Hong Kong performers long for the stage as COVID-19 pandemic drags on

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s performing arts community has been brutally hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left theatres empty and stage lights cold – and there is little hope on the horizon even as entertainment venues begin to reopen.

The same pain felt by performers in Broadway and the West End is being experienced by artists in Asia, even while governments there have had greater success at tackling the coronavirus.

The region has had a much better track record of keeping down infections, but the often drastic social-distancing measures used to combat the virus have kept entertainment venues shuttered.

With the virus forcing theatres shuttered, Irene Lo has taken to practicising outdoors
With the coronavirus shuttering theatres, Irene Lo has taken to practicising outdoors. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

In her cramped Hong Kong apartment that has served as a studio, stage and gym for the past six months, ballerina Irene Lo fastens her pointe shoes and effortlessly lifts one leg into a full split.

“We’re all missing the stage so much,” she tells AFP.

“I did zero shows so far and most of my teaching has been cancelled,” said Lo, 42, who has multiple lead roles under her belt including Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Clara in The Nutcracker.

Irene Lo practising in the living room of her Hong Kong flat
Irene Lo practising in the living room of her Hong Kong flat. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

She is currently missing out on the HK$20,000 (US$2,500) per performance she would usually make before the virus hit, while video lessons bring in barely half of what she earned from in-person classes.

Hong Kong bills itself as one of Asia’s top performing arts cities, although its cultural dominance has been eclipsed in recent decades by the artistic rise of mainland China and South Korea.

Artists and performers now complain that the city’s government has provided little in the way of vital subsidies or support to keep their livelihoods going.

Hip-hop dancer and teacher Rock Fang says he has lost 80 percent of his income since the virus
Hip-hop dancer and teacher Rock Fang says he has lost 80 per cent of his income since the virus struck. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

While the recession-hit city has released billions in subsidies and job retention schemes, many performers are freelancers and are ineligible.

“In the entertainment circle, there’s no help at all,” complained Rock Fang, a 42-year-old hip-hop dancer and teacher who says he has lost 80 per cent of his income since the virus struck.

He says his sole payout has been a one-off payment of HK$10,000 that all permanent residents received.

Kitty Wong, 24, dreamed of being in the limelight after graduating from theatre school in May, but
Kitty Wong, 24, dreamed of being in the limelight after graduating from theatre school in May, but must now practise from home. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

Kitty Wong, 24, dreamt of the limelight after graduating from theatre school in May but currently works in a liquor shop to make ends meet.

But she still practises at home, reciting by heart her favourite monologue from the play Saint Joan.

For now, all she can do is wait and hope audiences one day return to theatres.

“I would say maybe it’s not my time,” she says. “So I will just wait until my time comes.”

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