Preview-Shakespeare in the Port


By: Karen Cheung


Popcorn and jugglers, bring-your-own-picnic-blanket, and *drumroll* outdoor Shakespeare. If you, like me, have spent years drooling over stories of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park and lamenting that you live in Hong Kong, your time has come. Scheduled for Cyberport from 17th April to 4th May 2014 is Shakespeare In The Port, the first outdoor Shakespeare festival ever in Hong Kong (or so says Meaghan McGurgan, its Artistic Director: “At least to my knowledge anyways!”)


Starting with New York’s Central Park (1963), outdoor festivals honouring the Bard’s work are held all over the world, including (in Asia) Japan and Singapore. Now Meaghan is determined to bring this spirit of community engagement through performing arts to Hong Kong. “This is really a community project – kids under the age of 12 can go to the festival for free and there are a lot of families around Cyberport, so this would really encourage them to all be involved in the arts. I think it’s very important to expose the kids to the arts in an un-stuffy manner.”


Besides being family friendly, the festival aims to create a forum for all kinds of Hong Kongers to gather and interact.  Where New York hosts just one play each year, Shakespeare In The Port will feature four, each performed and produced by locals in rotation over the 16 day festival period.  Meaghan can’t yet say what the plays will be because right now it’s the production proposal phase.  The deadline is midnight on 31 October (Halloween) next week and anyone can make a pitch.  


Meaghan hopes there’ll be submissions for shows in other languages besides English, to attract talents and  audiences of all kinds, to fill the 4 production slots: one tragedy, one comedy, one history and - bearing in mind how younger children may not be able to deal with a traditional 3-hour long Shakespeare - a special category seeking one-hour long adaptations tailor-made for shorter attention spans.


Shakespeare in the Port is, at heart, a project for and by local people.  “There’s always this preconceived notion that any shows in Hong Kong are not as good as anything from London – I want to prove them wrong,” says Meaghan. “So, if you’re tired of people saying there’s nothing here, come be involved and show people that there IS something here!”


So how do you become involved? The basic application procedure involves filling out a 4-page concept package (to find out more email Meaghan by clicking here.  While there are minimal restrictions on artistic ideas, there are budget/technical constraints. “Someone asked about the possibility of live horses on stage and I gave them a flat out no – it’s just not possible,” said Meaghan.


Once the four plays have been chosen and finalized, it’ll be the audition phase, lasting several days to produce a collective pool of festival talent (cast and crew). Each production will have a stage manager, reporting to a single festival production manager, reporting directly to Meaghan – and each production’s director will then bid for what’s in the talent pool.  Actors can be ‘swings’, doing multiple shows. The final decision of who goes where will rest with the directors and Meaghan but each actor’s first choice will be a strongly determining factor.  She’s keen to attract those who’ve not been on stage before alongside experienced veterans. “It’s always nice to have a mix and, with 4 shows, that’s 80 actors – so you have to have new people.”


Another way of getting involved is by becoming an intern; if you’re a poor college student (like me), volunteer at the festival for 10 hours and your reward is a free season pass. There are intern slots for educational, marketing, backstage and production assistants, so you can pick what you think looks best on your CV.


Other rewards? For one, the festival aims to attract an audience of 5000 people, so getting your work out there will expose it to a big local audience. For two, the money made from the festival’s tickets will be divided and shared, on a sliding scale depending on each person’s level of contribution (so, for example, a stage manager or director or leading role should have a larger cut than a scene shifter or spear carrier).   Last but not least,  you get credited as being on the pioneering team of the first-ever outdoor Shakespeare festival in Hong Kong.  “At the end of the day”, says Meaghan, “it’s just a really great way to interact with the community and help rid Hong Kong of its label of being a cultural desert.”


Cyberport’s staff have worked hard to make the festival environmentally as well as community friendly, with paperless tickets and programmes, fully recyclable sets, energy-efficient light plots and so on.  Alongside what’s on stage, there’ll be jugglers, stilt walkers and other fun stuff around the Port.


There’s creative ticket pricing too: $150 for a weekday pass lets you watch 1 show, $300 for a weekend pass gives you 3 shows and a season ticket (available from November for early birds at $1K, rising to a $2K full price after Chinese New Year) lets you see all 28 performances.  If a production gets rained out, your ticket will be valid for its ‘rain day’ restaging the following Monday.  Tickets (via Ticketflap) will go on sale online in November.


With the festival all set and ready to enter its production phase. Meaghan, for one, is unabashedly excited: “Shakespeare’s birthday is on April 26th, and we’re going to have a birthday party for Shakespeare with cupcakes. It’s going to be awesome!”

Because there’s been some debate this week on HKELD and other online forums questioning HKELD’s objectivity by its team both producing and critiquing local drama, I asked HKELD director Tom Hope for his views.  “Just because Meaghan is HKELD’s editor shouldn’t stop her doing her own shows” he says “and it shouldn’t stop HKELD sponsoring this ‘first ever’ festival for Hong Kong.  HKELD is here to support exactly this kind of project so, personally speaking, I’m super-proud to be doing just that with this.  I could wax philosophical about the inherent complexity of being objective about anything.  Suffice to say, so long as our own audience don’t feel they are being duped, everyone should be happy – simple as that!”  

HKELD is the online media sponsor for SHAKESPEARE IN THE PORT.  Expect to see more content about this festival in the coming months and reviews of the festival in April. 

Related articles:

shakespeare, hongkong


  • Ari
    27 October 2013

    I'm so excited for this! It's about time we got our own Shakespere in the Park!
  • Danny
    29 October 2013

    Can't wait to audition!
  • brad jacobs
    05 November 2013

    Kudos on the brilliant idea!

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