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A New Wave of Art Presentation in Hong Kong

Art can inspire and relax us – something that’s particularly helpful on a stressful work day. But what happens if performance venues and art spaces are off limits, like what Hong Kong has been experiencing due to COVID-19? That hasn’t stopped the city’s creatives from reaching their audience through innovative, experimental ways, though – and what began as temporary solutions to the lockdown might just open new doors for Hong Kong’s arts and culture industries.

Play Reading with Project Roundabout

Project Roundabout, a collaboration between producer Harry Cheung and actors Poon Chan-leung and Louisa So, introduced a different form of theatre to Hong Kong with See You Soon in June, to provide immediate assistance to the theatre industry when all productions were brought to a halt.

Presented by 179 actors, writers, directors and stage technicians, this series of play readings required minimal stage design; the performers acted out the plays mainly with their voices. “See You Soon highlighted play reading as an alternative performance format, where we can tell stories at a lower cost,” says Cheung. As a result, ticket prices were also reduced – to a mere HK$30 per person.
In addition to a live audience at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, all 12 shows were also livestreamed online, allowing viewers to purchase tickets and enjoy them at home. To Cheung’s surprise, the show’s format also attracted many overseas viewers. “The development of Hong Kong’s theatre industry had reached a bottleneck,” says Cheung. “We need to start thinking outside the box for the future of our community, and livestreaming allows our shows to reach more people outside the theatres, including Cantonese-speaking audiences worldwide. See You Soon was a pilot for this format.”

One-on-One Theatre with Riceballers

Technology is taking interactive theatre to a whole other level. Take local independent theatre group Riceballers’ production, Table for Two, which will run until 8 August. Hosted by founder Jen Lam on online meeting platform Zoom, Table for Two is a series of 30-minute one-on-one dates in a “virtual restaurant”, with planned scenarios, but unscripted conversations. In other words, it’s an experiment on involving the audience in the creation process as they become a part of the performance. “It’s interesting to witness how the audience’s behaviour changes in the span of 30 minutes – apprehensive at first, to opening up by the end,” says Lam.
Lam is now considering bringing Table for Two on stage as a way to merge the online and offline worlds and to extend relationships with these participants beyond the computer screen. Meanwhile, she’s also looking into the possibility of extending the duration of the audience-performer relationship further via crowdfunding platform Patreon. “Normally, people come to the performance for one night, and that’s the end of it,” she explains. “This experience with Zoom has led me to think about how we can start engaging with the audience ahead of the show with exclusive behind-the-scenes content online.”

“I hope that exploring digital avenues to expand our audience reach is the way of the future,” she continues, “and not just a temporary solution for these uncertain times.”

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Virtual Studio Visits with Para Site

Over in the contemporary arts world, online galleries and art apps have been popular for years, but Para Site took it one step further to keep art lovers engaged – and in addition, took care of artists, too. Their free virtual studio visits feature local artists across various disciplines, who took viewers through their own studios and artworks in pre-recorded and live in-situ videos. In return, the artists received a fee and health insurance coverage to support them through this trying time.
“We wanted PS Paid Studio Visits to help these young artists gain visibility,” says Para Site’s director Cosmin Costinas. “The series becomes an easily accessible library [on Para Site’s website and social channels] for art institutions, curators and collectors everywhere to catch a glimpse of Hong Kong’s talent.”

While technology makes it possible to present art in innovative ways, Costinas stresses the importance of not losing sight of the primary intent and purpose of art itself. “Technology can certainly help artists reach more people. But ultimately, the way in which art brings people together – to see, touch and discuss art in person – is very unique,” he concludes. “The value of these experiences has become even clearer for us now.”

Want to view art from the comfort of your home? Check out these apps and websites that bring the art spaces to you.
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