Cantonese opera in tasting portions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am


The rejuvenated Yau Ma Tei Theatre will stage short Cantonese operas to entertain tourists new to the art form and full-length ones performed by budding stars as it becomes a training hub for talented young performers.

The building, formerly a cinema, on Waterloo Road was built in 1930. It has been converted at a cost of HK$180 million by the Architectural Services Department into a 300-seat theatre devoted to producing new blood for the opera stage.

The Chinese Artists Association, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's partner in the venue, has drawn up plans to use the theatre to train new talent. It will use the building rent-free.

Alisa Shum Kam-sin, chief executive of the association, says it is recruiting two dozen young and mid-career artists to receive training from six masters of Cantonese opera, including actor, director and playwright Yuen Siu-fai and opera artist -turned-film star Law Ka-ying.

The budding artists will perform 130 shows in the theatre's first year, starting in July, and 72 short shows.

'To attract tourists and people who are not familiar with Cantonese opera, we will be running the short shows, lasting for 45 minutes, to let them have a taste of what it is,' Shum said.

Yuen, vice-president of the association, says the venue is too small to stage commercial productions but he has 'high hopes' it will be a cradle for the art's development.

The grade two historic building is the only surviving pre-war theatre in Kowloon. Huckleburry King Kwok-cheung, senior architect in the Architectural Services Department, said it took two years to restore.

'We did not want to make it a lavish structure but to keep it as a modest building in the grass-roots neighbourhood, just as it was,' he said.

The theatre first opened in the days of silent films. Two walls on the sides of the stage, believed to have held a balcony for someone doing the voice-over or the narration, have been preserved. Rehearsal rooms, a souvenir shop and office are housed in a red-brick building nearby. It was built in 1895 as the engineer's office for the old water pumping station on Shanghai Street and is listed as a grade one historic site.

A plan for an extension to house a restaurant and enlarge the lobby and the backstage is in doubt, Clare Cheung Ho-fong, senior manager with Leisure and Cultural Services, said, because it would entail relocating the adjacent refuse collection station and a street sleepers' home.