West Kowloon Cultural District has opened its first venue, the Xiqu Centre for Chinese opera. What does this milestone mean for the project?
It means we can start talking about performances rather than development. The goal of WKCD is to provide badly needed facilities at a quality that will enhance the standards of each art form they serve. With the first venue, everybody’s looking and waiting for us to fail. We’ve got to prove that we’re not intimidated, and that performing arts are what we do. Break a leg every day and just get on with it.
What are the next phases for WKCD?
There’s the gradual opening of the rest of the promenade in the Art Park, and then the opening of the Freespace performance area in May. The big one, by the end of this year or early next year, will be the completion of the M+ museum for visual arts. We’re very confident it will open by the end of 2020.
WKCD has been discussed and debated for years. How do you win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers?
The way is to invite people to come in. Xiqu’s soft opening is about getting people in with no barriers – ‘it’s free, just come’ – and getting them to see for themselves, because word of mouth is valuable. If you read the press or listen to some of the more formal interpretations of the project, there’s an agenda there; but that’s not our agenda. All we want to do is put on good shows in a great facility so that people enjoy themselves.
Once it’s completed, what will WKCD represent?
Hong Kong needs what we’re doing. To be a truly world-class city, which is what Hong Kong aspires, you need to have work, rest and play. And we’re the play. When we’re finished, we’ll have dance, opera, commercial theatre, exhibitions – something for everybody. And people can confidently come to Hong Kong, as they would to London or New York, and say ‘I’m going to see something’. It’s about adding that extra dimension to Hong Kong: you know you’re going to make money here; you know you’re going to get amazing service in hotels and restaurants; and you know you’re going to get first-class performances.
How do you ensure the quality of the shows?
We’re building the facilities, but more than that we’re building the infrastructure. We’ve been working for five or six years to develop dance in Hong Kong. Similarly, we’ve commissioned theatre; there will be a brand-new show that we’ve commissioned as part of the opening festival for Freespace. We’ve got a resident company at Xiqu’s Tea House Theatre. There’s also sharing with and learning from other groups internationally. When you’re building infrastructure, it’s not just about physical building. It’s the software and the hardware together.
What have been the management lessons in this role?
You’ve got to be flexible. You can plan, but your plans won’t necessarily follow through. It’s like with live theatre: you never really know what’s going to happen on the night. An actor could fall down, scenery could disintegrate – you have to be able to adapt. At the same time, don’t respond to a challenge with a reversal; use it as a way to keep getting back on your path