5 most watchable Hong Kong theater companies

5 most watchable Hong Kong theater companies

From epic dramas with elaborate sets to street-performing theatrer groups, Hong Kong has its fair share of theater activities. Here are five unique companies you shouldn't miss

Hong Kong theater companies are made up of a weird species of people who like to lock themselves up in cold, black, windowless rooms for weeks at a time, surviving on mass-produced canteen food and regularly passing out from exhaustion on hard Marley tape-covered floors.

While the rest of us are journeying to destinations with sunshine and open spaces, these theater geeks are submitting themselves to blackboxes for the sake of art. Thank goodness for them, or we wouldn't have the following five unique and very watchable Hong Kong theater companies.

Theatre du Pif

See a video of Theatre du Pif here.

Possibly the most popular cross-cultural theater company in Hong Kong, Theatre du Pif never fails to charm local and international audiences with their eccentric reinterpretations of classical tales.

The company's two versatile artistic directors, Bonni Chan and Sean Curran, met in London and established Theatre du Pif in 1992. Their breathtaking performances balance dramatic power and poetry on a tightrope; their pieces tease out the unlikely elegance in the brutality of life. 

Recent works like "Marcovaldo" and the re-run of "The Will to Build" (which will be touring to Shanghai this September) explores the absurdity of real city life, in particular, the latter examines the constant building, destruction, reconstruction and revolution of Hong Kong's urban spaces. 

Through devising workshops with actors and dramaturges, the company reenacts interview scenes of key players in the construction of Hong Kong through video, spoken word, and physical movement. Their upcoming work "Sunrise" is an adaptation of the paramount Chinese script-writer's eponymous work and will be held in November this year.  

Alice Theatre Laboratory

See a video of Alice Theatre Laboratory here.

Aptly named a "Laboratory," this theater company is not afraid to venture into bold directorial and aesthetic experiments.

Formed in 1998 as a drama education workshop and repositioned in 2003 as a professional theater group, Alice Theatre Laboratory aims at creating experimental works based on Western masters like Beckett and Kafka. One of their most successful shows, the "Seven Boxes Possessed of Kafka," won them nine awards from the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies and the first Hong Kong Theatre Libre. 

Their show shook the audiences to the core of theater: the actors' intensity, the weight of directing, the claustrophobic cage-like sets, and the slightly farcical costumes, all work together to show Hong Kong what theater can be. Artistic director Andrew Chan explains that he has long been fascinated by Japanese director Shuji Terayama's movies, and upon discovering Terayama's theatrical works, Chan fell in love with theater and decided to enroll himself into the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts.

"Theater has so much more potential, so much more room for imagination, and I have always wanted to have my own company to explore the possibilities," says Chan. 

They have been invited to perform at the Beijing International Youth Drama Festival in September this year, and have confirmed to do a re-run of Brecht's "Fear and Misery of the Third Reich" in January 2011 in Hong Kong. 

Theatre Horizon

See a video of Theatre Horizon here.

Established in August 2006, Theatre Horizon infuses raw young talent into the theater field by featuring new talents that they personally train over the years. 

Working under the wings of veteran theater workers like the award-winning actor Jacob Chan, the multi-talented musician and physical actress Julia Mok and experienced script-writer Dr. Wong Kwok-kui, these young actors and actresses are rigorously trained in all aspects of theater, honing both their acting skills and creative capabilities. 

Keeping in line with their focus on social issues, their latest show "Winds of Change" explores the positioning of an artist who stands between a ruthless government and oppressed civilians. Using an array of theatrical tools and styles like masks, Cantonese opera, Greek chorus and live music, this rich production challenges the audience to question the state of the society we are living in.

Julia Mok added that their own theater space, situated on Bedford Road, not only acts as a training ground for their young actors, it also houses a series of exciting events including concerts, and small-scaled creative works by their own actors. The company is also expanding its reach outside Hong Kong: apart from establishing Theatre Horizon (Macau), they will be performing at a drama festival in Canada in 2011.  

On and On Theatre Workshop

Established in 1995, the On and On Theatre Workshop started off focusing on theater education and, in 2001, moved into the Cattle Depot Artist Village where they established the first art-group-managed performance venue: the Cattle Depot Theatre.

This cozy little hub is definitely worth visiting as they produce some of Hong Kong's most cutting-edge performances. Successfully broadening Hong Kong people's artistic vision, the company's artistic and program directors Chan Ping-chiu and Cheng Yee-chai willfully choose challenging and at times controversial texts to put on. 

Apart from directing and performing in their own plays, the company lives up to their original focus of education and invite young directors and actors to work with them. The result is one-of-a-kind performances that have the insight of a mature stage worker and the unstoppable energy of passionate young performers.  

Their recent endeavor "Between Text and Performance" is a series of workshop and performances of translated contemporary scripts including that of Caryl Churchill and Falk Richter. The second of the series will be in session from September 25-26, 2010 and two performances, "A Number" and "The Ugly One," will be featured. 

PIP Cultural Industries

See a video of PIP Cultural Industries here.

PIP is all about "Pleasure, Imagination and Play," so basically, they are fun. Formed in 1993 under the name Theatre Ensemble, the company rejected all forms of government subsidy in 2008 and renamed themselves the PIP Cultural Industries. 

As Hong Kong's first cultural industry, they are the mother of nine branches including PIP Theatre, and PIP Theatre Kids. Their popular theater productions, usually featuring the company’s artistic director, Jim Chim, draw upon local and international news, trends and interests as inspiration, and shape them into tear-jerking jokes. 

In contrast, PIP's other artistic director Olivia Yan produces mellow works that touch the audiences' hearts. Her show "You Yuan" is one of her most impressive works.

With the audience seated on stage, the show opens with Olivia clambering over the seats down the auditorium to greet the audience with her trademark nimble physicality. 

Enhanced by elegant video designs, her intense emotions and creativity are able to drag audiences into high mountains and deep abysses. Olivia explained that her long-awaited upcoming show "Viva Odyssey" will hit the stage in December this year and will feature fashion-designer-cum-singer-songwriter Jing Wong in this sci-fi travelogue aimed at re-instilling human values in the city.  

Where to catch them

Catch them at venues like the Cultural Center or City Hall, the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the Hong Kong Arts Center, the Jockey Club Creative Arts Center, the Cattle Depot Artist Village or the Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity.


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