Why Hong Kong’s theatre design graduates have no lack of job opportunities

School under the Academy for Performing Arts boasts an employment rate of 98 per cent among graduates

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 June, 2017, 2:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2017, 11:52am

Graduates in theatre design are much sought after for their versatile skills but there is still a lack of appreciation for the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, according to a school dean and young artists.

Twenty-two graduates of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ school of theatre and entertainment arts have rolled out their signature works in an exhibition at the institution. The school is a specialised wing of the academy.

“There are many job opportunities for our students, whether it’s design, technology, lighting or sound – they are all needed,” Professor Gillian Choa, school dean since 2013, said.

Students in the four-year curriculum for the bachelor’s degree in fine arts must cover 12 fields, from costume to technical drawing, before taking up their majors.

Choa recalled that, when Hong Kong Disneyland and Macau’s entertainment industry both started, “thousands of technicians” were sought from the school. “We couldn’t fill the vacancies even if we gave them all our graduates.”

At the time, she added, HKAPA graduates were helping implement others’ ideas, especially from the US, without offering much creative input. “Now it’s very different and I think it’s the confidence employers have in our graduates. Some of our alumni are now in senior positions in design and management.”

Universal Studios in Beijing, due to open in 2020, has also approached the school about possible job opportunities.

“Our students graduate as professionals and they can assist or work independently with all the practical training they received thanks to the six schools at the academy, which present 13 productions every year,” the dean said.

Hong Kong students, she claimed, enjoyed a competitive advantage in spoken and creative languages, even on the international market.

The school now boasts a 98 per cent employment rate among its graduates.

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Zora Lai Lok-yan, a 2017 graduate in costume technology, whose “Cinderella transforming dress” – a unique outfit that can change form and colour in a split second – will take up a job in Switzerland next month.

Here work is featured in the current exhibition.

I have no problem finding a job but remuneration is lower than what I expected
Zora Lai, costume technology graduate

“My parents were tailors in the bygone textile industry, so it’s a natural thing for me to go into costume design,” Lai, 24, said.

“I have no problem finding a job but remuneration is lower than what I expected. Perhaps it’s hard for people to appreciate tailor-made costumes when they can get everything cheap on Taobao,” she added, referring to China’s online retail giant.

Fellow graduate Ryan Lo, 22, secured a job as an instructor at the general education unit of the University of Hong Kong even before he received his degree.

“I once worried about employment with a degree in set and costume design, but no longer after offers poured in during my final year,” said the Toronto native, who now works as a freelancer.

“I will first have some fun and learn by freelancing. Recently there was a demand for designs of haunted houses since Halloween is coming,” he added.

The HKAPA exhibition is open to the public at the school’s Wan Chai campus and runs until July 2.