Theatre companies and artists urged the government to provide adequate venues for their rehearsals and productions amid the government crackdown on the unauthorized use of space in industrial buildings.
In a joint statement, 89 theatre companies and 363 performing arts practitioners, led by the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies (HKFDS), said many of them are renting spaces in industrial buildings to practice their art, but this violates the rules, rendering them under constant fear of being thrown out and prosecuted.
Performing arts groups have been moving to smaller and more remote venues, while those who could not afford the rent have simply decided to change careers, said Allan Tsui Shek-pang, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Theatre Technicians & Scenographers.
And while rents are going up rapidly, the companies’ income has not improved over the past 10 years, Tsui said.
“We rented a 200 square foot subdivided studio in San Po Kong for HK$4,000, we can’t even afford that now,” he said.
Local prop makers are becoming increasingly hard to find, and some major scenography studios have moved to Shenzhen, Tsui added.
Indy Lee, chairman of the Drama Committee of the Hong Kong Development Council, said many theatre companies, even if they can afford to rent space, have to deal with enormous psychological pressure from government inspectors.
Because it is illegal to use space in industrial buildings for art purposes, when government inspectors arrive, they have to pretend they are a costume factory, Lee said.
Currently, property owners can apply for a waiver to relax the restrictions under leases.
But HKFDS chairman Luther Fung Luk-tak said the waiver fee is too high for theatre companies to afford.
“Every procedure costs thousands of dollars in administrative fees and, even after the approval, companies have to pay a waiver fee every year,” Fung said.
“For a 1,200 square foot flat, the owner has to pay HK$780,000 for the waiver; that’s impossible for any art company.”
The joint statement came as a result of discussions during a forum held in April by the HKFDS, the Alliance of Theatre Professionals of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Association of Theatre Technicians & Scenographers.
The forum discussed the concerns of theatre groups on the use of industrial buildings and the lack of venues for the performing arts.
The statement has gained huge support from famous groups like Chung Ying Theatre Company and Hong Kong Repertory Theatre as well as from actor Chung King-fai and director Fredric Mao Chun-fai.
The signatories said the government has the duty to promote the local cultural and creative industry and should waive administrative procedures and fees for their use of industrial buildings.
They suggested that the Home Affairs Department should set up an interdepartmental coordinating body to improve communications between the authorities and performing arts groups.
The government should also improve its policy and adopt effective measures to deal with the problems facing theatre companies, such as by designating an area for the arts in urban planning projects, the statement said.
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