Artist of the Month-December-Ivor Houlker

This month's AoM is Ivor Houlker. Ivor is a Welsh artist who has been working in Hong Kong for a short while, predominantly with a Chinese speaking theatre. At HKELD, we always celebrate the melting pot aspect of Hong Kong and were happy to find an artist like Ivor exploring the grittier side of Hong Kong's art world. Get to know Ivor, below; he's got quite a bit to say. You can also visit his website.


1. Name, Birthplace, Age

Ivor Houlker, Wales, 29


2. How does where you were raised affect your work?

I grew up near the Dee estuary in North Wales and had very little to do with the theatre until much later in life.  I have lived out of Wales for almost as long as I have lived in it but, the further I travel, the more I insist on being Welsh rather than English.  It’s an interesting coincidence that Wales has experienced annexation and attempted cultural/political assimilation by a powerful neighbour, systematic bureaucratic suppression of the local language and in 1997 was awarded its own limited form of self-governance which nobody takes very seriously.  I think that affects my work in Hong Kong.


3. Where did you train?

I trained at Rose Bruford (UK) before going to live as an actor in residence at OPT “Gardzienice” in Poland, where I continued my training in a variety of fields.  After two years, I went back to London on a studentship to do an MA in Performance Making at Goldsmiths (UK).  Before all of that I had been reading Chinese at Oxford University which, although it didn’t quite work out at the time, makes my move to Hong Kong feel like a progression rather than just an escalation of eccentricity.  


4. What is your favourite style of theatre/performance? Why?

The things I value most in performance are innovation and aliveness.  I think they’re more important to me than the style.  I enjoy things that go beyond the ideas of one particular style and strive to make something original in form as well as content.  For that reason, site-specific theatre really appeals to me because using unconventional spaces usually requires some innovation to make it work.  


5. What was the best show you EVER saw?

One of the shows that made the biggest impact on me is Romeo Castellucci’s Inferno and, five years later, I can still remember all of the images.  I had really no idea what to expect from it, so the first scene in which Castellucci comes on to introduce himself and is almost immediately attacked by four Alsatians was a bit of a revelation.  Inferno was the first purely visual/architectural piece I’d seen with so much emotional and visceral power.  

Another important show for me right at the start of my time at drama school was Spectacular by Forced Entertainment.  I’m sure they’d be relieved to know it is not the best show I have ever seen but it made me think more than anything I’d seen before.  I’ve continued to follow their work since and in my opinion they’re one of the most important postdramatic companies making work right now - I hope they’ll be able to come to Hong Kong at some point.  

If I really have to choose the best show ever, I’ll have to say Metamorfozy by OPT “Gardzienice”.  I admit I am biased because of my association with them, but there is a reason I spent so long in fields.  I saw this before I got to know them and before I understood any Polish.


6. What was the best show in HK you EVER saw? (You cannot say your own.)

I’ve been in Hong Kong for what feels like a very quick seven months now, so ‘best ever’ is not such a big deal given my comparatively limited experience.  I would like to talk about 許三觀賣血記 - Chronicles of a Blood Merchant (that’s the official English translation, but he sells his own blood, not other people’s).  This is a show by We Draman in Cantonese, based on the novel of the same name by Yu Hua.  I think this piece is really exemplary of the potential for locally developed theatre to be innovative without trying to copy international work.  This is a very pure and stripped-back ensemble piece, using a bare stage and minimal props to tell the story, with actors dropping in and out of different characters as well as directly addressing the audience for the narration. All sound is live; some a-cappella choral song and there is a wonderful sequence in which they create a journey soundscape with actors’ voices and props.  Of course it owes a lot to Brecht and Lecoq but it is also unique to Hong Kong, refreshingly original and unpretentious - I would love to see more local work like this.

7. What piece of work are you most proud of? 

One that stands out for me is Festa Farina e Forca, which I co-directed in Palermo (Sicily) last year with Michelle Li.  For this project, we were given free rein in a large compound of abandoned aircraft hangars which was (and still is) in the process of being turned into a space for the arts.  With only two weeks and no budget, we cleaned and modified a couple of hangars to function as our performance space, and used found objects (of which there were an abundance) for our interventions.  The cast was made up entirely of local folk musicians/dancers and a cellist, all of whom intuitively grasped the performance style with the necessary energy to dominate such a large space.

The performance celebrated the unique cultural mix in the city, which is currently at the centre of the European debate on immigration (refugees fleeing to Europe by boat rescued in the Mediterranean are brought to Palermo - something the UK government has very recently refused to support.)  The structure was borrowed from the local festival of Santa Rosalia; one of the tunes we used was a jazz flute version of the religious processional music.  The finale involved creating a large outdoor banquet table out of sight of the audience, which was then revealed when they left the warehouse space at the end of the performance.  The audience then shared their thoughts about the piece with the cast over wine and food. 

A piece I did last year in Deptford Creek is also worth mentioning as something completely improbable which I can be proud of having made happen at all.  The Coming Tide was a site-specific collaboration, in which we decided to perform in a muddy tidal riverbed.  Not only that but we decided the audience would be coming in with us.  It’s hard to imagine a more difficult site to work with, in which rehearsals had to be planned around low tide (there is a window of an hour or so in which it is safe to walk on the riverbed), and in which the shape of the ground could actually change between each tide.  The set up, performance (including audience entry and exit) and strike had to happen within this safe window, and might even be impossible if there were heavy rains the night before (thankfully there was only light rain.) This show really helped consolidate my ideas about performance as an audience experience, casting the audience more as celebrants in a ritual rather than observers at a spectacle. 


8. What is your process like?

As a director, my process varies a lot depending on the project.  For example, the process for my most recent devised show in Hong Kong, Superheroes Don’t Give a Shit! was like slowly escalating chaos.  In devising, I find it better to arrive at an abundance of ideas and material before refining them into something resembling coherence.  For me, the spirit of playfulness and chaotic experimentation to generate material is very important.  Even when directing a script, playfulness is still one of the most important things to me when working with actors.

As an actor, my process begins with the external physical manifestation of character, rather than anything psychological or emotional.  Rhythms and meanings come from a close reading of the text, gesture/posture from other sources (observation and/or research) and most importantly interaction with other performers/music/performance space.  Being really present and alive with the physical body, emotion follows - I don’t summon things psychologically from memory.


9. What is your dream project?

I would like to form a team of long-term collaborative performers, to train together and work on developing concepts and skills from one performance to the next.  I would like to run an outdoor rehearsal/training space for artists to share training methods and develop new work.  I hope to continue to work site-specifically and to involve more local musicians and singers as performers.  I would also like to work more with hearing-impaired and visually-impaired artists.


10. If you could change one thing about the art scene in HK, what would it be?

I would prioritise the development of original local art over the import of international material (and I say this as a piece of international material myself).

That includes the material that is performed by Hong Kong companies. I was unimpressed by Wait Until Dark at Hong Kong Rep, which was a kind of horrifying Disneyfied simulacrum; actors in stick-on sideburns asserting their translated Britishness in a carbon copy of the American film.  It doesn’t need to be this way, and in fact We Draman did a great job with their Cantonese version of Stones in His Pockets, freely transposing it to a locally relevant setting and finding all the parallels between the situation of a Hollywood film crew in rural Ireland to a Hong Kong film crew in rural mainland China.  

Ultimately I would like to see more of an emphasis on new writing or devising and enough support for locally produced theatre to take risks and tour internationally.



Related articles:

artist of the month


No comment at the moment.

Post New Comment