A successful stage performance depends on performers' professional skills and demands superb backdrops, sound, lighting and technology to provide aesthetic effects for productions. Experts involved in these types of art and technologies have been sought-after for years. The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) was aware of the need to introduce a fine arts master's degree programme in 1996 to train such professionals. But a lack of funding and administrative problems meant the course was never realised until recently after overcoming the hurdles. The academy's School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts will be the first in Asia to open a higher education course in technical arts for theatre, dance, music and stage performance productions. The belated programme, starting in September this year, will accept about 15 full-time and another 15 part-time students. 'This international degree course does not only cater for local students,' said John Williams, dean of theatre and entertainment arts. 'We expect to recruit students from Finland, Thailand, Singapore, Australia and China.' He said participants would have golden employment opportunities locally and internationally. The planned West Kowloon Cultural District project is to develop many more new theatres. The government's Leisure and Cultural Services Department offers stage manager positions, and further expansion projects at Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park will guarantee more employment opportunities. With more entertainment venues and resort theatres being built in Macau, and constant demand for theatre art experts from Europe and the United States, the training also grooms participants wishing to spread their wings overseas. Applicants to the master of fine arts in theatre and entertainment arts must possess some work experience after graduating from a qualified bachelor of fine arts degree. The programme consists of entertainment design and technology studies and participants must choose lighting design, sound design or technical direction as one of their major studies. The training will enable them to learn cross-discipline - with good understanding of the other two disciplines - and they will be able to intermix them with their creations. 'We will take their work to a more advanced level, requiring them to further enrich and improve their technical skills. 'They will become more versatile and capable of taking up the leadership role of bringing aesthetics to realisation. 'They will be competent in working with directors, playwrights and choreographers to generate new work and innovative ideas for their performances,' Mr Williams said. Other specialisation studies under the master's degree programme include theatre design and arts and events management. Participants taking up theatre design may opt for either scenic design or costume design as their major study. They can also study both to obtain a double degree. Skills in costume design involve tailoring and the making of draping props, while scenic design requires substantial painting work. Gillian Choa, senior lecturer of theatre design, said students would reach a higher level of advanced skills in their studies. 'They will have many opportunities to collaborate and experiment with a variety of projects with other art schools' in-house productions. There is no limit to what they can do. 'We hope students coming here will be inspired and think out of the box to create original works and become leaders in their industry,' she said. The arts and events management course aims to train experts to better manage and promote carnivals, concerts, road shows and many other theatre productions. They will also be responsible for fund raising - an important mission for many performing groups.