Young Post junior reporter goes backstage at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

Angelina Wang

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes at a stage show – as one of our junior reporters found out before the HKAPA Academy Festival

Angelina Wang |

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Students spend a lot of time making sure the sets are perfect.

From today until July 6, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) will present its first ever Academy Festival to showcase the talents of young performing artists, and to highlight the students from the Academy’s six Schools: Chinese Opera, Dance, Drama, Film and Television, Music, and Theatre and Entertainment Arts. The festival will also allow members of the public to experience and enjoy the essence of performing arts, and celebrate the efforts of the graduating classes.

Tonight’s School of Dance Spring Performances will kick off the Academy Festival, and as preparations for the festival went under way, Young Post popped backstage to explore the props and sets workshops. We also had a chat with Professor Samuel Leong, Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Academy Festival.

Professor Samuel Leong told us what makes the Festival unique in Hong Kong.
Photo: Angelina Wang

In the props workshop, volunteers and students were busy sculpting and creating a variety of props of all sizes. Yelling above the noise of students drilling away on their projects, Simpson Chan Kin-san, Assistant Property Maker of the School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts, explained that the process of creating each propvaries.

“Usually it takes around one month, but it also depends on the scale of the prop,” he said.

Props from previous productions hang from the ceiling and on the walls; a testament to the hard work and artistry of previous projects.One stand-out piece in particular was a realistic dinosaur head protruding from the wall.

“The dinosaur was by far the most time-consuming,” Chan revealed, “It took around six months;it was for a graduate project”.

From laser cutting to sawing, and 3D drawing, the two-storey workshop holds the many different tools used to construct props for the stage. There’s also a lot of work that goes into preparations for its creation.

“For each prop we have to do thorough research, consider the prop’s structure and material, plan the techniques required to make it ... and so on,” Chan told us. With that much to do, was it a mad dash to prepare for the Festival? Nope! “[We were] confident we could finish the props for the Festival in time for everyone to enjoy!”

And they did.

Meanwhile, over at the sets workshop, the sounds of bustling filled the air as students scurried around, painting and scrubbing, varnishing and hammering away at the life-size sets. Billy Chu Siu-fung, Assistant Scenic Artist of the School of Theatre and Entertainment Arts, took time to tell us all about set creation.

“There are structural students who work on the construction aspects of the set – for example, this entire wooden foundation was made by those students,” he said, gesturing to the large set resembling the inside of a house that’s being painted and varnished. “Then, there are the scenic students, who design the murals and paint the structures.”

As he spoke, several students in paint-covered overalls nodded in acknowledgement, and resumed methodically shining and painting the set. From Les Miserables to Chinese watercolour-style sets, several large murals hang on the high workshop walls; set designs from previous productions for students to admire and be inspired by as they work on their own projects.

While these displays come and go, Chu told us there’s one permanent fixture that always stays: the imperial dragon.

It was surprising to learn that contrary to what most might believe, sets tend to take less time than props to create!

“It usually takes around three to four days to construct a basic stage, but then again, that depends on the scale,” Chu confirmed. However, despite their hard work, set designers’ work is usuallyonly appreciated briefly. “We have a saying in show business: ‘10 years of prep, one minute onstage.’ This is an inherent part of the biz; one that we’re all painfully aware of.” Regardless of how much time it has in the spotlight, the artistry is still appreciated by its creators.

“Used props usually get dismounted, so the frame can be reused, but the canvas goes home with its artists, so they can enjoy their hard work whenever they please,” Chu said.

Thankfully, the Academy Festival is not for private consumption. Dr. Leong said what makes the Festival unique in Hong Kong is that it is a showcase and celebration of the diverse talent in the performing and visual arts.

For APA’sfirst Academy Festival, several shows are free so that everyone and anyone can enjoy them.

Dr. Leong hopes the Academy Festival will not only be a showcase, but will also entertain and interest younger audiences towards performing arts. “If youngsters can be happy with the festival, then that would be great!”

Edited by Heidi Yeung