Don't try this at home, kids
IT'S A NON-STOP, five-week summer festival for children that aims to put smiles on their faces and maybe give their brains a workout, too.
Despite a shoestring budget, the lineup for this year's International Arts Carnival, organised by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), includes 10 overseas groups and 33 local ones, presenting a range of performances from acrobatics to music, dance, drama, clowning, puppetry, stage shows and film.
As well as all that, there are workshops, exhibitions, guided tours and parties.
This year, the LCSD has also thrown in a few performances and activities that may get youngsters thinking, such as Shakespeare's Hamlet, which will be staged in Cantonese by final year students at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. It's just one of 18 stage programmes and 66 performances being held during the carnival, which runs from July 7 until August 13.
Festival organiser and Shakespeare fan Elaine Yeung Chi-lan says she's delighted there will be some classical English-language theatre on offer - an area she says is on the decline in Hong Kong schools.
'Twenty years ago, English drama was popular in Hong Kong,' Yeung says. 'But these days, even in English literature classes, fewer students are studying the classics. There are a lot of works by modern playwrights, increasingly by local writers, but the classics are losing out.'
Director Tang Shu-wing has stuck closely to the original, which has been translated by Rupert Chan Kwan-yiu, but it's a shortened version - which may disappoint diehard fans. A Shakespearean Tragedy Lite? That remains to be seen.
Elsewhere, the Czech Republic's Theatre Image will stage the Kaleidoscope of Image Theatre, which is performed by actors dressed as reptilians and insects and relies heavily on the skills of the lighting man using a technique called black light. The audience is often in complete darkness, which can sometimes upset younger children - not to mention the occasional appearance in the aisles of assorted worms and other creatures. But Yeung says most children quickly get used to it and love the show.
Planning for the annual carnival often begins two years in advance and Yeung's budget of $9 million has to cover everything, from producing brochures to paying for the acts. As a result, she says she had to turn down some performances.
The various activities and shows will be spread among 15 venues, including Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Sha Tin Town Hall and Tuen Mun Town Hall. Last year's carnival attracted more than 160,000 people.
Another of this year's highlights is Jump, by South Korea's Yegam Inc, which tells the story of an idiosyncratic Korean family under the rule of a strict grandfather who insists on keeping them fit with vigorous martial arts training. The show, which has no dialogue, was a big success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a sellout in London's West End. 'Everyone can understand it,' says Yeung.
Homegrown cartoon character McDull is also teaming up with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta for classes in how to be a polite audience - 'Things like not clapping between movements,' says Yeung.
Also locally, Theatre Ensemble featuring Karena Lam Kar-yan, will showcase the artistic works of Taiwanese illustrator Jimmy Liao.
In keeping with the traditional fare of arts and crafts and acrobatics is festival opener Heroes, by the Wuhan Acrobatic Troupe. It promises plenty of Chinese heroes and heroines from different eras performing gravity-defying stunts and acrobatic feats.
Ballet has always featured in the festival, but this year Yeung is bringing out the Introdans Ensemble for Youth from the Netherlands. 'The dance circle in Hong Kong is quite small,' she says , referring to audience numbers. 'We want to introduce modern dance to them.'
And Yeung has two young critics constantly at hand who help keep her on the right track. 'I have two daughters at primary school who attend the events. At nine and 11, they're moving into the age group where they can enjoy a lot of the programme.'
International Arts Carnival, Jul 7-Aug 13. For programme details, go to www.hkiac.gov.hk