UNTIL March the Arts Centre is presenting a monthly series of new productions by small-scale Hong Kong theatre companies, under the title, Climatic Shorts. Not too surprising, until you realise this is the first major festival of Hong Kong-based performing artists at the centre for two years. ''Since 1991 the Performing Arts Department has been almost non-existent, so the Arts Centre hasn't had a vision of what should happen in the performing arts,'' said Harry Cheung, organiser of Climatic Shorts. A graduate of the Academy for Performing Arts (APA), he was drafted into the Arts Centre to help with last winter's Second Asian People's Theatre Festival, and stayed. Still on a temporary contract with no specific post, Cheung feels it is vital for the centre to review its policy on the performing arts, and that the Climatic Shorts Festival is an important first step. Some companies, such as Sand and Bricks (performing in November and again in February), and the Carlsberg Wan Chai Theatre (leading a series of creative workshops in March 1994), are old hands on the Hong Kong drama scene. Others, such as Passover, a dance theatre company made up of APA dance graduates, are newcomers, while Theatre Resolu is a new company comprising two well-known local artists,, Kevin Ho and Tang Shu-wing, the latter recently returned from studying movement in Paris. The companies represent a cross-section of the professional and semi-professional groups working in the territory. Beyond that there is nothing to unite them - Cheung believes the drama scene is not yet ready for a festival with a theme. Almost half the companies comprise APA graduates who Cheung knows from his student days. For example, Stand-Up Productions, which will be performing later this month, is made up of technical arts graduates. Cheung admits there has been a certain subjectivity in choosing the groups, but then states: ''Seeing as so much money has gone into the academy, they should be supported and offered opportunities to use their training for the benefit of Hong Kong audiences.'' But what is the difference between mounting a festival, and letting the companies hire the studio, as has been the case for the past few years? Cheung explains it mainly comes down to organisation: ''Most of the small companies have to spend too much of their time on administration, and because they tend not to be that organised, nor have adequate resources, the creative work suffers. ''Under the Climatic Shorts arrangements, we'll do all the administration - sorting out the venue, doing the publicity and ticketing, and they can just concentrate on the creative work, which is the most important thing.'' He believes the Arts Centre should be setting a vision and direction for the performing arts. The idea of presenting the performances as a festival focuses audiences on the overall state of drama in the territory, and enables wider potential publicity options. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly it is a more attractive package to sponsors. Cheung is confident the series will be a success. Judging by the first production by Theatre Ensemble last month - which sold out for eight nights and an extra performance - he could be right. If he is, then he hopes the Arts Centre takes notice: ''The programme has had good support from the other departments, but I really hope it'll mean we get a budget increase next year.'' In the meantime, he is already preparing ideas for next year's programme and getting ready, he jokes, to ''throw all the proposals at potential sponsors''. Stand-Up Productions will be performing at the McAulay Studio on September 17-19 and the Climatic Shorts series continues at the Arts Centre until March 1994.