Hong Kong performers long for the stage as pandemic drags on

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Hong Kong performers long for the stage as pandemic drags on
This photo taken on September 28, 2020 shows theatre graduate Kitty Wong performing a monologue in an empty dressing room in Hong Kong. Hong Kong's performing arts community has been brutally hit by the COVID-19 coronavirus 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. ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP.

by Vivian Lin

HONG KONG (AFP).- Hong Kong's performing arts community has been brutally hit by the coronavirus 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.

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".

She is currently missing out on the HK$20,000 ($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.

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 percent 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, 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."

© Agence France-Presse

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