Hong Kong's iconic Sunbeam Theatre is not quite dead, yet

Hong Kong's iconic Sunbeam Theatre is not quite dead, yet

As the last permanent home for Cantonese opera bows out, a bid for a stay of execution comes to light
Sunbeam Theatre
Sunbeam Theatre at its reportedly million-dollar location on King's Road, North Point.

Update: A new four-year lease has been agreed to between Sunbeam Theatre operator Hong Kong United Arts Entertainment Co. and landlord Law Sau Fai. The new monthly rental fee will be HK$1 million. The theater is now closed for renovation and will reopen in April.

The last permanent stage for Cantonese opera in Hong Kong, Sunbeam Theatre, is to close on February 19 faced with huge rental increases.

A last-minute bid to save the building offers some hope for its legion of local fans.

But if that doesn't pay off, punters will have to wait till the Yau Ma Tei Theatre opens later this year for a replacement.

Located in North Point, the 40-year-old Sunbeam Theatre has become synonymous with Cantonese opera in Hong Kong. 

Despite its iconic status as the city's last permanent venue for the traditional artform, Sunbeam Theatre has been losing money.

Faced with soaring rental prices -- reported to have reached HK$1 million a month -- the theater has been slated to be shut down.

But a last-ditch effort to avoid a permanent closure may have come its way in the form of Cantonese opera playwright Li Kui-ming. 

Also on CNNGo: West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre: Viva la Cantonese opera

Sunbeam TheatreNostalgic Hong Kongers flock to Sunbeam Theatre in its final week to immortalize it via Facebook uploads.On February 16, Li said he had a meeting with Francis Law Sau-fai, the owner of the Sunbeam Theatre space, according to newspaper Wen Wei Po.

The sit-down was made possible due to a mystery person who set it up and whom Li will only refer to as "Mr. Leung."

"This mystery person is a consultant for the Chinese Artists Association," said Li. "He feels that it is his responsibility [to help save the Sunbeam Theatre]." 

There is only one consultant by the surname Leung listed on the website of the Chinese Artists Association -- Leung Han Wai.

But Hong Kong media speculate that Mr. Leung is in fact chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying. There has been no response from Leung's publicist. 

Also on CNNGo: Hong Kong kids love Cantonese opera, even if they don't understand it

Li has given Law a proposal of his future plans for the Sunbeam Theatre, including an offer to pay the million-dollar monthly rental fee. Law will respond in 10 days, according to Li. In the meantime, the theater is still to close as planned.

Law acquired the 7,432-square-meter theater in 2003 for HK$162 million intending to turn it into a shopping mall.

The theater was able to escape its demise at the time but has been fighting rising rent ever since.

In 2009, the year UNESCO declared Cantonese opera an intangible cultural heritage, the landlord more than doubled the rent to HK$700,000 despite government efforts to reduce the price.

Sunbeam Theatre has sold out its last week of performances. Cantonese opera superstar Joyce Koi Ming-fai gave her final Sunbeam performance on February 13.

"I have been performing here since 1999," said Koi after the show. "I know every corner of this theater. Every time I perform here it is like coming home. Hong Kong really lacks a symbolic theater like this one."Sunbeam TheatreA temporary traditional bamboo stage for Cantonese opera in West Kowloon attracted a sell-out audience over the Lunar New Year.

A number of new venues dedicated to Cantonese opera will open in the coming years. 

The most anticipated is the West Kowloon Cultural District's 1,100-seat Xiqu Centre due to open in 2015. It hopes to become a permanent home for the artform with an agenda to make it more relevant to cosmopolitan audiences. 

Meanwhile, the Yau Ma Tei Theatre, a cinema built in the 1930s, will also be restored as a small venue for emerging Cantonese opera performers later this year.

By 2013, a new expansion will open at the Ko Shan Theatre in Ma Tau Wai for Cantonese opera training and performance.

Also on CNNGo: West Kowloon Cultural District: Hong Kong's ambitious experiment

 

After traveling around the world on a fistful of dollars, Zoe returns to Hong Kong, where she grew up, to discover and write about all the inspiring stuff that happens here on a daily basis.

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