All the World’s a Stage – Site-specific Performance in Hong Kong

Lifestyle — By on December 15, 2010 12:00 AM
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Reporter: Victor Chan


As diners sip milk tea and read their newspapers, enjoying a meal in between hectic schedules at a classic Hong Kong-style diner or cha chaan teng, they are suddenly interrupted by shouting at one of the tables. Some of the customers appear to be furiously quarrelling over a family inheritance. If this seems dramatic, it is because it is. A site-specific drama is taking place. Some of the diners have come because they know a drama will take place, others are caught by complete surprise.

The term “site-specific art” originated in the United States in the 1970s and refers to art that is created with the location in mind. The relationship and interaction between the work and the location in which it is situated or performed is a central concern of the work. In theatre, site-specific performance is by no means limited to the stage.

KEY Theatre is a drama group formed by four core members, a teacher, a psychotherapist, a lecturer and a freelance performer. They are all amateur artists who are dedicated to promoting site-specific drama and have staged their performances in cha chaan tengs and cafes.

For William Shakespeare, all the world may have been a stage and all the men and women merely players; for Story Koo Ching-man, life is a play. Koo, a final-year cultural studies student at Lingnan University, is KEY Theatre’s scriptwriter. She says her inspiration comes from the things happening around her. “The most dramatic scenes are from real life.”

When the play starts at the cha chaan teng, the actors actually have no idea how it is going to end. “There will be many possibilities for the development or ending of the story. It all depends on the interaction between the audience and the actors,” Koo says.

She recounts one performance, in which the leading actress threw away her ring and left the leading man alone in the cha chaan teng, just as the script told her to. However, one of the diners in the cha chaan teng enriched the story in a way nobody could have foreseen. “She gave her own ring to the actor and asked him to chase his girlfriend [the actress] back,” Koo recalls.

Anything can and does happen during the shows. Once, a couple of mice dashed in during the play. Even so, the writer has to take the unpredictable and make it a part of the story. Fanny Heath Wai-yin, the art director of KEY Theatre, says the power of site-specific drama rests in the fact that the audience is part of the performance.

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