IT was the big one as far as Tracey Pestridge was concerned. A clerk in a Japanese bank by day, for a week late last year she became a high falutin' Hot Box Dancer once the sun went down and the curtain came up. 'This is a dream I've always had,' enthused Pestridge as she smeared on thick make-up in a cramped Shouson Theatre changing room and readied herself for a matinee performance of Guys And Dolls while other women dropped their knickers along with their inhibitions and jostled for mirror space around her. Pestridge had joined the Hong Kong Singers and the ranks of amateur dramatics enthusiasts here - a hardy bunch who, at least once a year, put their lives on hold and their regular jobs on the line. All this for the sake of their hobby, or as some would call it 'art'. 'I went to see the Hong Kong Singers' production of Pirates Of Penzance,' Pestridge said. 'And I thought to myself 'I could do that'. So I auditioned.' Further down the corridor, men were padding around in Y-fronts, blusher and very little else. Pestridge was loving every moment of her first foray on to the stage and into the air-kissed world of amateur dramatics. 'It's hard work, but worth it,' she said. In Hong Kong English-language theatre is left largely to part-timers. So anyone who's ever sung in the shower and feels they could fiddle on the roof or deliver a soliloquy with passion can try. Opportunities for budding Oliviers and thespians abound because the lack of professional talent and high turnover of actors means that amateur theatre groups are crying out for people who are prepared to 'have a go'. 'It's not about bored housewives on the Peak putting on a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan,' says Emma Griffiths, co-founder of professional theatre company, Agitprop. 'They may not have formal training, but a lot of these people are naturals.' Hong Kong is heaven for greasepaint-addicted luvvies masquerading as lawyers, teachers, secretaries and accountants, who make it their mission to provide everything from Tennessee Williams' dramas to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and the perennial panto. Handling the egos of part-time performers can be as delicate a task as juggling limited funds or finding a suitable venue. 'In Hong Kong, everyone wants to be centre stage,' says Laurie Bacon, an experienced actor and director who makes a crust on the property market but gets her kicks from drama. 'You have to remind people that we're not in Hollywood and we're a long way off Broadway.' There are a lot of drama queens in this town, and lot of kissy-kissy types who give amateur dramatics a bad name,' says Bacon. Producers and directors like Bacon are emphatic that amateur dramatics should not be about cast-bonding sessions and hogging the limelight. With tight schedules and limited rehearsal time, co-ordinating and directing amateurs can be a full-time nightmare. 'It takes a lot of time. Casting's no problem, it's getting people to commit that is,' says producer Katherine Marlow. 'It's like four nights a week for a couple of months, and for me, it seems to be all day as well.' While amateur dramatics may be the ultimate high for the inexperienced, Karley Ng Ka-hai, founder and artistic director of Exploration Theatre, said the calibre isn't even what it used to be. 'I used to go and watch amateur theatre here, but I've found the standard has got lower and lower. As a professional, it is very frustrating,' says Ng. 'I feel they may not be able to get the best cast because people move around so much. 'There is a real lack of very proper professional English-language drama groups.' Meanwhile, old hands relive horror stories of stage fright, sleepless nights, physical exhaustion and the more difficult and delicate problem of bosses at work. One secretary was threatened with the sack while a lawyer turned up late with the curtain about to go up after a senior partner decided it was time for 'a little chat'. So what is it that motivates people to get involved in amateur dramatics in the first place? 'Oh well, that's easy. If you're an actor by nature, you just want to be on the stage. There's nothing like it,' says Bacon. 'It's hard to describe. It's like a parachutist: why would they want to jump out of a plane? It's all about thrill.' This realisation came to Carleena Walsh a long time ago. A petite woman with a big voice, Walsh has a burning desire to be on stage full-time. She loves the theatre and gets involved with as many productions as possible. But how does being permanently star-struck fit in with her day-to-day life? 'I don't know how I manage it half the time, but I do,' says Walsh, who adds that her passion for the stage is not shared by her other half. 'He made the mistake of coming to a cast party once. I would never let him come to another one. 'He left saying that we were all so high. He couldn't understand it I suppose.'