artist's agent trying to sell you their product. It's also a good opportunity for me to catch up with what's going on in the art world because they talk about other artists and things that are happening in their own countries. It's my chance for an art recharge during the festival.

Every night I try to watch a performance. One night during a previous festival I went to three performances. I ran from the Academy of Performing Arts to the Hong Kong Arts Centre and across the harbour to the Cultural Centre - so now I wear flat shoes.

After the evening shows I might have a meal with an artist. This year there are so many shows happening each evening; six or seven shows on one night. What should I do? We work out among the team how to help make the artists feel at home because some may not be aware so many things are happening in one evening and I may not be able to sit down with them all.

I also try to keep track of where the artists have been on tour because they tend to make comparisons between the hotels they stay in, in different parts of the world. One year, Herbie Hancock was not so happy with the four-star hotel we'd given him because he'd been given a five-star hotel in the city he was performing in before he arrived in Hong Kong. He said: 'Oh, before we arrived, we heard from friends that the Peninsula was the best hotel in town so I would like to be in the Peninsula.'

At the moment I'm looking for extras for the Bejart Ballet Lausanne. They need 23 young, good-looking local men to appear, bare-chested, on stage. They don't have to do much but they have to move well. We got some although a few have since had to drop out because of school examinations. By the time this article is published I will have found them. I'm bound by the contract so I have to find them. This is the first time I've had to find so many men!

Despite the busy festival period I still find time to teach Sunday school, play the pipe organ at church on Sundays and perform my prayers. These are my quiet moments where I can collect myself and recharge spiritually.

At the end of the festival we still have a lot of administration tasks to complete, such as paying contractors or artists, settling their hotel bills and paying for things they've broken - like beds. One year we had the Prague Opera here and they cooked steaks in their room. They'd even brought their own oven. New things do happen and I'm expecting something new this year.

The Hong Kong Arts Festival runs until March 20.