JUST before counter bookings opened and more than two months before the 1995 Hong Kong Arts Festival was scheduled to start, it was already difficult to get a programme. This invaluable aid lists the 38 local and international shows that will be performed in 15 venues during the three weeks of the festival. The higher-than-expected popularity of the programme booklet was one of the nicer problems of organising such a well-respected and large arts festival, the festival's new director, Ng Kau, said. 'Next year, we will make sure we print enough copies. But, don't worry, the 110,000 tickets are not sold out yet,' he said. Although most of the 100,000 programmes in the first print run had been snatched up last week, a further 125,000 pocket-sized programmes have been printed to coincide with today's opening of counter bookings. 'We still need to do an extensive marketing and promotion programme, even though the festival has been established since 1973 and is known as a major arts event internationally,' Mr Ng said. 'We cannot take things for granted.' Patrons who might feel the spontaneity of festival time is lost by having to book tickets several months in advance should spare a thought for Mr Ng and his team, who must book acts well over a year in advance. Already plans for the 1996 and 1997 festivals were well underway, he said. 'Orchestras, especially, need to be booked a long time in advance because of their travel commitments; the same with opera productions and famous soloists,' he said. Mr Ng took over the festival directorship in July, so most of the long-term organising for next year had been taken care of. He admitted to being surprised at how much organising and co-ordinating was needed and how complex it was to pack so many events into a small period in so many venues. 'Hong Kong is a very exciting venue, with its cultural centre, the town halls in the New Territories, as well as civic centres,' he said. The festival is now reaching its 22nd year, but Mr Ng said he believed the aims of the Arts Festival should remain the same as they were in 1973 - 'to promote local and international programmes with a high standard for the enjoyment of the people of Hong Kong'. 'This year, for example, we are bringing influential, important works for our Theatre of Vision Series from Robert Wilson, Robert Lepage and Tadashi Suzuki,' he said. When asked to give three hot tips for next year's festival, Mr Ng said 38 acts represented too little choice. 'I would recommend people see as many as they can and hop from one venue to another to accommodate the tight schedule,' he said. Pressed on his top choices, Mr Ng suggested the Festival Opera, Un Ballo In Maschera by Guiseppe Verdi, the Theatre Vision series of Doctor Faustus directed by Robert Wilson, Waiting for Romeo from Tadashi Suzuki and Le Theatre Repere from Robert Lepage. He also recommended the Staatskapelle Dresden, which was founded in 1548 and is one of the world's oldest orchestras. 'I will not change for the sake of change, but already we have made this year's festival more entertaining and easier to enjoy,' Mr Ng said. 'People sometimes have a misconception that arts programmes are hard to understand, so one thing that the organisers have been conscious of making sure of is that the Arts Festival does not scare off too many people. 'We have introduced more popular traditional fun and accessible performances, like the Tango Para Dos from Argentina and the Silent horror classics of Nosferatu and Faust with live accompaniment from French rock group Art Zoyd. 'We are trying to bring something new that widens artistic horizons and strikes a delicate balance.' Mr Ng said he wanted the festival to be a community event and hoped to see bigger audiences and more sponsors. Local shows, such as Farewell, My Concubine with Cantonese opera singers, and productions such as The Little Left Shoe in joint co-operation with Czech puppet artists and the Hong Kong-based Anonymous Theatre Company were the type of acts he would like to encourage in the future. Organising a festival is one headache, making it support itself is another. For the 1995 festival there are three major funding bodies: Hong Kong Arts Development Council, the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, and the Urban Council. These three made up 43 per cent of this year's budget and the rest involved sponsorship and ticket sales, Mr Ng said. 'We have to work hard to come up with funds to match operational expenses. 'We need to rely on corporate sponsorship and we want to make the arts more accessible to a young audience so our student ticket scheme offers 60 per cent off regular ticket prices to students. We need corporations to subsidise the difference.' Judging by the keenness by the Hong Kong public to snaffle a programme and by the diverse range of acts, many of which are likely to sell out soon, he recommended starting planning the three arts festival weeks in February and March now.