This is an article that I have written for the South China Morning Post, a local English-written Hong Kong newspaper: check it out and share your thoughts.
Through this we are also advertising our current production Thinner Than Water- what can I say? We seriously multitask here…..
When we tell people that we are engaged in the art industry rather than banking, law or finance, the question that very often and almost immediately pops out from the other side is the following:
“Do you actually get paid for what you do?”
Being an artist has a lot of difficulties. At times, artists are happy to give their own time and effort to the community just to pursue what they love the most – and, at times, a concerned expression from the listener follows; why would one do something for free when you can get a well-paid job?
The question is: can one make a living as an artist? Maybe. Can one make a living as an actor in Hong Kong? Not impossible, but hard. If you, like me, dread the office life and the 9 to 6 (is it even ever 6, anyway?) routine, then there is some good news: if you are willing to work things around, chances are that you will get paid for doing what you love the most. Will it be all sweet and roses and cupcakes and flowers? No. However, one always needs to balance the sourness with the sweetness. Crap always comes with any circumstances; how much are we willing to handle? If, despite the crap, you still feel lucky and blessed to be doing what you are doing, then most likely you are on the right path. Are you in the situation where you really cannot take your full-time job any longer, and you have an itch to do what you love the most?
Put everything under consideration, and then decide whether a different and more volatile job option would be better for you.
Several artists in Hong Kong from different backgrounds and nationalities are often engaged in the following activities, that pay and that allow individuals to make a decent living:
– Voice over and dubbing.
Usually, the most wanted dialects are American and British English. Voice talents are usually requested to be able to work their voices for a particular character (very often cartoons) with a particular pitch and tone. This is a great chance for native speakers; however, for those who do not have English as a first language, there are companies in the market who need other languages for launches of products or events. A bit more boring and perhaps more sporadic, yet it pays well. Make a Google search for translation and language companies in Hong Kong, and leave your details with a few of them. They might not get back to you immediately, but something always comes up. You never know.
– Drama teaching.
Drama in Hong Kong is becoming more and more popular since it became included as elective in DSE; schools have also understood that it is one of the most effective tools for students to develop and improve their oral abilities. Many schools and institutions, both local and international, have drama departments and they always look for talents who can lead groups of students towards drama introductions or school productions. This option can be both part time and full time; teaching artists can be hired directly from schools, as well as through agencies (Eureka English Centre) or providers (Dramatic English), and usually the money is more than decent enough to make a living out of it. It is a great opportunity for teaching artists, as they get to work in drama and get to spread the word about it to younger audiences, inspiring them and guiding them towards a possible artistic future. Being a drama coach has its charms, and can bring a lot of satisfaction, as well as personal growth.
– T.I.E performer.
Many artists in Hong Kong, myself included, are involved in this kind of activity. There are a few companies around town that are always on the lookouts for talents (AFTEC and Chunky Onion as an example) as they put on shows that tour around schools and theatres. It is a fantastic opportunity for actors to be working in their field of interest and get paid for it. As I have mentioned before, drama in Hong Kong is becoming more and more of a big deal, and schools are not only willing to pay for courses and workshops, but also for shows to come to their venues and entertain the students.
– Movie and camera acting.
This is definitely a freelance, one-off thing; however, there are production companies in town that always search for different types of looks and talents. Your best bet is to contact the various local production companies and drop your contact details, photos and resume. Whenever they have a movie coming up they might give you a call; wage depends on the importance of your role (on whether you are a lead or an extra), and you should take long hours and plenty of sitting around into account (remember to have something to read). In Hong Kong, it is often the case of dealing with movie productions coming from abroad and looking for extras or one-line speaking roles. Therefore thinking about movies as a possible career move is particularly hard. It is still great to do it as it can be a great opportunity and can help you create more contacts for your acting network.
-Extra in Opera and Ballet productions.
With the Hong Kong Art Festival coming up yearly, opera and ballet productions always look for extras to fill the background. Opera singing or ballet training are not requested, as it is more important to have the right look and physicality depending on what part they are looking for.
And ultimately…… do your own!
– Create your own theatre company and put productions on.
Alright, as this is going to be a long discussion, we’ll leave this for another time. Yet, it is something to put under consideration.
As you can see, the choices are multiple. At this point, consider what you value the most in your daily life (stability, security, freedom?) and decide what works best for you. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t have a regular job, and you should prioritize what works best for you. Life’s too short to be wasted with the wrong industry, profession, boss, and so forth.
The gig is on tonight; you have been already performing for a few days whilst juggling other things at once. It’s tiring (we’ve been there). Perhaps you have strained your voice, or you haven’t correctly warmed up before using it, or maybe you’ve just as well been a bit careless. Point is, the performance is on tonight and your voice is gone. Scary, yes, particularly if you think about that you are not 100% sure whether you will be ok by the time you are on stage or not. I know the feeling as it is exactly what happened to me during Shakespeare in The Port last April; after a few performances in a row, little rest and loads of other things going on, I just knew my voice was gone, and I had a performance on the very same evening in the open space with no microphones (nor understudies for that matter). Tough. Yet I managed to go on stage that night and deliver (yes, it does sound like a miracle. After all, no other solution was available…..), without sweating to much to get my voice back.
So what to do to have your voice back as soon as possible?
Here’s a list of suggestions that can help you out a lot if you find yourself in the same trouble.
1) A bit basic perhaps, yet this tip goes a long way: talk little as possible. Are you a teacher by day, taking a day off is not an option and work is mandatory? Then pair your students and let them work together on a task. Are you a drama teacher? Then let them work on a ten-minutes play written by them, and use that lesson to let them concentrate on their work, so that you can rest. You will share their work with feedback on the next lesson.
2) Wrap a scarf around your neck, and make sure you avoid any current or air conditioning blasts directly on your neck/shoulders. If you live in Hong Kong and you take buses or MTR to go around town, then you know exactly what I am talking about.
3) DRINK! Nothing cold of course; once again, hot water with ginger and lemon comes in handy. Put lots of Manuka honey in it, and sip it all day long.
4) Gargle. Tea tree oil, once again, works wonders. Dilute it in warm water and keep gargling every two or three hours. It really freshens up your vocal chords.
5) Drink fresh pineapple juice. Did you know? Apparently it is the number one thing opted by opera singers. It sure worked well with me. Cut pieces of pineapple and put them in a juicer; don’t buy the bottled crap from the supermarket: it’s packed with sugar and it’s nasty.
6) Dead wasps. Yes. Seriously. As we live in Hong Kong we know all about herbal teas and Chinese medicine. Perhaps something to try; those who had said it works wonders; and – let’s say it: if you are in that situation, you are ready to do worse than that. Head to a Chinese herbal store, or send a Chinese friend who can speak the language, and ask for 咸竹蜂 (it stands for salty bamboo bee, or something of the sort).
It is a combination of dried dead wasps, ginger and salt. Put everything in boiled water and filter (no, you don’t have to munch on dead insects), sip it after a few minutes when really hot.
It’s miraculous. It works beautifully. How does it taste? No idea, I haven’t tried yet. I can be brave at times, but not that brave and, eventually, my voice recovered. This is a pearl of wisdom that I share with you, who are, for sure, more ballsy than me 😛