In response to Covid-19’s hard hitting impact on the local performing arts industry, 30 Hong Kong-based actors come together in An Invitation: On Empty Theatre, an online film project to explore one question: how does it feel to perform in an empty theatre?
Back in March, local actress Rebecca Yip Lai-ka gifted Edward Lam––the Hong Kong playwright and director and founder of Edward Lam Dance Theatre––with a portrait as a late birthday present. “The meaning surrounds a story long time ago, when a girl drew a portrait of her lover before he left for the battlefield,” Lam says. “Portraits convey the concept of missing someone.”
For Kearen Pang, winner of the Hong Kong Film Award for Best New Director in 2017, this resonates well with her sentiments of missing the audience. The outbreak of the global pandemic since December last year has had a major impact on the performing arts industry worldwide and in Hong Kong. “Filmmaking is a risky job [during the pandemic] for it involves a team of people,” Pang says. “It’s impossible for actors and actresses to wear face masks while they’re at a shoot. There was a colleague who got infected while dining at a restaurant. We immediately stopped the production.” Veteran stage actress Rosa Velasco adds, “I graduated [from the HKAPA] in 2006. In my experience, we only cancelled shows because of typhoons or road closures during sport events, but cancelling a show way in advance is unprecedented. We all don’t know what to do. I witness my [acting school] juniors giving up their dreams and changing industries, taking up jobs like sanitising minibuses in order to make a living. Originally, I had shows in April, September and December, but now they are all cancelled.”
The empty theatres and cinemas inspired Lam to create An Invitation: On Empty Theatre. Co-produced and co-presented by Freespace of the West Kowloon Cultural District, the project is a collection of 30 short films featuring Hong Kong-based actors responding spontaneously to the universal confrontation of an empty theatre. Participants come from various backgrounds, including Yip, Pang, Velasco, Sean Curran (Artistic Director of theatre du pif), and Candice Yu (known for her films with Shaw Brothers Studio of the 1970s and 1980s), among others. They performed an unrehearsed 4 to 5-minute-long monologue to revisit their relationship with the audience, the meaning of theatre as a space and art form and reflect on their personal and artistic lives.