Hong Kong theatre needs support to make an impact abroad

Jingan Young says the impact of local theatre abroad is undermined by lack of funds, poor venues and imported competition, but change is afoot

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 12:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 2:39am

Lack of funding, inadequate venues and the consistent import of productions from abroad are some of the reasons Hong Kong theatre isn't making an impact abroad. But it appears local theatre makers have had enough - slowly but surely change is happening. All we need now is the Hong Kong people's support.

In June, I wrote about the lack of communication between Hong Kong's theatre makers.

I organised a debate earlier this month, inviting three individuals who produce, promote and pioneer the arts to give their views on the state of theatre in Hong Kong. A journalist, a producer for the arts, an artistic director of a local theatre company and I discussed and argued about the problems that we each face. Inevitably, lack of funding and venues were the most pressing concerns.

However, one very important question remained; why don't we export more Hong Kong theatre?

We are starting to see a shift in the conversation from lack of government support to lack of pioneering spirit amongst the artists themselves, and a positive dialogue is opening up between local and English-speaking practitioners.

The solution also lies in garnering support from the Hong Kong people. But how can we encourage their enthusiasm?

One problem is the public's long-held notion that the arts are only for the elite or a form of propaganda. We need to portray the arts as inviting, enriching and life-changing, whilst supporting artists so they can continue to be creative and productive.

Why don't we translate local playwrights? Why don't we see local productions packaged, promoted and exported overseas? Surely our wide "appeal" is because we are a "melting pot" of cultures?

Perhaps it is a matter of what we are producing; the subjects that local theatre makers are exploring and why. How can we motivate young people to write about what they know rather than simply regurgitating what they see on television?

Earlier this month, the Post reported that the Hong Kong Arts Festival is in the midst of a discussion with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department for an increase in funding so it can bring more top acts to Hong Kong and "groom artistic talents by investing in more local productions and taking them abroad".

One solution with regards to the cost of exporting Hong Kong productions would be to enter into a long-standing cross-cultural exchange with theatre companies from abroad.

There is some real change afoot; a local theatre company, ThreeWoods Playwright, is marking its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council-supported Theatre du Pif are currently on tour in Canada with a local play, The Isle, written by Paul Poon. The Hong Kong Arts Festival is now accepting proposals from local practitioners to commission new works. West Kowloon has some exciting community projects in the pipeline.

There's some real groundbreaking work out there and its time for the people of Hong Kong and the international community to recognise it.

Jingan Young is a freelance writer and the first playwright commissioned to write in English for the 2014 Hong Kong Arts Festival