Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Backlash

The past week has been an interesting week for me as the Blog Master of Hk_Arts. Most of the community has had a polarizing reaction to the review I gave to Private Lives. I think it a little odd that I gave another review the same week to another company for their production of Fool La La and no one said anything despite it being one of the best shows of the year, in my opinion.

Most of the writing/blogger community has praised me for being honest and shared with me some "not so nice" feelings about the English speaking theatre community in Hong Kong. Some people jump to the defense of the companies and declare that the productions are "amateur" and therefore shouldn't be held to such a high standard. Here is my official statement about this past weeks' hoop lah.

1) Some times people don't like what you do... Get over it
I was raised to be a very tough artist. I was blessed with having the training to make me a very good artist but also to have been rejected enough times to grow a back bone. Because theatre is so competitive in the States we are given a dose of salt which each one of our classes. Examples being, "Learn a trade, you know you're never going to be paid artist.", "Your vision was interesting but was poorly executed." and the personal favorite I was ever told by a teacher, "Your talent is average, so you're going to have to make up for it in other ways."

This may seem like a tough way to train young theatre artists but I'm grateful for it now. Frankly, I'm used to people telling me that I suck. I'm always pleasantly surprised when someone likes what I do. I'm happy knowing that I did a good job in my eyes. It may sound a little egotistical but I respect the opinion of my cast and crew the most when it comes to my work.

And if by off chance, someone doesn't like what you do, ask them what they think you can do better.
Dialogue between actor and audience should be encouraged and we shouldn't feel scared to tell people that they suck because they're our friends or co-workers. All press is good. It means you did something that caught their attention.

2) Pre casting is Stupid
I have a serious problem with precasting. I think it's a sign of a weak director to only cast those you know without seeing what they can do with the text. Sure, it's really nice to work with your friends but you might find someone who is better than your friend. I have no problem NOT casting someone I know. (Just ask a couple of my friends that I've rejected.) It might hurt their feelings but if they respect the craft then they will know it's not personal.

A local blogger recently told me that the Hong Kong English Theatre Community was incestuous. I have to agree with him. It's always the same people on stage and off! I have to ask the question, do we do ourselves a disservice to the community by using the same people over and over? One of our past Artist of the Month people said her number one complaint of the HK Theatre Community was the lack of open casting calls. I agree with her. There need to be more, particularly for women. There seem to be a lot more castings for men in this town then the women. It's smart business because it opens your show up to a new audience and it's good for your art form to cast based on talent rather than a previous friendship.

3) Change is Good
I really like seeing new people on stage and seeing new kinds of material. I think we can only better ourselves as an artistic community by challenging ourselves to be better. I hate the word "amateur" for our shows here. Our prices are on par with off-broadway tickets in the US, so as an audience member I expect off-broadway quality. Yes, the venue prices are RIDICULOUS in this town and we all have to struggle to pay our budgets back but this doesn't mean we should be lazy and keep doing the same thing!

I may be a tough audience member for expecting greatness everytime I step in a theatre, but I feel that recently a lot of productions are going for what's easy rather than what's better.

4) Why the Divide?
The English and Chinese speaking community should work together rather than seperate.
The Cantonese Companies have better venues, storage containers full of props and scenery and the designs are always amazing. I don't see why the English design community can't be as good as them. We need to invest in storage rather than throwing everything out at the end of a show. It's wasteful and we can work together to pay for it. I think it's ridiculously wasteful for an entire set to be thrown out after a run. Parts can be reused for other productions. The best Cantonese scenic and lighting designers will not want to work with us as long as we have this mentality that the design is secondary to the performance. It's the glue that makes everything stick together! We need time for techs and cues to cues to get all the kinks out properly before opening to a payed audience.

In Conclusion
I hope people take this as a call to arms rather than a criticism. I want our community to be the best it can. I want to pull in more audience rather the same audience!  And I think by speaking up about the negative aspects of our business I can help change things I find are bad. Money is always tight in the art community, but if you can't afford to do the show well- don't do it. Pick something that is royalty free or cut costs somewhere so that you can stand a chance of giving your actors and designers something for their time. They deserve to paid at least a stipend for their time and effort.
We are only "amateurs" if we act like them.


  1. You mentioned a few things that I would agree with. (Some, I would not) But in regards to wasteful spending, this is the number one reason productions lose money on shows. Due to the fact that venues cost as much as they do, productions can choose to be more "frugal". There is a big difference here between frugal and cheap. Please don't confuse the two.
    My first year in HK I produced 6 shows in various venues including everything from The Fringe Club to The Flying Pan. Every show was $200 or under for a ticket, and every show had money at the end to pay actors, stage manager and director. This ranged anywhere from $700 to $3000 after a 5 night run.
    The key to this success? FRUGAL SPENDING and choosing appropriate scripts. Choosing a show that is done with a small cast and modern costumes saves money when you have actors wear their own outfits onstage. Choosing a script that has no set saves on the set! Some of my favorite pieces I've done here including "The Shape of Things" and "Pillowman" had these elements, and were wonderful.
    After producing "The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?", I sold what few furniture pieces I had bought using and had people come to pick up the stuff on Saturday night after the show.
    Spending money on programs is dumb. Programs should make money with advertisiing if anything and are a waste of funds if they are not doing so.
    If you are not selling ads to pay/trade for rehearsal space, why not?
    Perhaps you will find yourself limited with these modern costume, no set,small cast tricks of the trade. You won't be able to do "Cats" or "Amadeus" in this town and make money.
    But if you want to stop losing money, one must make wiser decisions and adapt.

    1. Very well said. I think we need to go green!

  2. I think that artists are naturally sensitive when you say negative comments. Although, compared to the chinese critics in town you're pretty nice. But as a cantonese artist in town I would never work with an english company in town because they don't pay and the local companies do.