Theatres fear crisis as ticket sales fall fast

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am

Economic downturn blamed for disappointing show attendances

The performing arts, which have seen a rise in attendance over the past few years, have been battered by the economic crisis, with audience numbers in sharp decline.

Members of the arts community said that while the bigger groups were likely to ride out the crisis, smaller ones might not survive, and young artists might quit the theatre scene, leaving a gap that could hinder the development of performances for the West Kowloon Cultural District.

Theatre groups have recorded sharp declines in ticket sales recently. The Repertory Theatre sold only 50 per cent of the tickets for its January performance of Caligula. However, sales for its smaller show, The Lark, were better at 70 per cent.

The theatre group's executive director, Chan Kin-bun, described the lower box office takings as serious, as the two shows had been expected to sell more than 85 per cent of tickets. 'The scene does not look good. We have been having promotions, such as 'buy one, get one free', to get more people to come to shows,' Mr Chan said.

Chung Ying Theatre Company general manager Angus Chan Man-bun said that attendance for the December performance of Freshly Frozen School was 85 per cent, 10 per cent less than expected. 'Usually, we sell 90 to 95 per cent of tickets during the Christmas season,' he said.

He expected box office takings to drop further for the company's March show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Mr Angus Chan said that box office takings had been hit by the financial crisis and that the company hoped to come up with promotions to improve ticket sales.

Smaller groups, which depend on ticket sales for survival, were the hardest hit. Gladys Wong Yee-mun, executive committee member of the Federation of Drama Societies, said that Heiquan Theatre's Hekulada, a show that she produced, had sold only 28 per cent of tickets 10 days before it opens on February 12.

Many small arts groups were in a similar situation, with some selling a mere 20 per cent of tickets, Ms Wong said. Some groups had offered great discounts and buy-one-get-one-free offers but that had not helped, she added. 'March, April and May will be the worst months - it's after the Arts Festival and the tax-payment period,' Ms Wong said. 'People don't spend money.'

Ana Yau Chung-fun, programme officer of Whole Theatre, said that about one week before the opening of Broadway Show on January 1, an average of only two tickets were sold for each of the 24 performances. The show was held at an 88-seat auditorium at Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre.

Ms Yau said that the situation was worse than during the Sars outbreak in 2003.

Clifton Ko Chi-sum, a member of the Committee on Performing Arts, an advisory body, urged speedy government help.

'How can the groups survive?' he said. 'If these young artists cannot survive this crisis and decide to walk away from the performing arts scene, there will be a huge gap within the sector. What will happen by the time the West Kowloon Cultural District is built?'

Ms Wong said many artists might have to turn to teaching or administrative work if they could not get opportunities to perform.

The Committee on Performing Arts will meet tomorrow - its first meeting for the current term which began in November.

A Home Affairs Bureau spokesman said the committee had not been able to meet earlier, due to scheduling difficulties. He said support for small and medium-sized performing groups was on the agenda at tomorrow's meeting.