This March, an actor and long-time friend told me she wanted to make a portrait of me. I was surprised that she wanted to spend time on something like this.

But art stems from spending time, from reflecting, from thinking, from feeling.

Portraits are about remembrance. About capturing a person in a present moment and turning a likeness into something eternal. I remember hearing that the first portrait was created by a woman who drew her lover while she was waiting for him to return from war.

It made me think about how theatre practitioners around the world are also waiting. For the return of the audience. For their own return to the stage. But what kind of theatre do we return to post-Covid? What are our expectations? How have things changed?

The empty auditorium, the empty theatre. In the absence of audience and actors, is it a void, or is it full of questions?

Thinking about this, I contacted the West Kowloon Theatre team and together we invited 30 Hong Kong actors to take part in an experiment. We asked them to stand in the empty black box theatre at Freespace, to face an empty auditorium and to tell us what they “saw”.

We called the experiment “An Invitation: On Empty Theatre”. After six days of filming, we had created 30 portraits drawn with the actors’ words, their emotions and their individual personalities.

The portraits are shot from behind. In each “confession” you see just the actor’s back. You look inside them rather than into their faces.

They are the painters, as well as the painting.

They are the present, the past, and also the future.

Art teaches us how to face fear, and provides opportunity for change.

Edward Lam